“Wine at 30K Feet: Alaska Airlines.”

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Early is on time and on time is late. This mantra rarely fails me, though it occasionally leads to tense moments with people who hold a less enlightened (read: uptight) worldview, and can on occasions such as this lead to periods of inconvenience. I arrived two hours early to the airport and was informed our flight had been delayed by weather in Seattle. It would be another hour. There was no line to check my bag, and no line at the TSA. By the time I had replaced my shoes on the far side of the security I had a little more than two hours to go until my flight would board. Thank God I brought a book and my computer, I thought.

 

I sat staring out a dirty window at Iowa and runways, the overcast clouds making the whole world look to be in black and white were it not for the occasional dirty orange traffic cone, consuming a second Bud Light and a basket of breaded, bite-sized, hunks of something that were reportedly but by no trustworthy assurance once pieces of a chicken. From time to time someone would call, a welcome distraction from the article I was supposed to be writing, my muse apparently not hiding in the plastic pints of overpriced low-quality beer that I was – for unclear reasons, choosing to drink. I set my computer aside and resumed reading Napa at Last Light by James Conaway. I’ve recently been corresponding with Conaway, and I think we have a promising project in the works.

 

Once aboard our tardy airship I promptly succumbed to sleep, the beer and my morning’s eleven-mile run combining to make me almost narcoleptic in the moment. I awoke to minor turbulence and observed flight attendants with carts maneuvering the narrow aisle of our craft. I ordered a sauvignon blanc and a glass of water, paid for the former, and received neither before the man with the cart wheeled off. Impatient by nature, I decided to look upon this as an exercise and I waited. And I waited. A second cart commanded by a blonde woman with a big smile arrived and she, like the man before her, asked what I might like. I told her I’d asked the man for a sauvignon blanc and paid him for it and she looked at me as if I had asked for blended margarita with extra salt on the rim. “One moment,” she told me, and walked down the aisle toward her colleague. I didn’t bother craning my neck around to observe the conversation. When she returned, she informed me: “We had a little miscommunication. We’re comping drinks because of the flight delay.” My look must have said something to her, must have prompted her because, not quite quickly enough to turn her period into a semicolon, she added: “If you’d like a second drink, I can comp that for you.” “Suppose I’ll have to do that,” I replied, smiling.

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The bright Pacific sun shining overtop a thick layer of creamy mashed potato clouds paired nicely with a crisp glass of wine, as beside me a woman in a brown sweater read from a browned, clearly deaccessioned copy of Tracking Dog; Theory and Methods. She told me she’s going to train her dog, Tilly, a rescue and a lab mix pictured as her cell phone wallpaper in a shower cap, to track for sport. She, her husband, himself a high school band director, and I had a pleasant conversation, ranging from the reasons to allow fighting in hockey to the west coast’s craft beer movement to my recent foray into the world of alcohol distribution and, finally, The Goonies. My sauv blanc, a Canoe Ridge Vineyards the vintage of which I failed to record, warmed slightly in the glass, the crisp edges dulling pleasantly, and the tart green apple notes stretching to encompass hints of tropical fruit and under-ripe pineapple. I have little experience with this varietal from Washington State, but I enjoy the wine, and the flight, our captain coming over the speaker with a fair degree of regularity to inform us that we are now flying over Rapid City, next Missoula Montana, and to apologize for the turbulence.

 

My second glass of wine, the red blend from Canoe Ridge, is poured from the bottle, as was its white counterpart. Despite the pragmatism of a plastic cup, the wine itself was pleasantly aromatic despite the fact that physics denied me the privilege of swirling the liquid in a glass that tapered outward.   Dark plum in color, it boasts a delicate yet adequate structure, with hints of pyrazines flirting underneath an otherwise dark, glassy, fruit-driven wine. I allowed myself to think back on my experience on Frontier Airlines** but a hundred hours ago, and I was grateful for this far superior one, made all the better by the fact that this time, the wine was free. Despite the flight delay, Alaska Airlines gets an A for service, their pleasant flight attendants doing all they could to make up for the delay, obviously with the support of their company. They also get a B+ for the quality of the wines served, Canoe Ridge being a reputable producer of reasonably priced – but far from cheap, wines, and a B+ for their limited but high quality selection which also includes LaMarca Prosecco. Overall, I give Alaska Airlines an A-, which may be the highest grade I’ve given to an airline ever. Bravo!

The fun thing about flying from East to West is that you gain time, if you can convince your brain and body to suspend reality for an evening. My friend Jay, another wine reviewer and the expert on the wines of the Pac Northwest in my opinion, picked me up at the airport. It was a little after seven o’clock in the evening. I was introduced in person to a few people — Gordon and Scott, whom I knew only from wine writing previously, and together we headed back to an amazing dinner of steak and wine. Tired but in a good place, I was appreciative of Alaska Airlines for providing me with locally sourced Washington wines to get the weekend started.

Cheers to great wine, smooth flying, and great friends!

Mark

 

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