So I am on my way to New Zealand. Almost half way there, actually, sitting at the gate in LAX after 10 hours in the air, about to board the second leg of the flight. At 0329 UK time here are my slightly random, and probably vastly boring observations.
1. Air New Zealand is a pretty good airline. Maybe the best? This is the fourth time I have flown with them, but it’s the first time I have flown Air NZ economy. It’s really good. You get proper wine, too: from a 75 cl bottle. I had a glass of Mission Estate Syrah (very peppery and bright) and a glass of a Waipara Pinot (didn’t recognize the label [geek fail] but it was pretty good). I think the wine in Air NZ economy is better than the wine in BA business class. Cabin crew were first rate.
2. LAX is a pain, but it’s the best route to fly to New Zealand with Air NZ. Why? Because you get new planes on this route. And new planes make all the difference. Especially in economy and premium economy. The Hong Kong route is more popular and sells out faster, so they stick the old planes on that route. The LA route probably has a big business class take up, but if you are going all the way to Auckland you have to put up with going through homeland security, out of the airport and back in again.
3. One of the benefits of the modern planes is the snazzy 10 inch screen entertainment system and in seat power – even in economy. So if you don’t have a huge laptop, you can work quite happily for a while, then watch some trashy movies, sink some wine and fall asleep. There were a lot of films to choose from, but I couldn’t find many of the ones my kind twitter friends recommended for me when I polled them pre-flight. So I watched Rush (a great story of sporting conflict, well told and cleverly made) and RocknRolla (a Guy Ritchie film from a few years back with an amazing cast list; not my normal thing but very entertaining in a stylised grit sort of way), as well as the first three episodes of Newsroom Series 2 (by far the best of the viewing experiences: I love this stuff).
4. I forgive LAX its chaos because it offers FREE WIFI. Since I lost my gold status with Star Alliance this makes a big difference. If I still had my gold status I would now be in the lounge relaxing after a nice hot shower, with a glass of wine in my hands.
5. I have done some writing for my next book. It’s with my long-term collaborator Sam Harrop, and it’s on wine faults. Technical, yes. Niche, yes. But I think it will be a useful resource. Submission date is March.
6. I have been thinking about wine. No surprise there. More specifically, about how other markets than the UK, which is not yet a major producer of wine, are different. If you go to Australia or New Zealand it is much easier to access interesting wine than in the UK. You can go into a bottle shop or supermarket and buy interesting wines (as long as they are from your own country) pretty easily, and you’ll be offered a good selection from good producers. The problem in the UK is the supermarkets and the way that they offer an illusion of choice, but not many really good wines from top tier producers. Their offering is increasingly private (own) label, soft brands, and popular brands. You have to hunt to find interesting-ish bottles. In Australia, normal people who aren’t wine geeks don’t have to try to hard to buy wines made by good Australian producers. I’m probably not expressing myself very clearly because of my jetlag, but in many countries wine is much more democratic and easier to navigate than in the UK, perhaps at the cost of a little diversity.
7. Along those lines, isn’t wine retail in the UK completely messed up at the bottom end. At the geek end, wine retailing in the UK has never been more exciting. But in supermarkets, which sell the majority of wine, it is totally and utterly barmy. We are in denial about this, partly because we are just used to it (desensitized to its oddness), and partly because no one has the slightest clue about how to improve it. People with very little knowledge of wine are being presented with a wall of as many as 400 wines, with little or no practical guidance about how to choose among these massed bottles. That’s really messed up.
8. I have just been browsing my itinerary for this trip. I am SO EXCITED. This trip stands every chance of being EPIC. The most exciting thing is knowing that I am going to learn a lot, and meet some great people in the process.