Here Are The Airlines That Serve The Best Champagne

Flying different premium cabin airline products can be a great way to sample all kinds of amazing alcohol, and in particular champagne. As ridiculous as it might sound, I’ve sort of grown to really appreciate the subtle differences between champagne and other wine thanks to my flying and travels. Recently Andrew M was kind enough to share his knowledge of wine, to explain how the best wine on the ground may not be the best wine in the air.

My good friend Matt/one of the fanciest people I know shared his picks for the top airline champagne early last year, and he’s back with an updated list. Okay, maybe he’s also partly mostly to blame thank for my increased understanding and appreciation of champagne. We’re embarking on a round the world trip next week, so stay tuned for more updates from him! Thanks to Matt for sharing his thoughts!


It has been just over 18 months since my last champagne post.  That’s a really long time.  In that time period, we’ve seen multiple airlines go to revenue based frequent flyer programs, Emirates has taken delivery of roughly 7,000 more Airbus A380’s, the Boeing 787 has become so commonplace it bores me (also – it’s apparently not hail-proof), and Ben has started talking much more about Etihad and Emirates than he has Lufthansa.  OH, and United.com apparently decided to wave goodbye to the early 1980’s.  (Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about nearly all United Clubs – hope springs eternal, however.) 

A lot has happened in the champagne world, too!  So it’s time to update the prior “Airlines that Serve the Best Champagne” post.  I’m going for quality over quantity, and only pointing out what I think are the five best first class champagnes.  I’ll also highlight the best domestic champagne currently on offer, and point out a few great lounges for champagne lovers.  Check out the old post for additional offerings. 

Krug Grande Cuvee (Non-Vintage)

Krug was listed first in my last review, and it is listed first again here.  Not because it is the most expensive or rarest champagne (in existence or served on airlines), but because it probably my favorite champagne.  (It is also Ben’s favorite champagne.) 

Current bottlings of Krug Grande Cuvee include a blend of over 100 different wines from vintages that span back to 1990.  Because Krug pulls from so many vintages, and thus has such a broad spectrum of wine to pull from, they seem to always be able to craft perfectly balanced champagne.  It is aged in oak barrels, which gives it certain richness, but what stands out to me is the well-integrated acidity and the dark pinot noir fruits.  I would say you should drink it with this or that, but honestly, you should just drink it – it’s that good.

Served on: Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, ANA, Qatar Airways, EVA Air

Krug

(Photo by Aaron T.) 

Dom Perignon (Various Vintages)

No champagne list would be complete without Dom Perignon.  This well-known label is Moet & Chandon’s tete-de-cuvee or prestige champagne.  It is always vintage champagne, i.e., made from the grapes of a single year, and is (theoretically) only released in the best years.

It seems that airlines are currently serving a mix of 2004 and 2005 Dom Perignon, with the 2004 vintage being offered by the vast majority of airlines (and perhaps all of them except Emirates).

The good news is that unlike 2003 Dom Perignon, which was not showing very well upon release, both the 2004 and 2005 vintages are drinking nicely right now.  The 2004 is very “classic” champagne.  It is a more reserved style, and as a result a lot of the Dom Perignon yeastiness shows through still, because it is still young.  It will no doubt be fabulous champagne if you’re willing to wait.  On airplanes, though, we don’t wait.  Or at least you shouldn’t wait.  On a flight, my motto is that you should drink early, often, and throughout. 

That’s why 2005 Dom Perignon is my current favorite.  It is drinking incredibly well out of the bottle.  2005 was not an ideal growing season, and due to a lot of untimely rain, the fruit was very ripe upon harvest.  As a result, the 2005 bottling is drinking like a bottle with considerably more age, without much yeast but with nice toast and mineral.  Another fun fact: this is the first Dom vintage in decades that was predominately chardonnay (60% chardonnay and 40% pinot noir – it is usually 50/50). 

Emirates is the only airline I know of that serves 2005 Dom at the moment.  Because it was a short vintage, it may be the only airline ever to serve it.  Maybe this is a good thing, though.  After four or five bottles, you’ll definitely need a shower to sober up. 

Served on: Emirates Airline (2005), Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines

Dom-Matt

2002 Salon Cuvee “S”

Salon was noticeably absent from my first review.  This was not because it was not served on any airline at the time – the only airline that serves it was and still is Japan Airlines (JAL) – but rather because I had never had it.  Since then, I’ve tried 2002 Salon on two occasions.  It is unquestionably amazing champagne.  Made from 100% chardonnay from the grand cru of Mesnil, it is aged on its yeast (or lees) for over a decade before it receives a cork.  That means it takes roughly 12 years to go from vine to store shelf, which is kind of crazy. 

Without going too far into the wine making process, I will simply say that because this is 100% chardonnay from Mesnil, and because it does not go through malolactic fermentation, it retains a very racing acidity (which I love) mixed with lemon and minerality one would expect from Mesnil grapes.  This wine will age for as long as many of us will live, but if you encounter it on JAL I strongly suggest you consume every bottle that is loaded.  It will go especially well with the amuse bouche and caviar courses. 

