Qantas carries an award-winning range of wines served in flight, but travellers beginning their journey at the airline's first class lounges in Sydney and Melbourne will find plenty of great drops to complement their meal at the in-lounge restaurant.
In fact, across all of its flights and lounges, Qantas customers drink a staggering 2.5 million bottles of red and white each year, which means the Flying Kangaroo is Australia's third largest buyer of wine.
With a selection of five white wines, six reds, three champagnes and a rosé, the wine list of the Qantas First Lounge mixes seasonal wines with old favourites.
But adapting wine lists to the ever-changing menus is no easy task.
We caught up with Qantas Sommelier and Sydney First Lounge Duty Manager David Holder (below) to see just how it's done.
"The focus is all about supporting Australian wines," Holder says. "We'll first look to a wine region, before then searching for producers and suppliers."
Tradition is entirely optional, with the current Shiraz – typically a wine of the Barossa Valley – instead sourced from Murrumbateman in New South Wales.
“People notice that there’s no Shiraz from the Barossa Valley," Holder explains to Australian Business Traveller.
"But the Clonakilla O'Riada 2011 Shiraz has some really nice spicy notes, and I just love that with meat. It's received really well by our passengers."
When it comes to making the final cut, Qantas sommeliers, the lounge chefs, staff from Rockpool and also from the airline's head office all collaborate to find the best fit.
The wine list is kept quite brief, yet with enough variety to keep regular visitors happy. It also doubles to improve efficiently, as having a longer list could see passengers "taking up to 15 minutes to choose a wine, and most people in the lounge don’t have that much time."
Revisions are made on an ongoing basis – taking customer feedback and popularity into account, along with the best matches for any new dishes that appear with the changing of the seasonal menus.
Unlike the ever-changing reds and whites, the basic non-vintage champagne list remains a staple throughout the year, although more expensive drops can be found on the odd occasion.
"It is a hit when we do it – people love it. We recently had the 1999 Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs, which was amazing."
Even with a bottle of the 1999 Delamotte carrying a price tag of around $165, Holder says the top-shelf drops aren't reserved only for first class or VIP passengers.
"We’ll let everyone try it. I think it’s the nicest, fairest way to do it.”
Matching wines with the menu
The food selections in the Qantas First lounges are best enjoyed with wine, of course, so we asked Holder to pair up a few of the most popular dishes.
A favourite of many frequent flyers is the salt & pepper squid, for which Holder recommends a glass of the Wither Hills 'Rarangi' 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.
“I think it has the right acidity, and because the squid is deep fried, it cleanses the palate in between.”
If the minute steak takes your fancy, Holder suggests the spiciness of the Clonakilla O'Riada 2011 Shiraz.
“People know it, and while not from the Barossa, it’s got this fantastic cult following. When passengers see it, their eyes light up and it’s received really well."
Want something a little more subtle? Try the Penfolds ‘Seventy Six’ Shiraz Cabernet. “It still has a bit of that spice, but at the same time it has a lot of fruit in it as well.”
And finally, to the lounge's iconic deconstructed pavlova... as this is already a very sweet dish, a dessert wine such as the Noble One isn't going to add much to the culinary experience compared to the Stella Bella 2013 Pink Muscat, Holder says.
And given that wine preferences are entirely subjective to each drinker, there's no reason not to sample a variety to find your new favourite...
Holder has seen "many people go through the entire list in a day" (that's 15 bottles, including the champagnes), but he's quick to assure us that passengers only have a "small taste" of each drop.
The 'unprinted' wine list
Regular guests to the Qantas First Lounge may have spotted a decanter aside the usual wines. This is your cue to taste something which doesn't appear on the daily menu.
On our visit, the delightful 2010 Rockford Basket Press Shiraz was ready to enjoy...
Floral hints combine with vibrant purple and black fruits to give the wine an earthy complexity, again serving as a genuine Barossa alternative to match with the minute steak.
Only small amounts of these special wines are kept at a time, so you won't find them printed anywhere on the menu.
Instead, keep your eyes peeled for the decanter, and don't be afraid to ask the staff whether something special is available on your next visit to the Qantas First Lounge.
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