It is exactly 20 years ago this week that I flew British Airways Concorde back and forth from JFK toLondon. I don’t know what made me think of the anniversary. It’s not as if I was marking time to commemorate the event and waited patiently for the right moment. It just occurred to me today, of all days, and from there I went to check the dates on my certificate. My outbound flight was April 24, 1992 and I returned April 30, 1992.
I kept a file of memorabilia, with menus, wine lists, boarding passes, stationary, luggage tag and a grey leather man’s wallet, embossed with the Concorde logo. Flight attendants handed a gift pack on every flight. I gave one wallet to my husband and the other I kept unused and in pristine condition. Gifts also included Belgian chocolates and grey leather portfolios. Grey leather was the signature of Concorde interiors.
I took a couple of other ‘souvenirs,’ a tiny Wedgewood salt cellar, and the silver plated knife, fork and spoon from my dinner service. No plastic utensils back then. I still have everything. The Concorde is gone now and these are part of my treasured memories.
I was traveling alone, having saved up frequent flier miles for this trip, one of my early bucket list items. Somehow, I expected to recognize several of my fellow passengers from the pages of magazines or movies, surreptitiously glancing around in the private lounge before takeoff to catch a glimpse of a familiar face. But it was not to be. I’ve seen more celebrities on the streets of Manhattan. They all seemed to be businessmen, blasé regulars who buried themselves in newspapers as soon as they’d settled in, holding their glass up in a languid hand for refills.
The flights themselves were less than memorable for comfort, with cabin space sacrificed to supersonic flight, but it didn’t matter, at least not to me. It was still a heady experience, soaring into the air at a steep climb and eventually reaching Mach 2 – twice the speed of sound – noted in a lighted display on the bulkhead. Space was more than compensated for with immaculate service from flight attendants, superb food that included caviar tartlets, crawfish, Alaskan crab, excellent cheeses and an exclusively French wine selection. The consultants for the wine selections at that time were Michael Broadbent, MW and Hugh Johnson. Here is a sampling from the 17 wines on the list:
Champagne Pommery Cuvée Special, Louise Pommery 1981
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, La Grande Dame, 1985
Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne, 1982 Blanc de Blancs
Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru, 1986 Labouré-Roi
Domaine de Chevalier 1983, Grand Cru Classé Graves, Léognan
Château La Lagune, 1982, Grand Cru Classé, Haut-Médoc
Château Lynch-Bages 1982, Grand Cru Classé, Pauillac
And Pommard Cuvee Billardet, 1985, Hospices de Beaune, with this description:
British Airways bought this top-of-the-line Pommard at the annual auction of the wine of the Great Medieval Charity Hospital of Beaune in 1985. The warm vintage weather had produced rare intensity of colour, richness of aroma and potency of flavour. Great red burgundy such as this can achieve an almost alarming headiness with such a smooth glide down the gullet that the locals call it “velvet trousers.”
1992 was the start of my wine importing career and in retrospect I wish I’d had more exposure to vintage champagnes and fine Burgundies and Bordeaux before a trip like this, to truly appreciate them, but there is no doubt I appreciated the opportunity to samples wines of this range and caliber. There are those who will say that a plane going Mach 2 at 30,000 feet may not be the ideal environment for the palate, but I could think of no better ambiance for this experience!