PORTO — In a dramatic gala dinner event in Porto, Portugal, TAP Air Portugal unveiled the Portuguese winemakers it will feature on board its flights in 2018.

The ceremony also brought together the Michelin-starred chefs that are preparing Portuguese fare for passengers. The event was the culmination of a week-long event had wine experts and media flying around the country on a chartered aircraft sampling the country’s famous wines.

If you want to see what a big deal the event was, check out the video below. It features dancing flight attendants, Portuguese fado singers, and the same business class, Michelin-starred meals served from inflight service carts on official TAP china to gala attendees.

Given that TAP served more than 1.2 million bottles of Portuguese wines on its flights in 2016, it is quite the honor for winemakers to be chosen for the airline’s inflight service. The TAP Wine Experience program works with wine producers, both small and large, to help them promote their wines for service on board its flights and boost tourism for the country.

A flying wine tour

As part of the airline’s tourism efforts, TAP tried something quite unique for an airline. In the lead up to the big awards show, it invited wine connoisseurs, journalists, and other trade partners on a chartered ATR-72 flight around the country to visit each of the important wine regions and taste various wines that could be available on board.

This flying wine tour was met with great fanfare at each stop, garnering local media attention and the curiosity of locals.

Since many of the general aviation airports along the wine route had such short runways, the crew took special precautions in assigning seats for weight and balance and even sending passenger luggage by truck in advance. The brisk takeoffs and landings at each of these airports, which included Evora and Viseu, were especially exciting for aviation fans on the flight.

Even those on the ground were just as excited as this was the first commercial aircraft to visit several of the airports.

Vineyard visits included stops at Quinta da Alorna near Lisbon, Esporão and Monte da Ravasqueira in the Alentejo region, and Symington Quinta do Bomfim in the Porto and Douro region.

Among the grape varietals highlighted included alvarinho, perhaps the most famous of the country’s white grapes. Several of the vineyards visited on the tour actually won wine awards at the gala dinner held in Porto and will be served on TAP flights in 2018 including an Esporão Reserva Branco (a reserve white wine from Esporão) and a chardonnay blend from Quinta da Alorna.

At each winery, a variety of wines were showcased. TAP hopes that its new program will allow vintners selected by the airline to choose the time of year and destinations that they would like to see their wines be used. This allows for a truly tailored experience giving passengers wines that are more popular within their given region.

For example, if North Americans tend to enjoy alvarinho more than African fliers, TAP can highlight those on its U.S. and Canadian flights. Since Portugal has more than 250 grape varieties, most only found in the country, there are a lot of opportunities to showcase new flavors to passengers.

Bringing the Portuguese wine and culinary experience onboard

Among the wine options stocked on board as part of this new program are red, white, and rose options plus Muscatel, port, and sparkling wines. That’s more than most airlines provide in business class on a single flight. Flight attendants are receiving extra training so that they can better guide travelers through the menu and their wine selections.

While port is synonymous with the region, many may not realize that it was actually the first product to receive the controlled designation of origin (DOC) label back in 1756. The Portuguese are especially proud of this!

Unlike most other airlines with chef-driven partnerships, TAP serves Michelin-starred chef meals in both business and economy class on its long-haul flights. Known as Taste the Stars, TAP’s impressive, rotating meal program operates with different chefs preparing meals to various destinations each month.

At the moment, long-haul business class travelers are enjoying an Alentejo style pork with orange salad prepared by Michelin-starred chef Miguel Laffan. It is one of the most popular dishes on aboard, according to flight attendants.

The airline is also known for its selection of Portuguese wines offered behind the curtain, which is testament to the premium focus the airline has adopted over the years. Economy class travelers are treated to a smaller, but equally heralded selection of Portuguese wines.

Each year, TAP serves 14 million meals, two million liters of water, 1.7 liters of fruit juice and soft drinks, 37 thousand kilos of coffee, 175 thousand liters of beer, and 500,000 liters of wine. All of these products are produced domestically, much like the seat fabrics, uniforms, and amenity kits, which are also made in Portugal.

TAP launched a successful stopover program allowing connecting passengers to spend up to five days in Portugal before continuing to another city.

The program has been largely successful and is responsible for the booming tourism in the country, but there is one special bonus. Those that spend a few nights via the stopover program receive a free bottle of Portuguese wine to enjoy during their stay. That’s the kind of airline gift that really gets a traveler excited!

If you want to get a glimpse of what the flying wine tour was like for its participants, check out this nifty video: https://we.tl/bhg98URaem (download)