Neil Perry's Rockpool Group is taking over the Qantas wine list - and adding cocktails

Neil Perry (third from left) will enlist his Rockpool group bartenders to make monthly cocktails for Qantas.

Neil Perry spends $8 million annually on wine for his Rockpool group. That spend is now about to jump by another $15 million with the chef, who’s been driving the food side at Qantas for nearly 20 years, and his wine team taking control of the wine and beverage choices for the airline.

Qantas is the nation’s third biggest wine buyer behind the supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths, and has decided to integrate the food and wine offering under the chef, who admits he’s always dabbled in the wine list at the airline since the days when Len Evans chose what the passengers drank.

The shift end marks the end of the Qantas wine panel, a team of winemakers who met regularly to choose the Australian wines on board the airline, but Perry points out that the criteria for choosing a wine – a minimum of 300 cases being available – meant top drops such as the Diana Madeline cabernet merlot by former panellist Vanya Cullen couldn’t be considered.

Perry pushed for a more boutique experience at the pointy end of Qantas flights and now the wine menu is printed daily for flights.

“We are committed to continue providing the finest champagnes and the boldest wines from across Australia and deliver a restaurant experience on the ground and in the air,” he said.

The Qantas Rockpool Sommeliers team of 16 will choose wines, including champagnes, spirits and other beverages for Qantas domestic and international flights and lounges. The team of 16 is lead by head of Sommeliers Australia, David Lawler and Sebastian Crowther, one of only two Master Sommeliers in Australia.

Starting this month, they’ll blind taste, review and select from 1,200 Australian wines and champagnes over four days each year, providing tasting notes for the international first and domestic business cabins, along with wine recommendations in the lounges, while Rockpool’s bar tenders will also create a monthly cocktails. Perry says he’s keen to work with boutique producers on this front to create something distinctly Australian.

They’ll also be a strong focus on training the Qantas crews about the wines they’re serving, turning them into sommeliers in the sky. More than 150 cabin crew are currently trained as onboard sommeliers. Over 2000 Qantas flight crew have also completed an introductory, intermediate or advanced level of wine training.

Gareth Evans, CEO Qantas International, said the new holistic approach to food and beverage would deliver better food and wine matches.

“We are really proud to showcase Australian wine to the world, and we’ll keep supporting boutique Australian wineries as well as the iconic drops that have defined Australia’s global winemaking reputation,” he said.

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