From the Hattingley Valley harvest came British Airways' exclusive sparkling wine. Photo: The Electric Eye

BA PEOPLE • November 2019

How do you... choose the wine list?

Kelly Stevenson
Kelly Stevenson

Wine & Beverage Manager

The world of wine is an endless vineyard of options and vintages, so which deserve a spot on British Airways’ carefully curated wine list? BA’s wine and beverage manager, Kelly Stevenson, pops the cork and tells us more

How do you choose the wine?

We taste a huge number of wines to find the best options to serve on board and in our many lounges. We choose the wines that we pour in-flight very carefully with a detailed understanding of how taste buds can change up at 30,000ft. It depends on the tasting, but typically we taste around 20 wines to find ‘the one’.

Is there a panel of tasters?

Absolutely. It’s a necessity as we need to ensure that we have a very accurate and measured tasting; independent and completely blind. The wine that gets chosen for our customers must score highly amongst the whole panel.

Does the wine taste the same in the air as it does on the ground?

Essentially, nothing changes to the wine itself, but at 30,000ft, taste buds can change. To cater to this, we look for strength of character. The Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent example – if it’s expressive on the ground, it will fly well.

How much of a challenge does this create?

For instance, a very aged Grand Cru Classe from left-bank Bordeaux will be fabulous sipped in the British Airways lounge at Heathrow or New York JFK (pictured below), but to appreciate this at altitude would be more of a challenge. The vintage we pour is equally as important when we find those ‘must-have’ wines for our onboard cellar.

How do you know how it’ll taste in the air?

Training and experience mainly. Collectively, the team at British Airways have years of experience of choosing great wines to pour at 30,000ft. We apply the formula created over time to each wine, then we tick a checklist for suitability – is the acidity level right? does the fruit identify itself correctly in order to maintain the flavour profile at altitude? will it pair well with our food menu?

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Are the same wines served on board as in the lounges?

Yes and no. Generally, the quality will be the same but some styles that perform well in terms of being superb wines, may just be too subtle for the air. In this case, we don’t want our customers to miss out so might buy some wines specifically for the lounge.

Do some grapes work better than others on board?

Yes. A very light-in-texture Pinot Grigio may not express too much at altitude, but a great quality Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley in Oregon almost certainly will; same grape, different wine – that’s all there is to it. Equally, the grapes that perform very well in-flight often mirror the consumer trends elsewhere – so what’s popular in your favourite little restaurant on a Saturday night will pretty certainly be what people look to drink on board. 

What’s the most popular right now?

The aforementioned Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay, as long as it’s high quality, is making a big come back and by far the most popular red grape we see amongst flyers is Pinot Noir.

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Which English wines are served on board?

As an airline we have supported English growers for many years. Many vineyards have been represented including Bolney, Chapel Down and most recently, our English Sparkling Wine in First that launched in July 2019, from the wonderful Hattingley Valley wines (pictured above). This is an exceptionally special cuvée as it is exclusive to British Airways: a 2015 Blanc de Noirs created to celebrate the airline’s centenary.

What is so special about this particular cuvee?

The BA Centenary Hattingley Valley wine is a Blanc de Noirs, which means it has been made entirely from red grapes – yet it’s still a sparkling white wine. This is a common blend category and can be found amongst hundreds of producers of Champagne. Our customers can try it on board and in our Concorde Room in Terminal 5.

How many bottles of wine are carried?

In the Club cabin alone we load more than 93,000 bottles of wine a month – that’s over one million bottles a year, not including Champagne. If we add the figures for First, we are pouring over 1.5 million bottles of wine over the course of a year and then when you add around a million bottles of Champagne and about half again of Port – it’s a serious amount of wine. 

If you could choose to drink one wine currently being served on board, which would it be?

The Chateau Batailley 2011 which will be flying in First during November. It’s from Medoc in Bordeaux, France. The 2011 vintage is superb; we have cellared it for five years and now it is perfect.

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This article has been tagged Food + Drink, BA