Which Airlines Serve The Best Champagne?

On Monday I asked the (admittedly) ridiculous question of whether it’s worth rerouting an award trip to get on a flight with better champagne. As it turns out the question was moot, since apparently Korean Air has changed the champagne they serve, but it was interesting to read the reactions nonetheless.

Anyway, reader EggSS4 left the following comment on the post:

I know this post was tongue in cheek at least partially, but I really would love to read a post on what champagnes I should order in premium cabins. I have absolutely no idea whether 2002 Dom is better than 2003 and how Dom differs from Krug, or whatever. Anyone know a good website with guidance?

I’ll be the first to admit I’m no expert on champagne, or for that matter alcohol in general. I don’t drink beer, I rarely drink wine, and my mixed drink of choice on the ground is Diet Coke with Jack — yes, I’m a simple guy.

That being said, I’ve at least started to develop a bit of a palate for champagne. I find that among first class flyers there are two mentalities when it comes to drinking champagne — there are those that appreciate champagne for the actual taste, and those that can just “taste” the retail value of the bottle. I definitely fit in the latter category for several years, though over the past year or so have started to actually appreciate champagne.

I’m still by no means an expert, so I asked my friend Matt if he’d consider writing a guest post about airline champagne. He’s much more of a connoisseur than I am, and is my go to guy when it comes to alcohol selection. If I’m in an airline lounge with a decent bartender I’ll text Matt and ask him what I should order, and an hour later I’ll have consumed the following:

Cocktails

With that in mind, thanks to Matt for offering to write this post! Without him I’d view Dom Perignon 2003 simply as a $150+ bottle of champagne, rather than nicely bottled and marketed cat urine. 😉

Now, over to Matt!


There are few things that excite me more than the sound of a bottle of champagne being uncorked.  When I think about my next trip, I immediately think of the first sip of champagne in an airport lounge or, alternatively, the first sip onboard the plane (depending on the respective lounge and onboard offerings).  It’s the perfect way to start any trip.

It will become clear to you that I enjoy champagne more than I probably should.

But come on—it’s so easy to love.  For those of you that enjoy champagne nearly as much as me, I have put together this post on what I believe are the top champagnes offered in first and business class respectively, and a few of the best first and business class lounge champagne offerings.

BEST FIRST CLASS CHAMPAGNES

Krug Grande Cuvée (NV)

Krug is sometimes referred to as the king of champagne—and for good reason. Krug “Grande Cuvée” is easily the most expensive and sought after non-vintage champagne in existence.
Krug Grand Cuvee Champagne

  • As a non-vintage champagne, it contains a blend of grapes from various years.
  • The current offering seems to be based primarily on 2004, which gives the cuvee a good amount of floral zing and acidity.
  • With ten years to develop, the base has more maturity than any other non-vintage around (with the possible exception of Grand Siècle, discussed below).
  • The remainder of the cuvee is a blend of various other years—some older than 2004; most younger.

This makes the champagne very approachable, with attractive aspects of both youth and maturity.

Best with:

Almost anything.  Krug Grande Cuvee will pair nicely with the first few courses of any first class meal, especially caviar and shell fish, and can stand up to soft cheeses, fish, and even lighter chicken or pork dishes.  Of course, I would never say no to drinking this champagne on its own.

Served on:Krug Bottle ID

  • Singapore Airlines
  • ANA
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Lufthansa (seasonally)

NOTE: If you’re interested in seeing what years are blended in your bottle of Krug Grande Cuvee, ask the flight attendant for the “Krug ID” on the back of the bottle.  You can imput that at www.krug.com for the exact details on your bottle.  Pretty neat!

 

Dom Perignon (2002/2003/2004)

Dom Perignon is Moet & Chandon’s prestige champagne.  It is always a vintage champagne, and hence (theoretically) only released in the best years.

It seems that airlines are currently serving a mix of 2002, 2003, and 2004 Dom Perignon, with the 2003 vintage being offered by the vast majority of airlines (at least for now).

If I had to choose which of the three vintages is “best” it would be a tough choice between the 2002 and 2004 vintages.

