The idea of putting a wine bar in an airport intrigued me. Could there be a better way to wait for your flight, I wondered, than sitting in a comfortable chair, comparing tasting notes on wines?
Going through airport security always puts me in the mood for a drink, and the new Vino Volo wine bar, located in the A concourse of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, was well past the security checkpoints. Moreover, Southwest Airlines uses the gates on this corridor. Faced with the choice of standing in one of Southwest's endless queues or sipping wine and walking onto the plane at the last moment, I will take the latter.
I wasn't flying anywhere the day I arranged a visit to Vino Volo, but the shop's general manager, Mark Sill, and his assistant manager, Samantha Hegre, escorted me through security and answered my questions.
The BWI wine bar has been open for about two months. There are Vino Volo wine bars in four other airports - Sacramento, Seattle, Dulles and New York's JFK. The staff selects about 24 wines and organizes them into "flights" - small servings of two or three glasses each. Each flight comes with tasting notes, giving the winery, the grape and year, as well as a chart that labels the wines as "bright," "rich," "light" or "brooding."
I spoke with several customers as they sipped between flights. Bob Puz had plunked down $9 and tasted three zinfandels: the 2004 Terraces Estate from Napa, the 2004 Ravenswood Sonoma County and what turned out to be his favorite, the 2004 Bradford Mountain from Dry Creek Valley. "Anybody that likes wine would like this," Puz, a resident of Pittsburgh, told me just before he hopped a flight to West Palm Beach, Fla.
Manan Patel was "in the mood for a beer" when he landed in Baltimore to connect with a flight to Long Island, N.Y. But he said when he saw the nine-stool wine bar, "I couldn't pass it up." Patel, who owns a liquor store in Jacksonville, Fla., paid $10 to taste three glasses of pinot noir, each holding 2 ounces.
Of the three - a 2005 Morgan Twelve Clones from California, a 2004 Joseph Drouhin Chorey-Les-Beaune from Burgundy, France, and a 2004 Seifried Nelson from New Zealand - he preferred the Morgan. He liked it so much that he bought a bottle, for $36, to take to relatives in Long Island. He also wanted to see whether he could order the wine for his liquor store, he said.
The cost of these flights is $6 to $26. Larger individual servings are $6 to $45 a glass. The shop also sells bottles that can be carried onto planes. The airlines, I was told, disapprove of passengers serving themselves from carry-on bottles. Some of the wines sold at Vino Volo, however, do have screw tops. The BWI wine bar is not busy in the mornings, but later in the day when bad weather rolls in and flights are delayed, all seats are taken.
'Shades of White'
Even though I wasn't catching a flight, I did taste one, the $9 "shades of white" flight. Here are my notes:
2005 Justin Chardonnay Estate:
California, $29 a bottle. My favorite, a top-flight wine with rich fruit flavors reminiscent of fresh peaches. Crisp with nutty finish. The kind of wine they serve in first class, or so I am told.
2006 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc Cellar Selection:
New Zealand, $23 a bottle. Bright citrus flavors that aren't complicated but are easy to enjoy. Like sitting next to an interesting passenger on a cross-country flight, this wine makes time fly.
2006 Hillinger Pinot Grigio Estate:
Austria, $19 a bottle. This sharp wine gave my palate a bumpy ride. However, when served with some cushioning, say a plate of cheese, the journey could be pleasant.