The three golden rules to drinking wine while flying economy!

Just because you’re flying economy doesn’t mean your wine drinking has to be cattle class – if you follow these rules – you’re gonna be flying high!

I fly a lot for work, and like most Australians, we are bullet proof when it comes to flying 24 hours to get anywhere decent in the world. For me, drinking wine on board serves two purposes – it tranquillises me so I can get a decent sleep, and serves as a form of entertainment. Yes, I’m a wine geek, even 187ml bottles of economy wine get me excited. But be warned – while there are ‘THE EXCELLENT’ wines, there’s also ‘THE MEDIOCRE’ wines, and the, ‘I’LL HAVE A GIN AND TONIC INSTEAD’, wines!

There’s a real science that goes into choosing wines for airlines, and if you understand this, your choosing ability will be so much better. You see, wine actually tastes differently when you’re travelling at 30,000 feet – that’s because the air you’re breathing is actually recycled, which dries up your palate and makes wine taste slightly different. The makeup of the wine doesn’t change, just the way you perceive it.

Rule 1: Choose a flavoursome white

When I’m choosing a white wine to go with my airline meal, it needs more flavour than what I’d normally drink on the ground. You’ll notice that airline food is never bland – and that’s because there’s always a rich sauce to accommodate your palate drying out. A medium to fuller bodied, fruit driven white will counterbalance this.

Rule 2: Choose a softer red

Your dried out palate will make red wines more astringent, emphasising acids and tannins. So think soft and cuddly reds to get you through the flight, with ample fruit flavours. Generally speaking, ‘New World’ reds from warmer climates are going to be your friend – that’s why Australian wines work so well in economy. I would steer away from French and Italian reds as they are generally leaner in style. That’s a big sweeping generalisation of course, but you can always…

Rule 3: Ask questions

If you’re unsure about the wine’s flavour, ask for advice.  Just because you’re flying economy, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy business class service. Quality airlines train their staff in basic wine knowledge and often have more than one option to choose from. With Qantas, they usually have a fully trained sommelier flying on each long haul leg. Their services are available to all passengers – even Economy. Their expertise will help you choose the right wine with your meal.

“Hi, can you tell me which economy wine goes with gum leaves?”

Up next – we profile Qantas airline’s selection panel and how it chooses its Economy Class wines.



    • The cost of taking in outside air, heating it to cabin conditions, pressurising it to cabin conditions would be expensive and take a lot of heavy equipment. To minimise this cost, some cabin air is recycled (it is already at pressure, and it does not need to be heated). And … the air from outside has very little humidity in it, so the air is naturally dry. And … if you fly with a lot of sick people, you will get their recycled air (i.e. germs). One of the joys of flying.


  1. As an expat Australian/Brit who lives in New York, I have found that the accent and being friendly can pay off enormously. Sometimes after chatting to flight staff, I’ll be given one of the nicer wines from up-front. I guess people get seek of being pestered by stressed out folk who aren’t on their best behavior.

    Actually the same applies in wine stores too. Sometimes you have to ask questions indirectly to get a frank response.

    “This Rioja is incredibly well priced. Is it tired at all?”
    “Not at, our staff selection is always great”
    “So I really like the Juan Gils monastrell, it has so much fruit and length, and it’s so consistent “
    “isn’t it just it’s a unrecognized gem. You know, on second thoughts, if you like the Juan Gil, I can show you a few other wines that you’ll probably enjoy more than the Rioja, and they’re cheaper and more generous too. Yes I’d leave the Rioja alone ..”

    Human nature. Most folk in wine stores are waiting, wanting to be helpful and there’s nothing like the joy of sharing a great new wine with someone. It’s a shame that there are others in the industry who like to intimidate with snobbery or confusing language which leaves so many consumers afraid to ask a question and look dumb. Growing up in Australia was one of the luckiest things that happened to me and time and again people are generous to me because of it.


Please let us know your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s