  • The 2002 is a powerhouse, and may well go down in history as one of the best, but in my opinion it could stand several more years in the cellar and that just won’t cut it for airline consumption.
  • 2004 Dom, on the other hand, is ready to drink now.  It is remarkably bright and linear, with a clean finish that leaves me wanting for more and more (as much as this guy, even).
  • Ben has already expressed his negative views on the 2003 vintage, and I tend to agree with him.  2003 was a bad year in Champagne; that almost no houses besides Dom Perignon declared a 2003 vintage is very telling.  2003 Dom Perignon is uncharacteristically very pinot noir heavy, and it’s exuberance is difficult to handle without the right food pairings.  It won’t be many people’s favorite, but those who really like Veuve Clicqout’s pinot noir-heavy cuvees may actually enjoy it.

Best with:
Dom Perignon 2004 Champagne

The 2002/2004 vintages will pair perfectly with the same courses as the Krug Grande Cuvee.

The 2003 definitely wants drinking with slightly heavier fare, but I wouldn’t shy away from enjoying it with caviar, shell fish (preferably in a cream sauce), or – best of all – foie gras.

Served on:

  • Singapore Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Thai Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines

 

Perrier Jouët “Belle Epoque” (2004)

Known on the street as the “flower bottle,” this vintage champagne gets its name from the flowers painted on the outside of the bottle.  Can the belle of the ball be beautiful inside and out?  I guess so—at least when it comes from France.

Best with:PERRIER-JOUËT BELLE EPOQUE 2004 Bottle

This is the lightest and freshest of the options listed here, it wants drinking with lighter fare, or better yet, on its own.

If you are really going for the utmost in gastronomical pleasure, I would suggest switching to a nice white wine or a lighter red wine after the amuse-bouche and caviar course.  (That goes for you over the weekend, Ben.)

Served on:

  • Korean Air

 

Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle (NV)

This cuvee is often overlooked stateside because, as a blend, it bears no vintage date and yet commands more than $100 a bottle.

This is so because it is actually a blend of three of Laurent-Perrier’s previous vintages—the current offering comprises a blend of 2004, 2002, and 2000 vintages.  Sadly, I must admit I have never enjoyed even a glass of Grand Siècle, though perhaps that was necessary to make room for Ben’s 6 bottles on BA.

Best with:Laurent-Perrier's Prestige Cuvée bottle

I have had Laurent-Perrier’s 2004 vintage, and if the Grand Siècle is anything like it (which I assume it must be since it’s mainly comprised of 2004 vintage), it will want drinking with lighter fare.

That’s definitely a good thing, given that BA’s food offerings leave a lot to be desired.  On a positive note, it should actually pair beautifully with the tea service BA offers on flights from the UK to the West Coast, including my hometown of Los Angeles.

Served on:

  • British Airways
  • Swiss

 

Pommery Cuvee Louise (1999)

I wanted to point this champagne out more as a history lesson (and out of nostalgia) than anything else.

Pommery Cuvee Louise is an estate champagne—meaning that the grapes are all sourced from Pommery’s own vines.  This is beyond rare today.
Pommery Cuvee Louise Bottle

Besides Cuvee Louise, the only other estate offerings come from Krug (two offerings ranging from $800 to $1,800 a bottle at release), Cristal, and Philipponnat.  In 2002, LVMH sold Pommery but retained the estate vineyards for themselves.

That means that the 1999 Cuvee Louise is the last one ever.  (No vintages were declared in 2000-2002.)  That’s kind of neat—at least to me.

Best with:

Stuart ought to be a Cuvee Louise spokes person, because this is truly delicate champagne.  You can only find it occasionally on Lufthansa, and if you do I suggest enjoying it (lots of it) by itself, or alternatively no further than the caviar course.

Served on:

  • Lufthansa (seasonally)

 

Taittinger Comtes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs 2004

Probably the best blanc de blancs out there.  Made entirely from white grapes, as opposed to the usual blend of chardonnay and pinot noir (sometimes a very small amount of pinot meunier is also used), which leads to a lighter, more lemony and acidic flavor than traditional brut champagnes.Taittinger Comtes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs 2004 Bottle

Best with:

Great with shellfish, especially oysters, as well as soft creamy cheeses, and – although you won’t find them on a plane – one of my favorites, truffle fries.

Served on:

  • Qantas (who also serves Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill on select flights—an equally excellent champagne)
  • While still not cheap, if anyone has enjoyed this on Qantas and is looking for something similar to Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne to enjoy at home, I would definitely recommend Launois “Special Club” Brut Blanc de Blancs.  It is equally as good as the 2004, and much more affordable.

 

BEST BUSINESS CLASS CHAMPAGNE

Since there is a no real overlap here, I will go by airline instead of by champagne.

