Sign Up for Our Monthly Europe Newsletter
I discovered Spain’s wine tradition and food tradition not in one of the country’s cities or villages but in the air — on an Iberia Airlines’ dinner for long-haul Business Plus passengers. The new food program, launched this November, comes at a great time for West Coast clients because, earlier this year, Iberia launched a direct flight from Los Angeles to Madrid, Spain.
Iberia Airlines, appreciating Spain’s contemporary cuisine — namely its chef culture, range of flavors and textures, effect on Spanish culture and the high bar it has set for cuisines around the world — created a Business Plan menu with four of the country’s celebrated chefs. The four chefs — Paco Roncero, Ramon Freixa, Tono Perez and Dani Garcia — boast two Michelin stars each. The menu reflects Spain’s emphasis on extended meals, featuring proper courses which embrace fresh produce and the Mediterranean diet. Iberia Airlines offers different menus for flights from Madrid and to Madrid, though the courses and chefs featured are the same. According to Santiago de Juan, international press manager of corporate communications for Iberia Airlines, the chefs collaborate on the starters and, every six months, one of the four chefs individually designs the three main course selections.
On my recent flight back from Madrid, the starters reflected the food I had enjoyed throughout my trip, including the first dinner I enjoyed at Ramon Freixa’s restaurant, attached to Hotel Unico. Served after cava (Spain’s equivalent to champagne), juice, wine, olives and nuts were served as tapas, rather than traditional appetizers. The tapas reflected Spanish cuisine, as well as the fall season, and included a selection of warm rolls served with organic extra virgin olive oil and Modena vinegar; veal consomme with steamed vegetables, placed in the soup upon serving; a smoked salmon and cheese roll plated with asparagus and pesto sauce; a lettuce salad with chunks of carrot and egg; and a Spanish cheese plate, featuring slices of Manchego and grapes.
The return flight afforded me the chance to enjoy Spanish mushrooms one last time, as I chose the boletus mushroom cannelloni with pea sauce instead of the sweet veal burger, served with caramelized apple and sauteed potatoes, or the fried codfish with piquillo peppers.
These fall- and winter-inspired dishes were designed by Paco Roncero and will be offered until April, 2012. The next chef in charge of the hot meal will be Dani Garcia (from May 2012 to October 2012), who will be followed by Tono Perez (November 2012 to April 2013) and then Ramon Freixa (May 2013 to October 2013).
Desserts, including green tea ice cream — creamy, delicious and served in a bowl — and hazelnut cake are homemade and designed especially to preserve their ideal temperatures and texture during the flight. Afternoon snacks include Spanish products including Iberico ham, plump olives and tomato with olive oil and bread.
Spanish Wine and LiquorAlso on my flight, I received an extensive pamphlet of vinos (wines), which introduces the Business Plan Cellar, Iberia’s wine program. The menu introduces passengers to Spain’s increasingly diverse wine offerings and features three tintos (red wines) and two blancos (white wines) that differ by area, vineyard, type and style.
The wine list is selected by Todovino — whose wines are chosen using the same standards applied to the Todovino Guide — during tasting sessions held on long-haul flights, so that only wines which are able to retain their qualities 30,000 feet in the air are selected.
“Lots of tannin is needed, so you must use strong flavors,” said Santiago de Juan, international press manager, corporate communications.
The wine menu is updated every three months from a selection of 5,000 Spanish wines and features a Sommelier’s Choice. The menu also allows the passenger the opportunity to have fun and learn a bit about wine, with guidelines on how to have an individual on-board tasting session. At the back of each pamphlet is a worksheet in which passengers can take notes on their selected wines, with vocabulary provided to help guide the passenger’s identification of the wine’s appearance, taste and smell.
The pamphlet includes a page for each of the wine options, which includes the winery’s name, the grapes used, aging information, the style and the alcohol content as well as the sommelier’s general comments and tasting notes. Reviewing the airline’s guidelines and comparing my own notes with sommelier Custodio L. Zamarra’s notes helped me appreciate my onboard wine as well as the wines served throughout my time in Madrid, customarily with lunch as well as dinner. An expert by my return flight, I convinced myself that I single-handedly detected the strong fruitiness and toasty notes of my Atteca 2009 Red, a Calatayud region wine which was aged in fired barrels for 10 months.
Like a true Spanish meal, the onboard meal doesn’t end with dinner and includes a selection of sweet wines, including Pedro Ximenez Old & Plus, as well as a chocolate candy and a selection of tea, coffee, espresso and liquors.
Throughout the flight, guests can help themselves to the bar, which includes small sandwiches, dried and fresh fruits, juices, water as well as beer, wine and liquor.
After their meals, Business Plus passengers on Iberia can enjoy the airline’s other welcome update — 12 extra inches of personal space. The grand total of 87 inches of space was the result of removing rows from the plane — an effort that, after six months, was completed in February. Passengers can now enjoy fully-flat horizontal seat-beds for a proper post-meal siesta.