Wine Flights

British Airways imbibes


Good news for British Airways flyers looking to unwind in the sky: wine is complimentary in every class of all flights.

Andrew Sparrow of Bibendum Wine runs the department after cutting his teeth for 30 years on the British Airways team. “While working cabin crew on long-haul flights,” he says,” people would always make comments about the wine.” During numerous layovers around the world, Sparrow often found himself visiting wine regions from Napa Valley, California to Stellenbosch, South Africa. After years of field experience across the globe, he went on to get a diploma from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.

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When it comes to choosing wines for British Airways’ First Class cabin, Sparrow considers several factors from trends in the marketplace to the effects of high altitude on taste. “In a pressurized airline cabin you don’t taste as effectively as you do at ground level,” he says. “There are a number of conditions that affect the way you taste. The most important one is the way that you dehydrate. I think anyone on a long haul flight will notice that at the beginning of the flight they are tasting a lot more efficiently that they are towards the end.” Thus wines are carefully chosen to work with body chemistry in changing environments. That said, Sparrow keeps three styles on every British Airways wine list—the prestige Champagne, a claret or red Bordeaux and a white Burgundy. “The Champagne at the moment is Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle,” he says. When it comes to the carefully selected Claret, Sparrow has taken an unconventional tack by advance-purchasing. “We buy the wines four to six years ahead of their being used,” he says, “so the wine can mature in the bottle and be drinking beautifully by the time we serve it.”

Sparrow’s selections are naturally destination-driven. “If you were on a North American flight,” he points out, “the wine you would have right now is the Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, and the red is a Freestone Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.” Working with the intuition gained from such close study of the drinking public, Sparrow also lets us in on somewhat of a secret when it comes to rounding out the list—what Sparrow and his team call the ABC, or “anything but Chardonnay or Cabernet.” The intuitive precaution, says Sparrow, presents the “opportunity to look for wines that are slightly unusual.” Popular varietals range from Sancerre and Sauvignon Blanc to Fume and Riesling. Complimentary wine is also served in the Economy class. In the Economy cabin complimentary Sauvignon Blanc is served in quart bottles. On British Airways, wine plays an important role in the Height Cuisine program and Sparrow notes that they spend significantly more than other airlines with this general-cabin amenity.

Working on a wine list that’s as dynamic as the travelers it serves has made Sparrow an expert when it comes to international imbibing habits and inspired him to seek out some of the world’s most satisfying, exciting and trend-setting wines. Put simply, says Sparrow, “It’s a fabulous job.”