For any wine lover, one of the most memorable parts of a trip can often be the delicious local bottle you drank at your destination.
Air Canada wants to ensure that, for travellers in its Business Class and Signature Service seats, the wine they sip on the journey there is just as memorable. To do so, they enlisted Véronique Rivest, the highest-ranked Canadian — and first-ever woman — to place at the World’s Best Sommelier competition, where she came in second in 2013. Rivest is now the owner of Soif, a wine bar in Gatineau. Covered in a combination of cork panelling and vintage maps, it’s the ultimate tribute to her greatest passion: wines from all over the world.
Still, even after launching her own wine bar and building wine programs for renowned restaurants, hotels, and institutions, Rivest admits that developing a list for an airline was still a first. Nevertheless, she was encouraged by the freedom she had with her selections. For one thing, Air Canada purchases directly from wineries, which granted her license to find what she calls “wines of place” at their target price points. “These days,” she explains, “technology and processing can allow wines from Canada, Australia, and Chile to all taste the same — like soda pop. There’s a market for that, but my strategy when I’m purchasing is to find wines that are a true expression of their provenance. Those are the wines that make you excited to travel.”
Other important considerations when it comes to selecting wines that are ready to be enjoyed in the air are ensuring that the wine is not too heavy, lifts you up rather than tiring you out, and is food friendly. With Air Canada typically offering four wines on its North American Business Class and Signature Service flights and five on its international flights, Rivest ensures that her selections cover a wide variety of bases.
Specifically, she tries to strike a balance between lighter and fuller options, as well as comfort wines and more adventurous offerings from less familiar regions. (One of her pet peeves is sommeliers who preach, as she terms it, “the supremacy of the weird”.) Offerings turn over every three months on Business Class flights, and a little less often on international ones.
She also makes sure to include at least one Canadian wine on every list — although she notes that this can be difficult as a result of the small output of many wineries and the serious quantities required by Air Canada. She’s started working with several wineries she likes to plan in advance so that she can showcase more homegrown grapes.
At a recent tasting at Soif, her wine menu followed suit, drawing together a skin-contact Anselmo Mendes vinho verde from Portugal, a Primaterra vino rosso from Italy and three Niagara selections: a 2015 Pinot Noir Niagara Peninsula Tradition from Domaine Queylus, and a 2016 Hidden Bench Fumé Blanc Rosomel Vineyard Beamsville Bench.
For Rivest, the greatest marker of a job well done was rediscovering an Austrian Riesling she had put on the menu recently while flying from Toronto to Ottawa. She was so charmed by the wine after a long day that she ended up convincing many of the passengers around her to order it too. “Soon, they had finished the bottle!” she says.
While there’s a perception that your taste is altered in the air, Rivest says this can be exaggerated. “Every time I do a selection, I taste it again in the air, and I find the difference small,” she says. “For others it might be bigger. But the experience — that definitely changes it.” She says this is why wine that you buy on vacation often tastes different when you’re drinking it back home. “The music changes, the company changes, the moment changes. That all has an effect.”
In other words, if enjoying wine while you’re on vacation is one way to taste it at its best, then enjoying it as you’re 30,000 feet in the air en route to your getaway ranks a close second. And thanks to Air Canada, you have plenty of top selections to choose from.