by Andrew Challk
Time was, you went to the airport to catch a flight. Now, people may make the treck to DFW just to spend time at the American Express Centurion Club. AMEX has made a move that is at once brilliant and simple. Seeing the dumbed-down, emasculated concept of a club being run by the major U.S. airlines, it has set out to replicate what seasoned international travelers are used to at first class lounges in Asia or the middle east. There is the expected upscale decor, the bar, work areas, comfortable lounges and friendly staff. But there is also a spa where you can get a massage or a manicure. The first-class food menu is created in conjunction with Dean Fairing.
At the bar is Balvenie 12 year Doublewood, Herman-Marshall Texas Whiskey, Belvedere, Fernet-Branca, Tito’s, Hendrick’s and Jonny Walker Black Label. The cherries are maraschino. And best of all, there is no charge for anything. Shrewdly, AMEX hands out free memberships to Platinum and Centurion members. Gold and Green Card members can get in for $50/visit.
My purpose was more modest. I was there to check out the wine list (and compare it with the best in the world). It may seem like an invidious task as there are just eight selections. One sparkling, three white, one rose, and three red. They are cleverly chosen to hit hot spots in the wine universe while avoiding mass-market brands. Each is a respectable example of its type and a couple slot into the category of “finds”.
The Wine List
Working down the list, the sparkling wine is an undemanding but enjoyable Prosecco. Presumably, people who are just delighted their flight isn’t MH370 order a glass of this. We found it clean but, like a lot of Prosecco by the glass, flat at the point of consumption (the “Charmat method” used to make Prosecco does not harness the bubbles well). This isn’t too much of a detraction as it still has lively acidity in the mouth and approachable citrus flavors.
I skipped the Pinot Grigio as I am not over enamoured with Italian incarnations of this grape. Plus, the next wine on the list is intriguing. 2012 Grechetto Bianco, Arnaldo-Caprai “Grecante”, Grechetto dei Colli Martani, Umbria, Italy. This is a dry white from the rarely found (in the U.S) xxx grape. I also passed on the Moscato, the Coppo Moscato d’Asti, DOCG from Piedmonte. I simply lacked the capacity to taste everything.
The one rose on the list, Michael Mondavi Family Estate “M by Isabel Mondavi “Deep Rose”is a powerful punch in a silver (or translucent pink) jacket. Unusually for a rose, it is made from Cabernet Sauvignon but nonetheless succeeds in being light and fruity enough for easy quaffing. This rose is well made and is likely to prove popular at the retail counter over the next few months.
Three wines make up the red choices. A Sangiovese blend, the Marchesi de Frescobaldi “Castiglione” Chianti DOCG, Italy is a fruit-forward example of the Chianti style. The M Chapoutier “Marius by Michel Chapoutier”, Rouge Vin de Pays d’Oc, France is from famed Rhone winemaker Michel Chapoutier’s plantings in the Languedoc in southern France. It is the volume part of France and gives Chapoutier scope to sell in a lower end of the market than his $30+ Rhone wines. This wine is well made with bristling dark fruit and a reasonable tannic backbone. It won’t win any complexity prizes, but it will prove a pleasant quaff before a flight.
Finally, the Bodega Tamari Malbec from Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina has enough fruit to satisfy all the fruit bomb fans in the club.
The overall quality places the Centurion Club at the top of domestic airline clubs
It is above the coach and most business class in-air experiences. The halo wines (e.g. top-level Champagnes) of some first class cabins are out of reach however.
The respite from the vicissitudes of travel that the club offers makes it a good buy next time you have a flight from Terminal D.