Who can resist a refreshing glass of bubbly on a flight? It’s one of the best ways to unwind, particularly as you settle into your seat ready for a long-haul journey. Yes of course, the flat bed anchors any Business Class experience but it’s the combination of the extended food and wine service which helps that 12-hour flight seem that much more palatable.
It’s the traditional and time-intensive sparkling white wines that emanate from the Champagne-Ardenne region of northeastern France which provide the perfect pre-take-off liquid refreshment. Created from pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier varietal of grape, Champagne offers a creamy, soft and mellow taste in the mouth.
However, what tastes positively sparkling on the ground can taste very different in the air so choose wisely. It has long been thought that a combination of dry air, lower air pressure 40,000 feet up and even the noise of the jet engines impacts the sensitivity of our taste buds.
According to one Master of Wine, Peter McCombie richer and more complex champagnes work best. “Wines are more volatile at cruising altitude ,” he says, “so go for a vintage style, a prestige cuvee or a non-vintage Champagne made by a good producer who has used better quality grapes and with a higher proportion of reserve wine in it. “
In vintage/prestige cuvée style he favours the likes of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, Krug, Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Rare and Champagne Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires. For non-vintage go for Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV and Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut.
On the whole, vintage wines are served in First Class while the non-vintage labels are offered in Business Class. Occasionally however – EVA Air for instance – a carrier will serve a Krug or a vintage Champagne in Business Class - lucky passengers!
“Most Champagne is Brut which means it tastes dry but ultra-dry varieties such as Brut Zero or Brut nature or Non-Dose are likely to taste thin and mean in the air,” says McCombie.
The good news is that airlines have done their homework and taken on board the palate-changing effects of altitude. Many of the top airlines employ Master Sommeliers and celebrity chefs to ensure passengers get dining experiences in the air that match anything on the ground. Nonetheless, the best advice is to drink wines early in the flight before our taste buds become less effective. Santé!
Virgin Upper Class Champagne
As with most things Virgin Atlantic does, they do things slightly differently. No Piper Heidsieck, Moët, or Lanson for this trendy airline but the lesser-known Ayala Champagne. The house was established in 1860 in the heart of the Champagne region in France. The brand was a pioneer in introducing a drier style of Champagne with flair which works particular well at altitude. Ayala has good credentials nonetheless, being granted a royal warrant in 1908 after the coronation of King Edward VII.
Speaking to the airline’s British heritage, Virgin also offers English sparkling wine, Hambledon Classic Cuvée. Originally on board as a two-week promotion in June 2019, it proved so popular that it is now a permanent offer on the Upper Class wine menu. Wine snobs may not appreciate this English rival to the Champagne region but wine expert Oz Clarke reckons England is the newest new world wine nation. Hambledon is grown on a 200-acre estate in deepest Hampshire and is hailed as the leading star of English sparkling wine.
Emirates Business Class Champagne
Emirates has invested heavily in its wine offering and it shows. Served on short, medium, and long-haul Business Class flights is a classic - Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2013. Launched exclusively with this Dubai-based airline, it has aromas of nectarine, lemon peel and nougat. “The palate is dry with a keen energy and a hint of grapefruit on the finish,” says the airline. It seems an appropriate titillation for the tastebuds when flying off to the delicious destinations of the Seychelles, Mauritius, or the Maldives.
Passengers are greeted on board with a complimentary glass of this bespoke champagne, which was released in July 2021 and created from a selection of a single year’s most remarkable wine.
Etihad Business Class Champagne
This Abu Dhabi based airline serves Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Brut NV in Busines Class. Emanating from one of the oldest Champagne houses, circa 1785, it is a pale gold Champagne with notes of almonds and fresh hazelnut beautifully balanced with fresh pear, apple, and a delicate hint of citrus fruits. It’s particularly well paired with light seafood dishes, any of its à la carte items or indeed the airline’s famous steak sandwich. Passengers can enjoy this Champagne on all flights as part of its welcome service.
The airline usually rotates signature core items on the beverage menu every 24 months, but the Piper has been onboard since 2018 as it is such a popular choice. It superseded Champagne Billecart-Salmon.
Delta Air Lines – Delta One Champagne
For any Delta One passengers on long-haul international and domestic trans-continental flights, Champagne Canard Duchene Brut Cuvée Léonie has been served in the Business Class suites since the end of 2019. It accompanies chef-curated and regionally-tailored meals as part of the US airline’s most premium product, with dedicated in-flight attendants and lie-flat seats.
Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson made this choice and she says: “It is a great Champagne and the team chose it based on its aromas and the fresh taste. The aroma features stewed yellow fruits, exotic fruits, dry flowers and gingerbread.”
Passengers also have the choice of Mionetto sparkling wines. Says Robinson: “The sparkling wines tastes fresh, with aromas of candied pineapple, slightly spicy, with toasted flavours.”
Cathay Pacific Business Class Champagne
Passengers on this prominent Asian carrier have a choice of four Champagnes as they are rotated by regions and/or season to create more interest for frequent flyers.
The four are Deutz Brut Classic NV, Billecart-Salmon Brut, Taittinger Brut Reserve and Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut. Passengers will tend to be served the Piper Heidsieck on short-haul flights and Billecart-Salmon on long-haul flights.
Flying between Hong Kong and Shanghai perhaps? Then you will enjoy Champagne Piper Heidsieck Cuvée Brut. It shows off the house style with aromas of almond and fresh hazelnut accompanying fresh pear and apple, with a delicate hint of citrus. It has a light touch on the palate but still has those frothy and lively bubbles.
Barcelona or Brisbane bound and you may be offered Billecart-Salmon Brut, non-vintage Champagne, with its light and fine bubbles, aromas of brioche and ripe fruits. Followed by a citrus fruit finish.
Deutz and Billecart-Salmon are long-term partners of this Hong Kong based airline, having been served on board for over two decades.
Vivian Lo, General Manager Customer Experience & Design at Cathay Pacific said: “Cathay Pacific has over 30 years of experience partnering with some of the top champagne houses to curate an award-winning suite of champagnes to delight our customers.”
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on which Champagne is served in Business Class and First Class on many airlines. We do our best to keep track of any changes, but feel free to let us know if there is something we missed.
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