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Sipping Wine At 30,000 Feet: World-Class Indulging With Sommeliers In The Sky

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Picture it. Seared Grouper topped with a tomato, chilli and caper sauce, served with fresh sugar snap peas and hearty potatoes, or a plate of Tamarind and sesame chicken with egg noodles and stir fried needle beans. Your succulent meal is not only enjoyed with a canapé like rosemary lavosh with eggplant dip and seasoned olives, an entree such as cream of leek soup with chives and croutons and a tasty salad, but also a carefully chosen wine. For example, the multi-course supper could be paired with a cool-climate Chardonnay from the lush Yarra Valley or an Old Vine Shiraz from the fertile, rolling hills of the Barossa Valley. Some particularly notable varieties are the classic 1999 Comtes de Champagne Taittinger, Tim Kirk’s Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier from Murrumbateman near Canberra, and a racy and mature 2004 Wigan Edan Valley Rieslin, all from the First Class Wine Cellar. To enhance the experience, all wines are served in glassware designed by Marc Newson.

No, you’re not dining in a 5-star restaurant, but on board a Qantas flight enjoying their Sommeliers in the Sky program. One of the only airlines to offer this level of wine service, select stewards and stewardesses complete a three-tier course to certify them to expertly serve wine. Three courses must be completed — introductory, intermediate and advanced — with a final exam consisting of a written test, a blind tasting and a service component. This ensures that those who have elected to become on-board sommeliers have expert knowledge of the craft.

Passengers are guided through a culinary journey by someone with a firm grasp of a wine’s terroir, how the wines from the menu compare and contrast with each other and how each pairs with the dishes on the food menu. Additionally, you’ll be able to easily spot these trained sommeliers by a silver grape silhouette pin on their lapel.

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Started six years ago, the program continues to take Qantas’ service to the next level year after year. While some may wonder where the Sommeliers in the Sky program came about, it really was a natural addition to Qantas’ programming, as they’re not just dedicated to providing an elevated experience for their passengers but also an authentically Australian experience throughout their journey.

Paired with cuisine prepared by celebrity chef Neil Perry, dinner on board Qantas is like dining on a flying 5-star restaurant. Australian cuisine itself reflects a global melting pot culture, and the in-flight dining demonstrates this with Indian, Thai and Moroccan-inspired dishes. While possible meals like shiitake wontons in oxtail broth and steamed chicken with Szechuan pepper offer an Asian flare, a grilled lamb cutlet showcases a taste of India and a calzone stuffed with ricotta, sun dried tomato and garlic allows passengers to mentally travel to Italy.

With these more exotic dishes, Perry recommends pairing with aromatic white wines and strongly fruit-driven Pinot Noirs. Chef Neil Perry himself loves matching these dishes with their carefully-curated wines, his personal favorite combination being the tokays and miscast with their soft and hard cheese platters.

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“Not only do they work as a great food and wine match but we’re exposing Qantas customers to a fantastic and totally unique Australian wine style,” he explains.

While the full list of premium wines showcased in the premium cabins is separate from what is offered in economy, these passengers are still able to have in flight sommeliers assist them in selecting a wine with their meal.

Have you ever enjoyed Qantas’ Sommeliers in the Sky program? What was your favorite pairing?

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Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and doing orphanage work in Ghana.
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