We'll drink to that: The airlines pouring the best wines in premium class
From Chianti to the Central Otago region, CNA Luxury gives you the skinny on the wines you can expect when you fly in the front cabin.
Singapore Airlines (SIA) recently unveiled its new wine menu featuring top Burgundies and labels exclusive to SIA. And while we’re proud of this masterstroke by our national carrier, we cannot overlook the quality wine programmes proffered by global carriers, particularly those from major wine producing countries.
Here are six that we believe to be the cream of the crop. Well, the best of the vine.
Paolo Basso, who was crowned the world’s best sommelier in 2013, and Thierry Desseauve and Michel Bettane, authors of the bettane+desseauve wine guide, are the experts behind the selection of Air France’s wines. La Premiere (First Class) and Business Class offer wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Alsace, Loire, and Champagne.
Expect labels like a Gevrey-Chambertin 2015 from Bouchard Pere & Fils in Burgundy, and a Premier Grand Cru Classe Saint-Emilion 2012 from Chateau Canon in Bordeaux. The airline also won the gold medal for Best First Class Sparkling for its Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 at the Cellars in the Sky Awards 2018. Air France also claims to be the only airline in the world that offers complimentary champagne in all cabin classes, including Economy.
AIR NEW ZEALAND
Air New Zealand serves only New Zealand wines in its Business Premier cabin, and claims to be the single largest server of wines in New Zealand. Had we written this piece several years ago, we would have doubted the wisdom of having an all-Kiwi wine affair onboard. But New Zealand wines have come of age, with many ambrosias, especially Pinot Noirs from Central Otago, giving their Old World counterparts a run for their money. Fans of Kiwi wines would recognise names like Felton Road (a favourite of chef Tetsuya Wakuda) and Greywacke, one of Marlborough’s pioneer winemakers.
The airline’s wine consultants John Belsham, founder of Foxes Island Wines, and Jim Harre, a wine show judge, have also highlighted a selection of wines from the wine list – the chosen sips change every two months – which should come in handy if you can’t decide what to drink. You can also order wines via the in-flight entertainment system and have them delivered to your home.
The Dutch airline offers wines from all over the world in its World Business Class. The wine panellists also took into consideration how the cabin’s lower pressure and dry air would reduce the sensitivity of our taste buds – preference was given to wines with softer tannins so they don’t dry the mouth. Look out for sips like the Rocca delle Macie, Rubizzo 2017 (a round Sangiovese-Merlot blend) from Chianti, Italy, and the Viu Manent Merlot Reserva 2018 from Chile.
Last year, the airline launched a collection of wines with labels featuring paintings from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum; an edition that should inspire passengers to visit the Dutch capital’s iconic museum.
With wines selected by sommeliers from the Rockpool Restaurant Group, Qantas’ wine lists for Business Class and First Class are unabashedly Aussie and read like a who’s who of the country’s wine scene: Margaret River’s Vasse Felix, Tasmania’s Tolpuddle, and Adelaide Hills’ Shaw + Smith, to name a few. And while popular varieties like Chardonnay, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon dominate the lists, they have been thoughtfully chosen to represent different regional expressions.
At Business Traveller magazine’s Cellars in the Sky Awards 2018, the airline snagged the highest number of awards, including gold medal wins for Best Overall Wine Cellar and Best First Class Wine Cellar.
The bubbly that an airline pours for its premium class passengers is usually the mood-setter, the all-important first impression. On this account, Qatar Airways has aced the test, offering a vintage Krug champagne as its choice sparkler in First Class. The bubbly in Business Class isn’t shabby either – a Brut Royal from Champagne Pommery. The wine selections are an international bunch, although there is a notably Old World slant. Kudos to the inclusion of a rich and creamy 20-year-old Tawny Port from Portugal’s Quinta do Vallado.
Swiss has kept its Business Class and First Class wine selections simple: The white and red wine categories each feature three wineries – a Swiss, a French and a Portuguese – with each producer offering a single label. Each vino represents a light-, medium-, or heavy-bodied wine in its group, so if you are after a medium-bodied red in First Class, you would pick a Chateau Pichon Baron 2011 from Bordeaux.
Other French sips include a Duval-Leroy Brut champagne and a Chablis Beauregard 2015 from Burgundy’s Jean-Marc Brocard. For something off the radar, choose a Swiss Pinot Noir from Zurich’s Winzerei Zur Metzg.