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How to be less of a wine pleb while travelling

Travel Tips

Cape Town - In my ongoing attempt to upskill the way I engage with wine, I continue to try different wines wherever I can.

While I know pretty much what kind of wine I like (dry and white or very dry and sparkling) there is so much variety within those categories that I am spoilt for choice.

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Carel Nolte

When I travel, I milk this choice to ensure my education is accelerated – and I do so by challenging my liver, not my wallet.

A few tips on how to do this.

If you fly Air France just about the only thing they are good for is the complimentary champagne – in all classes! In economy you only get one glass, but one perfect glass of bubbles is often enough to put you in a state of perfection, or delicious slumber as you glide to your destination.

Whilst most other airlines have the standard selection of wine (small, cheap, screwcap bottles in economy class; and a pretty good, but unimaginative selection of wine in business) there is no competing with Emirates when it comes to variety and quality of wine in the sky.

And thanks to their excellent awards programme, I continue to book economy at great rates and use points to upgrade to business class. The benefit of this is not only the inflight wine selection, but the praise one can offer Bacchus in the business class lounges at Dubai is pure bliss.

Having done extensive research tasting – and drinking - a lot of wine with Emirates, and having listened to their inflight programming around wine coupled with their blogs, I have learnt some fascinating facts I have jotted down over the years:

Every day, over 70 different wines, champagnes and ports from 12 countries, including South Africa are served onboard Emirates to passengers in all classes.

Emirates’ wine programme represents a long-term investment of over $690-million and focuses on wine not as a commodity, but rather as an experience.

“In every aspect of our business, our aim is to provide the best experience for our customers and we have curated a wine programme that is reflective of that promise. Over the years, we’ve built a wine programme that has garnered the interest of exclusive vineyards in the world, and we are proud of the fact that our wine lists are comparable to what you might find in a top restaurant in the best cities around the world,” said Sir Tim Clark, President, Emirates Airline.

He added: “Many of our customers have expressed their surprise and delight at the variety and quality of wines that Emirates offers on board, and they wonder how on earth we manage to procure such rare or exclusive vintages. The answer is long-term planning and investment.”

Emirates has its own team of experts who have built relationships directly with some of the world’s most prestigious vineyards to handpick and secure the wines served onboard their flights.

Emirates has a dynamic strategy of buying wines, and an intensive programme to secure the best vintages for future consumption by buying en primeur – often before the wines are bottled and released to the market.

The airline currently has over 2.2 million bottles of wines aging in its cellar in Burgundy, France. Some of these vintages will only be ready for consumption in a decade’s time.

At the heart of Emirates’ cellar are wines from the Bordeaux region in France, accounting for almost half of the airline’s total wine portfolio.With labels from France’s most prestigious vineyards including Château Lafite, Château Margaux, Château Latour, Château Haut-Brion, and Château Mouton-Rothschild, Emirates’ cellar is a wine connoisseur’s dream.

Emirates’ selection criteria not only takes into account the quality of wine and how it is paired with the food served onboard, but also how it is likely to react to altitude when served at 35 000 feet in the air.

To see what is on your flight, check out: http://www.emirates.com/english/flying/dining/wines/inflight-wine.aspx

Another lekker wine experience was on a recent stay at Club Med Val Thorens. I was decidedly unexcited at the prospect of an all inclusive holiday. I had visions that “all-inclusive” meant I could have everything except the stuff that I really wanted. However, the sommeliers (yep, there are a few at the resort) blew me away not only with their knowledge but also with the excellent selection on hand.

I suppose I should not have been surprised as Club Med have partnered with Lavinia, Europe’s largest wine store, and so they have access to variety at excellent prices. From the easy drinking Grignan-Les- Adhemar in the Rhone Valley to the crisp Jean Perrier et Fils Chardonnay, my lunch times were sorted.

I don’t often try rose, but loved finding the very accessible La Passion D’Orane as part of the all-inclusive selection and spoilt myself by paying a bit extra for the Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Rose Extra Champagne (bubbles, naturally, come at a cost!).

I particularly enjoyed checking out the wine list as Club Med include photos of winemakers and short bios on the vineyards – informative and aided my education and enjoyment.

On the flipside of finding ways to drink (a lot!) of delicious wine on holiday, I must caution against expecting anything whilst in Thailand, or Burkina Faso – obviously. Both these countries are phenomenal travel destinations, but drink the local beer – often warm – or nothing. It’s that simple. Wine is scarce, hideously over-priced, not well cared for and will leave a bitter taste in the mouth – figuratively and literally.

Adapted from a press release for IOL

* Hit me up @carelnolte to share some of your best wine travel tips.

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