EVA Air – Dom Perignon 2003

Admittedly, it is no one’s favorite Dom Perignon, but it is Dom Perignon.  This is a fantastic business class offering.

Virgin Australia – 2002 Lanson Gold Label Brut

The only other airline besides EVA to offer vintage champagne to its business class customers is Virgin Australia.  I love Non-Vintage Lanson Gold Label, and will report back in three weeks once I have this en route to Australia.  The best part is that you can actually use SkyPesos to enjoy this champagne—it’s hard to believe you can enjoy vintage champagne compliments of Delta!

Singapore Airlines – Bollinger Special Cuvee (NV)

One of my all-time favorite champagnes.  Bollinger really packs a punch with bold candied green apple flavors that make you wonder how you’re enjoying a non-vintage bottle of champagne that costs less than half of comparable champagnes.  It goes perfectly with food of all sorts (just not red meat).  Singapore doesn’t always serve it in Business, so count your lucky stars when they do.

Virgin Atlantic – Lanson Gold Label Brut (NV)

The non-vintage sibling of the champagne served on Virgin Australia.  This is an excellent champagne, one that I could drink bottles of.  And one that Ben has imbibed bottles of.

Cathay Pacific – Billecart-Salmon Brut (NV)

There’s no better rose than Billecart-Salmon’s.  Don’t get too excited, though, because Cathay doesn’t serve the rose.  Nevertheless, Billecart’s non-vintage brut champagne is one of the best in its class, and is the perfect compliment to almost anything short of red meat.

 

BEST FIRST AND BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE CHAMPAGNE OFFERINGS

British Airways (Concorde Room)

BA deserves some respect for serving Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle both in the Concorde Room and onboard.  It is uncommon to see such good champagne offered in a lounge.  Again, it is perfect that Grand Siècle is great on its own, because the food in the Concorde Room is…

Lufthansa (Senator Lounge)

Lufthansa also deserves a great deal of respect for serving Heidsieck Monopole “Blue Top” champagne in Senator Lounges. This is an excellent non-vintage champagne that I must say went well with the food offerings in the IAD Senator Lounge when I was there for an extended period during the first of the dreaded East coast snowstorms this year.  If you’re going to be stranded, there’s not much better than a cold glass of champagne while waiting to connect on a domestic United flight.  To be sure, I could drink Veuve Clicquot in the United Club, but it is inferior to Heidsieck Monopole in my opinion, and costs $14 a glass there.  Without even taking into account the difference in atmosphere, I’ll pass.

Virgin Atlantic (Clubhouse)

Ben adores the Clubhouse.  Why wouldn’t he?  They serve Lanson Gold Label Brut!  That’s right, the same champagne served on board in Upper Class.  No need to hold off on champagne consumption pre-flight.  Drink a few bottles before boarding—you’ll sleep much better.


I think that more than answers the question of which airlines serve the best champagne!

What about you? Which of these have you enjoyed, and do you have any other favorites?

Comments

  1. Great review Matt!! I am in complete agreement with you on nearly every Champagne you mentioned. Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne and Krug are my personal favorites. It is also interesting to note that American used to serve the Louise and PJ Flower Bottle in both First and Business in the early 2000s.

  2. Matt is spot on with his assessments.

    So that he knows, LP GS is a much heavier drinking wine when compared to the standard LP NV.

    Honorable mention should also be given to LAN – they serve Louis Roderer Brut in J.

  3. Doesn’t CX have a champagne bar in HKG, did you have the brands severed there as options in the best lounge offerings? i.e. was it considered and through out, or just not considered?

  4. EY serves Billecart Salmon if I remember
    The memory is blurry (unlike Ben I did not take pics of each flight – Rose I think)
    I like their dessert wine – Tokaji as well.

  5. Thanks, Matt! Really interesting. I love champagne but end up drinking a lot of sparking wines since it suits my wallet better. However, I have flights coming up on CX F and SQ J and am excited to drink my fill. Thanks for the Krug ID tip. Very interesting read on the site (using the code pictured on this post).

  6. This is an excellent post with great knowledge of the world’s finest wine region.

    If you want to learn everything there is to know about Champagne, read this excellent book: http://amzn.to/1ead21j. Oh and drink plenty of it!

