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Sommeliers aboard

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Daniela and Beat have been flight attendants for over 30 years, but that’s not all: They are also trained sommeliers.

There are six wines to choose from in SWISS First and five in SWISS Business. In addition to two champagnes, two ports and a dessert wine. So that flight attendants can assist guests in choosing the right vintage, SWISS organizes the so-called Wine Experience: a training course created by flight attendants for flight attendants to ensure that every cabin crew member is familiar with the on-board wines and capable of offering expert recommendations.

For Daniela and Beat, their sommelier training has come in handy during their work on board. “Especially in SWISS First, but also in SWISS Business, our guests often want to try the different wines. And then it is important to be familiar with our offerings and also to know which wine goes well with which food.” As a sommelier, a wine tasting above the clouds is no problem at all. On the contrary, it’s fun to present the different wines to guests while explaining their different characteristics.

Laura has been working as a flight attendant at SWISS for seven years now. Before that, she managed a wine restaurant in Helsinki.

Spreading the wine know-how

It was around three years ago that the two wine enthusiasts came up with the idea of passing on their knowledge to their colleagues on board. Together with Roger Geu, Head of Onboard Products & Service Cabin at SWISS, they developed the Wine Experience training course. Like the on-board menus, the in-flight wine offering changes every three months. When that time comes around, Daniela and Beat each set aside a week to explain the red, white, and sparkling wines to all interested flight attendants. And the training has been enormously popular so far – so much so that the sommelier team has enlisted the support of a third colleague and wine connoisseur, Laura, for the last year.

“Over 500 colleagues take part in our training,” the three wine connoisseurs tell us. In addition to detailed explanations of each wine and its origin and taste, recommendations are also given on food pairing – that is, which wine goes well with which food. “Preparing for these training days is of course a challenge, and is always an instructive experience for us too,” explains Daniela. “It’s a lot of fun to introduce colleagues to the world of wine in such a practical way.” After flight attendants learn the theory, they have the opportunity to taste the select vintages on the spot. “Talking about wine is one thing, tasting it is another. Tasting is important in order to understand what we explain to guests about each bottle,” says Beat. The three wine experts also show their colleagues how to best present a bottle and the temperature at which the different wines should be served on board. In other words, a training that is very beneficial for SWISS guests.

Taste buds above the clouds

Our sense of taste on board an aircraft at an altitude of several thousand metres is not the same as on the ground. This is due to conditions such as humidity, vibration, and cabin pressure. Not only food, but also wine tastes a bit different on board than usual. At a cruising altitude of 10,000 metres, it’s like being on top of Säntis, or about 2,500 metres above sea level. Under these conditions, our taste buds and nose perceive less than they ordinarily do – similar to having a cold. For example, salt is tasted 20 to 30 per cent less. The flavours of herbs and the sweetness of sugar are also flatter, since both sugar and acidity are experienced differently above the clouds. These changes also affect the wine on board. For ex ample, residual sweetness is perceived much less than on the ground, while tannins have a more pronounced flavour at altitude – the taste of acidity, however, is not affected. But since flavourings tend to taste flatter, the acids are more dominant, with the result that light, fresh wines tend to lose their flavour and taste more like alcohol, while highly aromatic wines remain stable under the changed cabin pressure – facts that make the enjoyment of wine on board a special taste experience and also play an important role in a wine consultation.

And what do our three wine professionals recommend when it comes to their favourite wines? “I enjoy tasting local wines,” explains Beat. “There are so many exciting wines in the world, and enjoying them in their country of origin makes for a unique wine experience. I have had wines in Mallorca, for example, that went perfectly with the food and atmosphere. But back in Switzerland, the same wine tasted completely different.” And what about the two ladies in the trio? “We both like drinking champagne – it can be combined with many dishes and goes well in almost every situation.”

Besides all their knowledge about wines and their origin and production, there is one thing on which the three experts are unanimous: “Wine is meant to be enjoyed, and it should be fun to learn more about it, taste it, and discover new flavours. There is no right or wrong. In the end, it’s a matter of taste.”