Why Does Wine Taste Different on a Plane? An Expert Explains.
Your palate changes when flying. Here’s how to order accordingly.
As much as I love to travel, being up in the air can throw my systems of whack. From jet lag to the good old fashioned plane cry, it seems things go totally haywire when hurtling through the air. And our palates are no exception. We often find ourselves craving tastes that we may not when we’re on terra firma. Turns out, there’s science behind that. Which is why Chanelle Kuhn, the Assistant Director of Wine at Wally’s, kept the changes that occur to our palates in-flight in mind when designing the beverage program for the semi-private flights at Aero.
The pairings were so on point on my flight to Cabo San Lucas that I had to get her expert insights as to what tastes best in the air and why. From what to sip with those delicious Biscoff cookies to the science behind our cravings at cruising altitude, here’s what Kuhn had to say.
Our palates definitely seem to shift up in the air. Why is that? And how does that guide how you build a wine list like you did for Aero?
Any time we are up in the air at high elevations, our noses and mouths begin to dry out. This is especially true when minimal amounts of water have been consumed before getting on the flight. Couple this with a pressurized plane cabin and lower oxygen levels, wine’s aromatic compounds can disappear faster than usual.
So, when I put together the list for Aero, I looked for wines that are highly aromatic with a significant expression of fruit supported by a steady, underlying presence of acid and tannin to provide overall structure. Some of my favorites on the list are the 2021 Torres Pazo das Bruxas Albariño, which is bright, crisp, and floral, and the 2016 Château de Reignac, which is silky smooth with hints of spices, coffee, and vanilla.
I always find myself grabbing for Cheez-Its to go with my Chardonnay. What is the ideal wine pairing for air travel?
When I travel, I always make a quick grab for chips or Chex Mix before boarding the plane. I love to enjoy this with a sparkling or a crisp white wine. Aero has an incredible partnership with Los Angeles cult-favorite Erewhon for lounge and in-flight provisions, with snacks like popcorn and Marcona almonds to avocado tartines and macrobiotic salads. My current favorite pairing is Erewhon’s butter popcorn with a glass of our 2020 The Hilt Cuvée Fleur Estate Chardonnay.
What’s the best wine to drink with Biscoff? Those are my favorite in-flight treats, but I usually enjoy them with milk and tea.
I’d recommend something sparkling to pair with Biscoff. Aero’s in-flight beverage menu includes Veuve Clicquot “Yellow Label” Brut for those wanting some bubbles.
I feel like I start buzzing much quicker up in the air. Is that the elevation at work?
Yes. Up in the air, we get dehydrated faster. Factors like cabin pressure, air conditioning, and alcohol being a naturally dehydrating beverage coupled with rising elevation can make the effects of alcohol more pronounced.
What’s the best way to stay hydrated? Is a one-to-one ratio of water to drinks ideal?
I think two-to-one is truly the way to go. Water, water, and more water!
Why are Bloody Marys something we crave, and something that is always available on the menu? Is our palate less sensitive to salt when flying?
They are a tried-and-true staple. A little bit of salt can help replenish lost electrolytes, so perhaps there’s something to be said about a Bloody Mary preventing dehydration—while following the one-to-one (or two-to-one) recommendation, of course. Aero prepares their Blood Mary with tomato juice, Ketel One vodka, fresh lemon, and olives, and custom spice levels upon request.
I sampled that one, you know, for research, on my Aero flight and it was a great one! What are the biggest drink ordering mistakes on a plane?
Drinking too much! The exhaustion of traveling already takes a toll on your body, so be sure you’re balancing nutrients and water while also toasting to your exciting destination ahead.