When I was in the Army, travel was a huge part of the job. I was based in Osnabruck (North Germany), and would regularly fly overseas – to training areas like BATUS in Canada, for adventure in French & Swiss Alps, and back to the UK for courses. We would usually fly by commercial jets, but occasionally if it was for a tactical exercise, we’d fly RAF. I remember arriving at Braize Norton around zero six (blah) one July morning in full combat kit for a flight to Canada which I had assumed would be RAF. We went through military check-in (exactly how you might imagine it), and prepared for a stripped-back plane with rat-packs as snacks. Instead, we got Monarch. It was dreamy. We each had a row of seats to ourselves, and what felt every single creature comfort, like, ever. The procedure for boarding a military flight is that officers board first, and I couldn’t help noticing the more senior ranks hustling to the front of the queue at our gate. Clever little fish – turns out, business class was first come first served. And I think I was buying peanut m&ms at the time the seats were going spare.
The first (and only) time I actually flew business was short-haul, to Iceland. I hadn’t realised I’d be turning left when I boarded the plane until I was instructed to do so, and I’m ashamed to say I did a sort of mini victory dance. I set about stowing my hand-luggage and was in the middle of wedging my coat into the over-head compartment when I felt a hand on my shoulder: “I’ll take that, madame”. Of course. They hang your coat in business. Cue frantic de-squishing and attempts at smoothing down my massive parka.
Since then, the travel blogger side of my job has increased, and I’m getting to see new places which is so, so, so exciting. Last year, I went to the Maldives and Bali, and this year I am planning a trip to Thailand. I think it’s partly due to not going travelling on a typical gap year. Lots of my friends launched themselves into new cultures armed with little more than a rucksack, but I never did that. So I guess I’m sort of making up for lost time. With a small caveat: I’m doing it nicely.
Last week, I was invited to Masion Assouline in Piccadilly for a wine tasting event hosted by Air France. I used to fly to France every winter with my family for ski holidays (I could ski as soon as I could walk), and once I’d discovered the delightful combination of ice cold rose and motorsport, Monaco and St Tropez became regular favourites. But somehow I’ve never actually flown Air France. I will soon, and I promise I’ll tell you all about it.
So the event. We were in the super luxe loft room next to BAFTA on Piccadilly, surrounded by some of the most collection-worthy art, books and general collectibles I’ve ever seen. When I arrived, Tom Harrow – sommelier and co-founder of Honest Grapes – was already in full swing, introducing the #AirFranceWine concept. I’ll get to that in just a second, but for a brief moment I want to mention what a gem Tom is. As a sommelier, he knows all the techniques to drawing out flavours – whether they be fruity, woody, musky etc – and I got the impression that he’s really done his research. He’s a freelancer for How To Spend It, is known as Wine Chap, and is also ex-Army – he served out in Germany with the Queen’s Dragoon Guards. Which was Dave’s regiment. See? Gem.
So. #AirFranceWine. As you may gather from wordly experience, the French tend to be pretty into their wines. Infact, I remember on one exercise in Saint Cyr, we swapped a box of British rations with that of the French Army. Ours are…. functional. Theirs included a mini bottle of red. Now. There’s a chance my memory is exaggerating this slightly, but I’m pretty sure the general gist is accurate. And anyway, the main point is – the French love wine. As do Air France. Turns out, they serve every single one of their passengers a free glass of champagne on long-haul flights, regardless of which class you’re flying in. Winning.
The point of the wine tasting was to introduce us to the range of wines available on-board Air France flights. Tom explained that the collection has been curated based on things you might expect, such as origin (all are from various French vineyards) and menu parings – but also for how the wines perform in a pressurised cabin at altitude. Turns out, wines taste different whether they are being sipped on land or in the air, since altitude, cabin compression and the quality of the air affect the character of a wine. Our senses are also slightly dulled in the air because of dry cabin air – according to Tom, if you were to taste airplane food on land it would appear particularly salty.
We started with Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blancs de Blancs, 2005 (the champagne favoured by Bond), before moving onto whites, reds and finally a dessert wine. My favourite was the Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux Blanc – super fresh, aromatic flavours and a subtle richness. It has a highly concentrated bouquet with subtle aromas of fig, quince, pear, milk caramel and white pepper. Of course, I am terrible at wine tasting, so I stole this line from Tom. But once he’d told me, I could totally recognise the notes. I think..
I’m thinking the sensible option now is to put my new-found wine tasting skills to the test. First up: wine in the skies with Air France. Legit cannot think of a more indulgent way to travel.