Meet the Man Who Chooses the Wines on United Polaris Flights

Nov 5, 2017

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The next time you’re enjoying a nice glass of wine on United Airlines’ Polaris international business class, remember the name Doug Frost — he’s the sommelier who probably chose what you’re drinking.

Frost, who has worked with United for 12 years, is one of only four people on the planet to be designated both a master sommelier and a master of wine. So he felt no pressure when United tapped him to raise the bar on wine selections for its Polaris product, which was unveiled in 2016. “I felt I needed to change things up because the wines had become too predictable,” said Frost. “Polaris allowed me to push wine boundaries. It was definitely a breath of fresh air for me.”

Frost isn’t just an employee. He’s also a United passenger with two million miles. Perhaps even more impressive, he samples thousands of bottles of wine a year to find exactly the right ones for his fellow flyers. “I go through up to 10,000 bottles a year,” he said. “Most people think that’s nuts, but it’s fascinating to me to taste as much wine as I can.”

A United Airlines flight attendant serves wines in Polaris international business class. Image courtesy of United Airlines.
A United Airlines flight attendant serves wines in Polaris international business class.

For United, Frost solicited 2,000 winemakers around the world. The few that made the cut had to make sure they could stand up to the changes in taste and smell passengers experience in the air since wines are affected by cabin dryness, pressure and even the sound. “I need wines that can speak for themselves,” said Frost. “Light, delicate wines will get lost in flight.”

When it comes to white wines, Frost looks for those that are crisp, tangy or fuller-bodied. “I have more options with Polaris, like a South African Chenin Blanc, a Spanish Albariño or a German Riesling,” he said. “I also boarded a Greek Moscofilero from Domaine Skouras, a bone-dry white wine with a fun finish.”

Unlike other airline sommeliers, Frost does not conduct in-flight taste tests. “I just use my experience and best judgment on what will work best in flight,” he said. “I haven’t run into many moments where I said, ‘What in heaven’s name was I thinking?’”

Still, there are times when a wine wasn’t as expressive as expected, Frost admitted. “I’m never 100% satisfied, but in general, I’m happy with what I’ve boarded this year,” he said. “My last trip out of the country was last week, and I was really looking forward to trying the wines as the cart rolled by.”

A wine board sample on a Polaris international business-class flight. Image courtesy of United Airlines.
A wine board sample on a Polaris international business-class flight.

People make assumptions about Frost’s palate, and he swears his talent’s something he wasn’t born with. “There’s a view that because I passed the master-of-wine and master-sommelier tests, my palate must be amazing,” he said. “But it’s not that. It’s actually because I focus on a memory. That is never boring because there’s always something new to learn.”

United Airlines rotates its wines every three months, and Frost definitely has his favorites. “Coming up, I’ll have a Chateau Violette Bordeaux from 2006, a vintage that is the real deal. It’s remarkable and special,” he said. “I like the Montsant from the Catalonia region in Spain, a wine that’s rich, dense and powerful with a red-currant finish at the end that keeps it from being heavy. I’m also a big fan of German Rieslings from Robert Weil. His wines are tremendous because they are crisp and not sweet like Rieslings usually are.”

Frost, who visits Argentina once a year, said he’s bullish on the country’s wines. “They used to be made in an old-school Italian style, a holdover of the large Italian community that has been in the wine business there for many years,” he said. “But the industry has changed drastically in the past 20 years, and not just because of Malbecs, which is the most popular wine. But there’s a Zuccardi Chardonnay-Viognier blend and a Cabernet Franc that I’ve boarded on United that I really enjoy,” he said.

Frost hopes that his wines help United’s passengers relax when they’re on board. “Passengers feel harried when they board a plane, and a glass of wine gives them permission to relax and take care of themselves,” he said. “It creates a welcoming and a sense of satisfaction. In the right amount, it can fulfill expectations on how a lovely glass should taste.”

All photos courtesy of United Airlines.

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