Ordering a glass of wine in an economy seat on an airplane can be risky if you care about what you drink. While First Class and Business Class passengers often have a good list to choose from, the main cabin is usually offered “red or white” and you have to take your chances.
On a recent United Airlines flight from Houston to San Diego, I took my chances and was pleasantly surprised. When I chose “white” I expected an over-oaked, overly-alcoholic Chardonnay fruit bomb. But actually got a French IGT-level Sauvignon Blanc. Les Deux Pins Sauvignon Blanc (2012) from the Pays d'Oc region was crisp with a good balance between fruity flavors and minerality. It had floral and citrus notes (lemon with a bit of orange peel), and a hint of the usual vegetal aromas, but less herbal/grassy impression than the typical New Zealand style. I'm sure it was chosen for this middle-of-the-road character to please the widest possible audience, which makes sense, and I think the wine achieves this goal. It's expensive at $8 per glass, but we are talking airplane prices, so maybe not terribly outrageous.
On the flight home I picked “red” with reasonable success. This time there were 2 different French Cabernet Sauvignons available, both from Pays d'Oc (the same region as the Sauvignon Blanc), and both from 2012. I wasn’t familiar with either of the producers, so I picked at random and got Jean Belmont Cabernet Sauvignon. It was fairly light and tart for a Cab, though it had typically dark fruit aromas, and moderate acid and tannin. Again, I assume it was intended to strike a compromise among different red wine tastes, and I think it succeeded. I poured half the little bottle at a time into my
glass plastic cup, and the wine improved as it breathed. The Cab was also $8.
Though neither of these wines was spectacular, they were perfectly fine and much better than I anticipated. United’s website tells me that Doug Frost, Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, selects United's wines. The list of wines available for First and BusinessFirst passengers is available here, but for Economy I believe the “red or white” selections are unspecified and may change periodically. I can’t guarantee you’ll have these same choices on your flight, but this has given me hope that an economy class “house” wine can be a pleasant experience!
P.S. Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson selects wines for Delta’s Business Elite class, but I’m not sure whether she selects the wines for the cheap seats.
P.P.S. It annoys me that United no longer offers ANY free snacks. Not even a small bag of pretzels on a 3+ hour flight leaving at lunchtime. I’m happy to report that Delta has not yet sunk to this level of savagery, and still gives out cookies or pretzels.