VistaJet’s scientifically tailored cellar for in-flight oenophiles

Wines taste different at altitude – and one private-jet company has turned to science to select its in-flight cellar

Image: Chris Burke

When did you last have a really top-notch glass of wine, in-flight? If you can’t recall, I don’t blame you – it often seems like airlines file the wine list somewhere down below eye masks and earplugs in their list of priorities. 

Clients of VistaJet, however, may be able to tell a different story. Because the world’s first pay-as-you-go private jet company recently introduced a wine programme that wouldn’t look out of place in a Michelin restaurant.

“I travel more than 800 hours a year and in so many of the cities I’ve been to, wine is one of the common themes, a source of enjoyment, a way of connecting with people – but it’s also a business tool,” explains VistaJet founder Thomas Flohr, who founded the company in 2004 with two jets and now presides over a $2.5bn empire with more than 70 jets around the world. “Getting it right is very important.” Getting it right doesn’t just mean choosing exceptional wines. It also means choosing wines that performed well at altitude. Because research by Oxford University has found that our senses work differently in-flight. When you’re several thousand metres up, fruitiness and sweet notes can be muted, while bitterness and spice notes stay more or less the same. The drone of engines can also dull our sense of taste, while the fall in cabin pressure – and therefore humidity – inhibits our sense of smell. For all these reasons, wines that are more fruity, rich or full-bodied tend to give more satisfaction in-flight than those that are lean, subtle or particularly fragile.


With this research in mind, Flohr decided to conduct a series of in-air and on-the-ground tastings with a mix of science and wine experts, in order to select VistaJet’s new Signature Wine List. Over dinner in London, he unveiled the wines that made the cut: Ruinart’s aromatic Blanc de Blancs champagne, the hedonistic Gaja Rossj Bass Chardonnay 2016, Château Pape Clement’s ripe Pessac-Léognan 2009, Antinori’s renowned Super-Tuscan Solaia 2013 and the deliciously tropical Albert Bichot Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2015. Around 12 new wines will be added to this list each year. 

VistaJet clients who think this all sounds like bunkum can put the science to the test with an in-flight blind tasting helmed by one of the VistaJet hostesses (who are all trained to WSET Level 2, or intermediate level, in wine). They can also avail themselves of the VistaJet wine-concierge service, which supplies advice on buying, investing and getting your fine wine from A to B. And what’s the point in having access to a private jet if you can’t take it on a wine trip? VistaJet can arrange a three-day tour of Tuscany and Umbria that includes dinner with the Antinori family and accommodation on the family estates. Now that’s what I call first-class.