    Personally I am very much in the camp that DP is over-rated and people like it “cos it’s expensive”. Especially vintages like 2003 which should never really have been released. My personal favorite on board is definitely Laurent Perrier le Grande Siecle which is a truly fabulous wine and far more consistent than DP because of it’s unique tri-vintage makeup.

    On our Etihad first class flight they served Bollinger Rose (phenomenal wine) and the somewhat more obscure Mumm Champagne Cuvee R Lalou 1999. At the very least this was a rarity!

    I do recall a flight in BA F many many years ago where they had both Pol Roger Winston Churchill and Veuve Grande Dame. My god that was a hard choice to make!!! BA’s hard product may not be so great, but they sure do know good champers. They also used to serve the Heidsieck “Mis-en-Cave” in business, I don’t think they even produce that any more but it was a non-vintage wine but they would label the year it was cellared, hence the “mis-en-cave” name

    And lastly on the champagne front I am surprised that no airline serves Cristal. It kind of took a bad rap after becoming the favorite tipple of rappers and Russian mafia types, but it really does remain an incredible wine (though sadly they too have taken to releasing vintages that should not see the light of day). It would seem a perfect match for Emirates! I still have one bottle of 1990 Cristal Rose which I bought years ago for around $200 (probably worth 5x that now if you could ever find any). It’s in a beautiful wooden box. I can’t find an occasion worthy of opening it for!!!

    @nemme – some of the real best value is in sparking wines. california may have crazy prices for it’s cult cabs but roederer estate l’ermitage is as good as dom perignon imho and sells for around $40

  7. Hi Lucky,

    nice posting! But where´s the champagne powerhouse of the skies??

    Air France serves over one million bottles per year, to all their longhaul pax, including economy….

    Air France won first prize in the “Best Champagne in First Class” category at the Cellars in the Sky contest.

    Organized by the leading English magazine Business Traveller, the contest rewards the best wines served in the Business and First Class cabins of the major international airlines.

    The winning Champagne is the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2000, which will be served on board in First Class cabin in December 2012 and which was chosen for Air France by Olivier Poussier, Air France’s wine advisor since 2005 and world’s best sommelier.

  8. Lucky
    This is literally one of the coolest posts ever. Im flying Etihad first in few weeks. What do they serve? All I can say is that under a $100 Bollinger and Roderer are my two faves. Keep up this awesome work man.

  9. Nice post.

    Only thing that was missing was a more thorough price list and a few of the airlines and lounges.

  10. Didn’t know the Charles Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top was such a good Champagne. I’ve drank it on a few occasions (onboard Turkish Airlines) and it was not to my liking. I sampled the Brut Reserve on SQ a few weeks ago and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Preferred it over the Bollinger which they also serve.

  11. Good info!
    Your prior post had me speculating and researching regarding what will be served (in terms of champagne, wine, and other fine spirits generally) on the LH 495 YYZ-MUC flight that so many of your readers got in on. Since this is a new route, I haven’t been able to find a trip report yet to see the actual menu.
    Do you have a prediction for this flight re: what will be served?

  12. Yes, additional comments on JL’s Salon and CX’s Amour de Deutz offerings would make this article complete.

  13. @Nick — It looks like EY has been pouring both 2000 Billecart Salmon Cuvee Nicolas Francois Billecart Brut and Non-Vintage Henriot Rose in First. Both are excellent, and if there was more space I’d have certainly included the Billecart!

    @ne flier — You are correct. JAL does serve Salon in F, along with Dom Perignon. As far as blanc de blancs go, I think Taittinger Comtes de Champagne wins, so that’s why it’s not included here.

  14. Here’s a shocker: the UA First Class Lounge in SFO serves Dom Ruinart NV.

    I’ve had it, and I think it’s a pretty solid champagne.

  15. Lucky
    I was forced to dig out the EY menu as soon as I got home from work.
    The EY offers Bollinger Grand Annee 2002 – only produced in exceptional vintages. 75% Grand Cru; 63% Pinot Noir and 37% Chardonnay
    The other choice in F is Henriot Brut Rose NV – majority of Pinot Noir from Montagne de Reims and Chardonnay from Cote des Blancs
    and a small amount of Pinot Meunier

    In Business, the wine was Lanson Black Brut NV

    The Billecart Salmon was probably from the Cathay Flight back.
    Sorry for the confusion and error above.

