Behind Qantas’s Sky High Wine List

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Have you ever wondered how Qantas’s wine lists are compiled? It takes four days, 1400 bottles of wine and six very lucky sommeliers, writes Alex Greig.

Beyond the brown-brick façade of an unassuming building in Sydney, six men and women are working their way through 1400 wines. They’re the Qantas Rockpool Sommeliers – experts selected by Neil Perry, Qantas creative director of food, beverage and service – and they’re one-and-a-half days into the mammoth task of populating Qantas’s wine menus with the best Australia has to offer. It will take four long days for their selections to be complete. The sommeliers are in the wine-training and epicurean wing of Qantas’s Centre of Service Excellence (CoSE) in Sydney.

The centre, where Qantas trains its staff in customer service, is equipped with everything cabin crews need to prepare for their future roles in areas such as First Class cabins, galley kitchens and airport lounges. It’s an airline enthusiast’s dream.

On the tasting panel is Sebastian Crowther, beverage director at Rockpool Group Melbourne and one of only two master sommeliers in the country. He’s set up at a bench with glasses, bottles of wine (without labels – this is a blind tasting), a spittoon and chunks of crusty bread for palate-cleansing.

This is the second major tasting Rockpool Group sommeliers have conducted for Qantas. “We expanded the relationship with Rockpool to think more holistically about food and wine,” says Phil Capps, Qantas’s head of customer product and service development. “We see our role as showcasing the best food and wine Australia has to offer and it’s part of our responsibility to bring great wines to people on and off planes.” 

In that spirit, Capps has pulled shifts at Perry’s restaurants, from front of house to the kitchen, to fully comprehend the process of high-end food and wine service. All Qantas cabin crew receive wine training but others opt to go further, training in their own time to become sommeliers. There are more than 300 Qantas sommeliers currently flying (look out for their lapel pins, fashioned to look like a bunch of grapes).

Qantas Rockpool Sommeliers select wines across 19 evaluation categories for all flights and airport lounges. No matter where the wine is being served, the objective is the same: to introduce local and international Qantas customers to great Australian wines. The selection criteria? “A major degree of deliciousness,” says Perry. “It’s our great joy to showcase small as well as large producers.”

People often ask Perry if food and wine tastes different at 10,000 metres. His answer is always the same: “If it tastes great on the ground, it tastes great in the air.”

All the wines featured on board can be purchase at Qantas Wine.

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