“You’ve packed light.” When I hopped into a taxi with nothing more than a handbag and asked to be taken to Sydney’s international terminal I have a feeling my driver thought I was going to meet someone getting off a plane. When I explained I was going to New Zealand he seemed rather impressed.
I quite liked the idea of being seen as a super light traveller so I didn’t tell him the truth. That being that I was going to New Zealand for lunch, that I’d be back in my own bed that night, and that the real purpose of my trip was wine tasting at 35,000 feet and the chance to check out a shower in the sky.
When the invitation came through from Emirates to join one of Australia’s best wine writers and judges, Huon Hooke, and learn about the airline’s wine selection there was no need to think about my answer. That would be a big yes.
We were lucky enough to be flying in Business Class, and I was a happy traveller as I took in the look and feel of the cabin and our seats for the first time.
We had a sweet individual mini bar with soft drinks, a large TV screen with a very long list of movies and TV shows to choose from, a clever “favourite” option so that you could short list ones to watch later, and lots of room to spread out. We also had access to 10MB of free WiFi, which allowed me to share a few Instagrams from over the Tasman.
As it was a relatively short flight and only 9am I resisted the urge to convert my seat into a flatbed and ask for some airline pyjamas, but I know how much I’d love that treat on a long haul flight.
Then I had the chance to see something else I definitely want to try sometime.
The Emirates Shower Spa
I used to laugh at the idea of a shower in the sky, and I still think it’s an outrageously decadent concept. But sometimes I want to do outrageously decadent things and this is one of those times.
As our wine tasting group was taken on a tour of the first class suites, we each had the chance to check out the shower spas, complete with heated floors, marble sinks and fresh flowers.
There are two shower spas on an Emirates A380 and first class passengers book are able to book 25 minute slots when they get on board. That’s 25 minutes in the bathroom itself to pamper yourself, but as water weighs quite a bit and that uses expensive fuel, the water in the shower lasts for five minutes.
I’m told the pressure is surprisingly good, and you can pause the water flow as you lather up to extend the amount of time you have. When there’s just one minute left the shower stops and you then restart it and have one last rinse before getting out.
I had heard a rumour that the water onboard is recycled, and so you should try to be the first person to use the shower spa, but I’m happy to report that isn’t right. Instead the used water is held in tanks and disposed of at the next stop.
The shower spa is all decked out Timeless Spa and Bvlgari products, fluffy towels, loofah mitts, shaving kits, and a hairdryer to dry off with.
They also have spa attendants who nip in when you’ve finished to clean everything and make sure it’s spotless for the next guest.
While we didn’t have the chance to actually strip down and shower in them (next time!) we certainly did make the most of the feature at the other end of the A380’s upper deck – the bar.
Emirates Champagne and Wine Time in the A380 Bar
The first time I experienced a bar on a plane was in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class. Thanks to the A380 having more room to play with, Emirates have been able to take that concept a step further and have a bar with a lounge area around it.
It was here that we gathered around Huon Hooke to learn about the way our palate changes in the sky and how that affects our appreciation of wine.
Just as people prefer spicier or more flavoursome foods on a plane, Huon told us that fruitier and more aromatic wines do better at altitude. You want a richer, sweeter wine in the air.
As a champagne lover I was interested to hear that sparkling wine fares better in the clouds than other wines. Huon explained that one of the problems for wine on planes is that as well as the lower air pressure, there’s air movement all around us which carries the bouquet away.
The bubbles in champagnes and sparklings help to bring that aroma out, so it manages to still taste great in the sky. Although there is another factor to watch out for.
“Lower air pressure means there will be less bubbles in your wine, because the bubbles will come out quickly and then stop because all the C02 will have gone.” Huon explained. “But if the wine is nice and cold and you drink it fast it won’t matter.”
Now I should point out that Huon also warned that alcohol does affect people more at altitude, and that he in no way endorses drinking a lot of champagne quickly on a plane to beat the bubbles. But I’m also glad that I haven’t let good champagne go to waste in the sky by letting it sit for too long.
Case in point, the 2004 Dom Perignon that we had in our glasses at the time. As the champagne Emirates serves in first class we were obliged to taste it in the air, and it was just as delicious as I remembered.
As we started to try some of the whites and then reds that Emirates offers in first and business class, we learned that Emirates have more than 80 different wines on their planes around the world at any given time.
They also have a ‘guest country’ wine on the plane depending on where you’re going. So if you’re flying to Australia they’ll have an Australian wine, into New Zealand, a New Zealand one, and so on.
And as a nice plus for a wine lover, if you’re flying two legs, say from Sydney to London, they’ll serve different wines on each leg so that you and your palate don’t get bored along the way.
Having been fascinated by the movie Red Obsession, I was rather impressed when Huon explained that Emirates buy some of their wine at auction in Bordeaux every year before it’s bottled. It had never occurred to me that an airline would be cellaring wine for years before they offered it on a plane.
Ah yes, the things you can learn around a bar in the sky from a wine expert. Especially one who has just released a wine guide with reviews of the top 1,500 Australian wines and 10,000 ratings of international wines (that would be the Huon Hooke’s Gourmet Traveller Wine Guide 2015 for the wine lovers out there).
By the time I arrived back in Sydney airport, wondering whether lunch in New Zealand amounted to 1 or 0 days away from Australia on my immigration form, I had a whole new appreciation of mile high wine time. I look forward to putting it to good use again one day soon.
Amanda Woods flew as a guest of Emirates but all opinions remain her own.
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