  16. Lufthansa served LP Grand Siècle both ways on my F class flights in January. Must have been a seasonal offering.

  17. Been flying Qatar in Business between Europe and the Middle East lately and can’t help but give credit where credit is due. They have a different wine list for each direction and update/change/rotate the lists every month. In the past three months I’ve been served the following:

    1999 Lanson Gold Label Brut
    Billecart-Salmon Brut NV
    Bollinger Rose
    Taittinger Prestige Rose

    It’s also worth noting they serve Krug both on the ground (Premium Terminal in Doha…in the First Class side and sometimes on the Business side) and in the air in First Class on Gulf flights.

    I’ve been impressed.

  18. If you look on Flyertalk, there are lots of threads on Champagne. The BA board has the most extensive discussions. But there’s also some good threads in the Dining thread. And note that AF Premiere class had Henriot Cuvee des Enchanteleurs the last time I flew them. And Philipponnat in the lounges, even in business class at CDG 2E M. So AF is definitely tops.

    However I am a bit contrarian to most when it comes to Champagne. I live mostly in France so I can easily get access to the hundreds and hundreds of small producers that you have never heard of. Champagnes that are just as good as all but the very top, for prices less than €30.

    Also I started a thread about aging NV Champagne. It can be done and I tried an ordinary Mumm’s that had been stored accidently for about 25 years I think. It was one of the most awesome Champagnes I have ever had. But definitely not something most people would do!

  19. Nice post!

    One other thing – The Private Room at Changi SQ served Veuve La Grande Dame 2004 when I passed through in October..

    Fantastic champagne, full and slightly crisp/tart.

    I’d also agree with a prev poster that Louis Roderer NV is one of my favourite NV’s!

  20. I was served Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle on LH this week on BKK-KUL. I believe it was the same on the EWR-MUC and FRA-BKK flights.

  21. Thank you, Matt and Lucky for the very informative post! 😀

    My last trip had LP GS on LX and, of course, Krug/Dom on SQ. Liked them, of course, but in “real life” usually drink Bollinger, a relatively more affordable alternative.

    Agree that it may not be a best idea to drink champagne with every course. Once you figured out your menu, try to match a wine to a course, and explore some new wines. That is, of course, provided that your airline doesn’t serve wine out a carton 😛

    P.S. On the US side, had a membership to Domaine Chandon; their etoile line was good (still jave a $100 bottle of etoile Tete de Cuvee 2003), but my favorite might be their Reserve Club Cuvee ($35).

  22. Champagne loses its amazing taste perception the higher you fly.

    That is why I always try to drink as much as I can while I am on the ground. 🙂

  23. Thanks for the incredibly thorough answer to my question! It is really grat to be able to know now when I am truly getting a great champagne vs. being seduced by a name brand…not a mistake I want to make while enjoying a special treat.

  24. Just did LH in First IAD-FRA-IAD on the 747-8i and was served Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle Grand Cuvee. Tasty. The LH FCT had 5 different champagnes on offer, but I was playing with the German Gins by then 🙂

  25. If anyone knows what Iberia serves upfront ORD/MAD, I’d appreciate it.
    What’s LH serving these days in Biz MUC/JFK?

  26. @Matt As a true connoisseur, you should know that Champagne is always spelled with a capital “C”. We can’t have people seeing you as a poseur.

  27. Very interesting article indeed.
    Happy to confirm the release of Cuvee Louise Pommery vintage 2002 (Gold medal award, International Wine Challenge 2014)

  28. Any thoughts on the temperature that airlines serve champagne? It seems as if they often do not chill it to the optimum temperature.

    Are airlines likely to offer no dosage options as this class of bubbly gains traction?

  29. “That being said, I’ve at least started to develop a bit of a palette for champagne.”

    Palate.

    Sorry, couldn’t help it. 🙂

  30. for early drinking, I would agree on the taittinger BdB. However, give me some aged Salon any day, all day

  31. Superficial? Yes but none the less, I’m curious to know. So when I flew in F on CX, what was the approximate value of each glass of Krug I drank?
    I’ve looked online and can’t find the information I would need to figure it out.

  32. @ Aaron — There are five glasses per bottle. Krug retails for $125-150 per bottle, so that’s $25-30 per glass. Of course that’s retail. In a restaurant you’d have a ~100% markup, at least.

  33. Thank you, @Lucky
    Sweet, that’s very cool to know. I know it shouldn’t make a difference (necessarily) but I think that Krug is going to taste a lot better to me next time I have the opportunity to drink it. =)

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