We've seen new food and beverage options dramatically improve the airport dining experience over the last several years. No longer the sole domain of lousy fast food joints for travelers on the run, the restaurant experience in many airports is yet another reason why we Wine:Thirty Flyers suggest savoring -- rather than lamenting -- your journey. Not all airports are created equal in this way, of course, so a little homework is necessary before you show up early at a place like Kansas City International Airport (MCI) looking for great wine pairings. It isn't a thing. Fortunately, if your travels take you through any of a growing number of airports, you'll find Vino Volo wine bars there treating you to nice wine (and wine education) while making your travel experience so much better.
Volo's website tells the story of "A community of passionate wine lovers who believe that enjoying and learning about wine should be a fun and lifelong journey." I recently put them to the test at Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), which is, by the way, one of the brightest and cleanest airports you'll find. You might notice that, oddly, the terminal is divided into gates in Concourse A and Concourse C only. The letter "B" was apparently not invited. Vino Volo is near the front of Concourse C, making it handily accessible from both A and B gates.
On entering, you'll notice how the very open layout with the concourse area (there isn't what I'd call a "door") quickly transforms into a cozy wine shop. There are bottles for sale on the wall, as well as a bar and small dining tables throughout. Lisa and Andrea were both immediately welcoming as I found my own table in the corner. I quickly realized that there is little to no cellular reception in there, but the staff is happy to share their free wifi code with you, and I found it to work pretty well. I quickly learned that they were out of bread, disappointing but heartening that they've become so popular. I'll give them a pass because their other-than-sandwich offerings are quite tasty.
A classy menu
We love the wine menu structured around "flights". For the uninitiated, a "flight" offers you a lineup of about a half glass each of usually three different but related wines, giving you the chance to sample and compare. It's a great way to learn more about wine, and to enjoy all the world has to offer. The menu -- quality paper sturdily clipped to a cut slab of wooden wine box, a nice touch -- presented interesting combinations of reds, whites, and sparklers. I decided to try "World Noirs", which I can recommend with the tasting notes below.
Wine, and learning about wine
These folks are really into educating their customers, which they do through a simple yet clever little card placed as a coaster under each glass. The card tells us where the wine is from, sharing basic information, and then offers some editorial tasting notes alongside a handy chart that pegs the fruitiness vs complexity of the wine as being "bright, light, rich, or brooding". I always prefer to evaluate the contents of my glass on my own, before I'm told what I should think of them, and I was happy to see that in most cases the notes on the card matched my personal observations.
Tramin 2014 (Italy, Alto Adige)
The first of the flight comes from the country's north east province "Alto Adige" (also South Tyrol or Südtirol) bordering Switzerland to the west and Austria to the north and east. Pinots produced here tend to be less delicate than their cousins from around the world, and the Tramin offered that characteristically Italian earthen acidity that makes it a worthy food wine, brightened somewhat by Pinot Noir's signature red fruit notes. The nose was of cocoa powder and chocolate cherry, and it finished with a nice bite.
Ponzi Vineyards 2012 (Oregon, Willamette Valley)
It was clear that the wine director who crafted this flight was committed to showcasing three very different Pinots that very accurately represented the nuances of three very different Pinot Noir producing regions of the world. The Ponzi Vineyards offering did not disappoint. The nose was markedly cooler, more subdued than its Italian predecessor. The palate offered a little strawberry, a little cherry, and a little spice. All together this one represented Oregon's tendency to produce smooth mellow Pinot Noir, standing in sharp contrast to the Italian bite or the French brightness that was to follow.
Jean-Claude Boisett 2013 (France, Burgundy, Les Ursulines)
I make no secret of my love of Burgundies. This one was by far the brightest of the flight, with a nose of red cherry that just popped out of my glass. The mouthfeel was a deep, delicate texture -- another characteristic of its region -- offering a nice smooth finish on the back of a palate dominated vanilla and cherry notes.
Tasting complete, I circulated amongst what was left in the glasses, trying different combinations with my roasted chicken salad (fresh greens with goat cheese, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds, with lime-herb vinaigrette). There was one final glass of their house "signature red" before catching my actual flight. I take it as a mark of a thoughtful wine director when the house wine departs a bit from the Merlot, Cab Sauv, Chardonnay, etc norm: the Breca Garnacha from Spain is a winner that I've had before, and will certainly have again.
We've tried Vino Volo in other airports as well, and have enjoyed the experience each time. There are other gate-side wine bars, to be sure, but none that I've tried combine the wine quality and the educational wine experience so well. They stand as another differentiator for the discerning traveler, and a much better reason to show up early!