A wine list will never be the sole reason somebody would buy a First or Business Class ticket for a flight. However, with today’s competition among airlines for the loyalty of high-paying passengers, an interesting and quality wine list can certainly make a great trip better, and a particularly good bottle may well be one of the most memorable aspects of the flight.
The quality of onboard wine has risen dramatically in the last decade. A wine that tastes great under the harsh conditions of a pressurised aircraft cabin, 35,000ft above the ground, is something that airlines are investing more and more into. Many of the best airlines now employ the expertise of master sommeliers to test and approve wines both on the ground and in the air.
Add to this the fact that passengers are far more particular and discerning about their wine than ever before, and the leap in the quality onboard wine is understandable.
Here, we take a look at which airline serve the best wine in their premium cabins. But remember, not every wine is available on every flight; some are route-specific.
Singapore Airlines’ dining experience is highly thought of, just as its wine list is. Considering the airline’s wine list is composed by three experts – including much-loved British wine expert Oz Clarke – who test the wine under cabin pressure, it’s no surprise that the onboard offering is considered one of the world’s best.
Depending on the routes, passengers in First Class and Suites classes can sip two brands of champagne – Dom Perignon and Krug Grande Cuvee – as well as wines from France (e.g Château Cos d’Estournel 2004), Italy, Germany, Australia (e.g Clonakilla shiraz), New Zealand (e.g Kevin Judd’s Greywacke sauvignon blanc) and the United States. Port wine from Portugal is also available.
British Airways has recently upgraded their premium wine lists with the addition of Bolney Wine Estate Blanc de Blancs 2013, the first English sparkling white wine to be served on the airline. This joins another good wine from Bolney Estate, the Pinot Gris, which was introduced in 2015.
In First Class you’ll be treated to the big names of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Champagne and Grand Cru Chablis, along with a rather small selection of reds, whites and port. Look out for Domaine d’Ardhuy Corton Charlemagne 2009, from Burgundy, which is one of the best wines the airline serves, or the delicious Warre’s 1992 Colheita, a sublime 21-year-old single-vintage tawny Port.
Cathay’s award-winning wine offering is usually one of the best in the skies, with a well-thought-out balance of big names, like its Champagne offering of Krug Grand Cuvée, and lesser known varieties of fruit-forward blends, like the Akarua Pinot Noir Bannockburn Central Otago 2013, a rich cherry-flavoured Pinot from New Zealand that goes well with red meat, especially veal and lamb.
Also keep an eye out for Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Grand Cru 2013, which tastes good under cabin pressure due to its fresh palate with notes of lime, candied lemon and fint, and subtle aromas of honeysuckle and citrus. Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Mormoreto, Toscana IGT 2010 is a complex wine served in Cathay’s First Class that’s also worth a try. An assemblage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes, with a small amount of Petit Verdot, it has a prominent ripe berry fruit flavour, followed by hints of almond and mint.
After investing almost £100 million in wine in 2015, Emirates offers a well-balanced, quality wine list in its First Class cabin, similar to what you may expect at a world-class restaurant. Featuring a selection of old and new world wines from both large and small producers, Emirates’ wine list stands out compared to other airlines’ offerings by focusing on quality rather than reputation. Highlights include the rare dry white Bordeaux, Y d’Yquem; and the deep red La Sirena Syrah 2005, from California’s Napa valley.
The major Gulf Airline is also famed for serving its First Class customers more Dom Perignon than water (they sound like our type of passengers). A glass or two can be enjoyed at your seat or at Emirates’ swanky new onboard bar, set to be installed across the airline’s flagship A380 fleet.
Renowned for its in-flight dining, Air France does not let standards drop when it comes to its First Class wine list. The French airline renews its lists every so often, allowing passengers to discover new and interesting wines, all of which are French, of course.
World famous Paolo Basso, one of the world’s greatest sommeliers, has personally curated Air France’s La Premiere and Business Class wine lists. Recent standouts include the delightful Barsac Château Doisy-Védrines 2008, or vintage bubbly Taittinger Cuvée Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2005.
Etihad offers its First Class passengers a well-rounded wine list with a penchant for bottles from France, Australia, Germany, and New Zealand. The list, which has been curated by a team of independently qualified sommeliers, changes from route to route and has an emphasis on lesser-known boutique estates from around the world.
If you need help picking between the options, there are in-flight beverage managers on hand to assist, whilst the ever-reliable 2002 Bollinger Champagne and 2008 Réserve de la Comtesse are also served in First Class.
Despite hailing from a ‘dry’ Muslim country, Qatar Airway is one of the world’s best airlines and its wine lists reflect this. Master of Wine James Cluer has crafted a fantastic selection of wines for Qatar’s First Class cabin, featuring fine wines such as Taittinger Prestige Rose from France, Petit Clos Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and Errázuriz Don Maximiano Founders Reserve 2009 Cabernet from Chile. Champagnes served on board are Krug Brut Grand Cuvee Champagne and Lanson Brut 1999 Champagne.
Qantas makes a point to showcase the diversity and quality of Australian wine in its First Class offerings. The list for each flight is selected from a revolving collection, featuring a number of wine styles, varietals, regions, wineries and winemakers. In First Class on international flights, there is one Champagne (such as Pol Roger’s Sir Winston Churchill), three reds (such as Wirra Wirra RSW Shiraz 2010), three whites (such as Vasse Felix Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2015), a dessert wine, port, muscat and tokay. Bottles are matched to in-flight meals, which are devised by world-renowned chef Neil Perry.