Thursday, October 27, 2016
The Expanding Wine Lists At Los Angeles LAX Airport
In the winter of 1942 a group of Americans landed via seaplane at Foynes airfield in western Ireland. Miserably cold when they entered the terminal (which was a local hotel) they were served a special concoction that chef Joe Sheridan thought might warm them up. It included coffee, sugar, whipped cream and whiskey. When asked the name of this drink he invented for them, Sheridan replied, “Irish Coffee.” The association of airports with alcohol has only expanded since then.
Five years later and ten miles away, the first ever duty-free store in an airport opened in Ireland’s Shannon Airport. The small kiosk sold souvenirs. The concept caught on. In the 1960′s two Americans founded duty free stores in Hong Kong and then in the U.S. With time, airports transformed from transit hubs to shopping malls. As the ‘airport experience’ transformed from inconvenience to one of consumer opportunity, the range of restaurants, as well as bars and bar types, also grew.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the seventh busiest airport in the world and third busiest in the U.S. The nine terminals serving 75 million passengers a year include 95 food outlets—enough for the Los Angeles Eater publication to issue its annual ‘Where to Eat at LAX‘ report.
Inside LAX, the recently expanded, $1.7 billion Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) includes 27 eateries (seven are located before security). The 150,000 square-foot, (14,000 square-meter) Great Hall as well as Northern and Southern concourses include restaurants associated with signature chefs, including Michael Voltaggio and Suzanne Goin.
Across from the Gucci, Burberry and Hermès stores, past massive windows facing KLM wide-bodies, and under the sound of final boarding calls for Madrid or Munich, you can choose from several locations for an excellent glass of wine. For a pre-flight buzz try wheeling your travel bag to Vino Volo—a concept bar replicated at 27 other U.S. locations. The LAX Vino Volo is listed as one of ‘best airport bars in the world‘ (while neighboring ink.sack restaurant is on the list of ‘best airport restaurants in the world.’)
Vino Volo is decorated with wine barrels and hefty images of food plates and wine glasses. The music directed downward from above helps offset the sound of airport banter. Those working here take their business seriously. The tasty pizzeta Caprino with goat cheese, Parmigiano, olives and arugula I ordered was delivered rapidly on a cutting board. From the wine list I ordered a ‘California Kings’ flight of three red wines—including a delicious Zinfandel from Sean Minor Wines, a Merlot from Bernal Estates and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Aurelian. All three well balanced reds were focused on the aroma and taste of fruit more than tannin. Drinking here is also an education. All of the eight wine flights available are served on cards with tasting notes, as well as graphs that indicate the wine’s weight and texture (‘rich, bright, light or brooding’).
At the bar, Alfred Rosanes served a Tempranillo to a seated couple and mentioned its pungent aromas of rosemary and thyme before explaining how the popularity of wines in the terminal varies by season. “During summer we serve a lot of white and bubbles. That’s changing now.”
The prospect of working within an airport daunted Alfred until he found out how serious the proprietors were. “I studied culinary arts in Pasadena and wrote my thesis on Suzanne Goin. I fell in love with wine there,” he said, before sizing up clientele within the terminal. “Three general types of customers come here. The first are wine aficionados, who can be very insistent. They want to have an Opus One 2007 and are disappointed if we only have a 2011. Then they try something new to their palate and find it’s different, maybe better than they thought. Second, people come here to kill time. They chug their rosé fast and order a sandwich. Third are customers who want leading, who didn’t even know a red Zinfandel wine existed and want to learn more.”
Night Manager Heidi Reusch explained how staff are constantly encouraged to improve their knowledge. They attend frequent training and testing sessions to improve their understanding about wines, as well as an annual retreat at a location such as Napa or Santa Barbara in California or Walla Walla in Washington.
Further down the terminal, at the far end of the South Concourse, the atmosphere at Starbucks Evenings was jovial and lively. Although a board listed 11 wines, from a Mionetto Prosecco to a Benziger Chardonnay to a Terrazas de los Andes Malbec, the attendant regretted they were completely out of wine at that moment, and pointed to four types of available beers.
Instead I wandered back to the Great Hall and sat at Petrossian Caviar and Champagne Bar (separated from Vino Volo by a Victoria’s Secret outlet and an iStore). Petrossian also has bars in the cities of New York and Las Vegas, at several cities in France as well as in Brussels and Dubai. The list included 19 vodkas and 14 sparkling wines and champagnes (from $60 to $1,120 a bottle). I enjoyed a crisp glass of Roederer Estate Brut from California’s Anderson Valley, followed by a far tamer Crèmant d’Alsace from France—a Domaine Allimant Laugner Rosè. The menu explains caviar characteristics, including types known as Transmontanus, Siberian, and Ossetran, described in terms similar to those used for wines: ‘smooth and robust’ or ‘distinctively nutty.’ The dishes that are most popular are smoked salmon and Champagne. How popular? Recently, the woman serving wine told me, a customer spent $1,800 while waiting for his flight.
Serving alcohol in airports, apparently, remains good business.
MGCLS - LAX Car Service