In Part One, Tom Harrow soared to 10,000ft on the new Avanti EVO. Now he gets down to business with the best Italian wines to enjoy in the air.
Findings published in the French journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggest that the bubbles in sparkling wine contain 30 times more flavour-enhancing chemicals than in the liquid. Cabin pressure affects fizz, because after initially vigorous effervescence there follows a rapid dissipation of the mousse. Richer, more integrated sparkling wines suffer less as more flavour is retained. Our selection of prestige cuvées from Franciacorta, Milan’s “wine garden”, showed well, the extended lees-ageing of Barone Pizzini’s Bagnadore Non Dosato Riserva Vendemmia 2009, Fratelli Berlucchi’s Casa delle Colonne Brut Franciacorta Riserva 2008 and Ca’del Bosco’s Annamaria Clementi 2006 (the latter spending almost 100 months on its yeasts), all helping to “bake” in complexity and character. In each case the wines performed sturdily, the bead persisting stubbornly, helping to retain the wines’ integrity. I have hosted a number of events for the Consorzio di Franciacorta and discovered that the region, a hidden gem in the truest sense, is full of great sparkling wines that are the epitome of Italian elegance and style – a balance of ripe fruit guaranteed by a climate that is warmer than Champagne, with charm, freshness and full flavour from the aforementioned maturation. Franciacorta also aims, within four years, to become the first fully organic region in the world, so its wines are a match for the jet’s green credentials.
Oak and sediment
There is something about altitude, or more likely air pressure and quality, that accentuates the oak in wines. Maturation in oak bolsters maturing full-bodied whites and fizz, acting rather like an exo-skeleton to give them greater solidity. Light, fresh, unoaked whites simply evaporate on the palate when up in the air. Organic pioneer Ca’del Bosco’s Chardonnay, one of Italy’s finest, is made in a generous, opulent style that renders it sufficiently robust to be enjoyed in the air without sacrificing finesse or charm. I noted in a previous tasting experiment with ConnectJets that there is no benefit to overly aerating new oaked reds at altitude, as the wood and fruit disassociate. This is good news for private jet owners as you don’t need to worry about finding space in the cabin to stow decanters. I also previously concluded that top-quality Merlot and Cabernet from particularly ripe vintages sufficiently mature to have achieved a good integration of fruit and wood but not so aged as to hold sediment in suspension (resulting from vibrations caused by the plane’s movement) are sound red wine choices. (A private jet is therefore not the best environment in which to enjoy your 1982 First Growths or any remaining 2007 Cru Bourgeois clarets.) My preferred choice, the 2010 Tenuta San Leonardo, is supple, energetic and evolved without having thrown its tannic deposit – typically detrimental to enjoyment at altitude. This historic estate, which converted to organic viticulture in 2015, is often called the “Sassicaia of the north”, considered the most successful Bordeaux blend in northern Italy and numbered among the country’s top 50 wines. I imagine its plusher and more mature 2007 and 2004 vintages would be even more rewarding, but I’d also consider other top Italians from the hot years 2009 and 2011, or from Bordeaux concentrate on 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2009.
FruitAir is a conduit for aroma and flavour. It is not a myth that food and drink consumed halfway up an alp tastes better – the air is so fresh and vivifying. And it is also not fanciful to suggest the quality of this “ride” is likely to be diminished in a pressurised cabin, with recycled air and uncomfortable sinuses. This palate-deadening effect flattens flavours and masks more subtle, secondary characteristics in wines. Generally, bold, spicy, more concentrated, fruit-centred wines withstand the diminishing effects better, as demonstrated by AVE Memento Natural Blend 2007, a field-blend wine of up to six different varieties (some as yet unidentified but with Malbec clearly dominant in the mix), from a 1.3-hectare plot planted at the beginning of the 20th century. Although the winery is in Mendoza not Milan, it is owned by Tuscans Mario Pardini and Iacopo di Bugno and made by legendary winemaker Alberto Antonini, and therefore, I think, another example of fine Italian craftsmanship. This was my one playful foray outside the country. (Fortunately, I wasn’t pairing fine wines with a new Learjet from Quebec-based Bombardier, or I’d have had to be very inventive or else drink nothing but Okanagan ice wine all day.)
Tom Harrow is a fine wine commentator, consultant and presenter. His Grand Crew Classé is the ultimate invitation-only club for fine wine enthusiasts, with exclusive access to rare bottles and events around the world. twitter.com/winechapuk.