Wines on a Plane
As anyone who has done any traveling over the past dozen or so years already knows, flying on domestic airlines ranks somewhere between catching dengue fever and being beaten with a two-by-four on the scale of pleasurable activities.
A glass (or two or three) of wine can help sooth jangled nerves and relieve the frustration of endless lines, crowded airports and airplane cabins apparently designed by the Marquise de Sade for maximum passenger (airline-speak for “cattle”) discomfort.
But even as you appreciate the calming effects of fermented grape juice, the suspicion sneaks in that the wine you’re drinking really doesn’t taste very good, or at least not nearly as good as it tastes on the ground.
That suspicion, by the way, is right. But, honest, it’s not the airlines’ fault. According to British researchers, being crammed into an aluminum tube hurtling through the air at 35,000 feet does things to you, things that can make that otherwise perfectly acceptable glass of California Chardonnay taste like Chateau Sweatpants.
The chief culprit, researchers say, is the low humidity on airplanes, which dries out your mouth and nose and throws your taste buds off kilter. Low humidity also blunts your sense of smell, which contributes mightily to your perception of a wine’s flavor. Flying through time zones and the general stress of travel can upset the body’s pH levels; the noise and vibration of air travel only adds to your discomfort.
What can a stressed-out, wine-loving passenger do?
Wear noise-canceling headphones, for one. Or listen to the right kind of music. Studies have shown that music with lots of high notes can heighten taste perception of sweetness, while music with lots of low notes can increase the perception of bitterness. Anything you can do to relieve pre-flight stress can help too.
Then there’s the wines themselves. Best are ripe, fruity reds with soft tannins and low acidity. Not so good are tart, mineral-y, grapefruity whites, which can come off as too assertive for flight-damaged palates. Or you could just stay home and pop a bottle of your favorite Cabernet.