Served on: Japan Airlines

Japan-Airlines-First-Class-12

Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill (2002/2004)

This is another champagne I did not review before.  And another one I only recently had the pleasure of trying.  There are some people that just love Pol Roger champagne.  I’m not that guy.  They’re very nice wines, but give me Bollinger over Pol Roger any day. 

Nevertheless, SWC is extremely nice.  For those who are familiar, it is like a more elegant Bollinger La Grande Annee.  The wine focus is on texture and on more subtle pinot noir fruit flavors than any Bollinger wines, but that’s the best comparison I have.  The 2002 is the only one I’ve had the pleasure of drinking, and I understand it has attracted more attention that the 2004, but I couldn’t offer an opinion either way.

Served on: Qantas   

Qantas-A380-First-Class-14

Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle (Non-Vintage)

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

It costs as much as it does because it is actually a blend of three of Laurent-Perrier’s previous (declared) vintages — the current offering comprises a blend of 2004, 2002, and 2000 vintages.  Sadly, I must admit I have only enjoyed a couple glasses of Grand Siècle, though perhaps that was necessary to make room for Ben’s 6 bottles on BA.

It is the most understated champagne that made its way onto this list, but sometimes being understated is good.  (Note, for example, that I only posted pictures of me drinking out of two champagne bottles, despite reviewing many more.  That’s being understated.)

Served on: British Airways, Swiss, and (sometimes) Lufthansa

Grand-Siecle

Best Domestic Champagne

Until recently, if I were flying domestically I’d say have Woodford Reserve or Avion on Delta, or Gin/Vodka on any other airline domestically.  The first couple times I flew American Flagship First between LAX and JFK they offered Gloria Ferrer sparkling.  That’s a perfectly fine offering, but when I was recently on an evening American flight from JFK to LAX, I ordered sparkling water because I felt like maybe I’d had enough and I wasn’t persuaded by Gloria (sorry, hunny). 

Imagine my excitement when I saw bottles of Lanson Brut being walked through to the business class cabin.  Needless to say I changed my order to Lanson.  Promptly.  I explained to the flight attendant this was new in my experience.  He was unaware, as he had been flying internationally the last six months.  What he lacked in information he made up for in attentiveness.  My glass was always full. 

American-777-First-Class-28

For a non-vintage champagne, there is a lot to like about Lanson.  It has a great, crisp, apple and citrus fruit palate, with a moderately high acidity level.  That, I think, really helps make it stand out at high altitudes. 

Given its retail price, I must admit that this is a huge upgrade for AA flyers between JFK and LAX/SFO.  I should point out that although I was in first, they were definitely pouring this in business as well.  And as evidenced by the menu, this was not just a fortunate catering mishap.  Definitely something to go to the dAArk side for.  (UPDATE: As of September 12, 2015, AA is also serving Lanson on the ground in the Flagship Lounge at JFK.)

American-Lanson

Noteworthy Lounge Champagne Offerings

There are also a few highly noteworthy lounge champagne offerings. 

Qatar Airways’ Al Mourjan Lounge Doha serves Krug Grande Cuvee.  Yes, Krug.  On the ground.  How does Qatar fill planes?  I’d never leave the lounge. 

Krug

British Airways’ Concorde Room London Heathrow and New York serve Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle.  That is a fantastic lounge offering.  It helps make up for the inedible food, too.

British-Airways-Concorde-Room-JFK-36

Cathay Pacific’s The Wing First Class Lounge Hong Kong serves multiple types of champagne.  When I was there last July, they had Duetz Brut, Laurent-Perrier rose, and something else. 

Cathay-Pacific-The-Wing-Lounge-03

Qantas’ First Class Lounge Los Angeles serves Laurent-Perrier brut along with Nicolas Feuillatte rose.  Neither are top of the line, but coupled with fantastic service and great décor, even we Angelinos can’t complain.  (JK – I think they should have had a third champagne, and done a table-side caesar.)

Qantas-First-Lounge-LAX-16

Bottom line

Those are my thoughts on the airlines with the best champagne, both on the ground and in the air.  It’s great to see what seems like an increased effort on the part of airlines to woo passengers with an improved soft product.  I’m especially looking forward to having some Dom 2005 on Emirates next week!

What are your favorite airline champagnes, either on the ground or in the air?

Comments

  1. To pluralize “Angelino”, simply add an “s”. No apostrophe needed. Adding an apostrophe makes the word possessive, which is not what you’re going for above.

  2. I’m not much of a champagne expert I must confess, but I tried Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle this week on a BA F round trip. I found it pretty disappointing, even compared with some of the lower level Champagnes like Bollinger Special Cuvee and Taittinger Brut. To me, the tasting note was very straitght forward: flat.

    I’ll take Krug or Pol Roger SWC any day of the week!

  3. Here are the airlines THAT serve the best Champagne, not which. There is always a comma before which.

    Surprisingly, no mentioning of Dom Perignon on EVA Air business class.

  4. I’m not a champagne expert, but I’ll be taking a ride in Thai first and Qatar business soon. You can be sure I’ll keep my eyes open for the bottle, lol (I’m not much of a drinker anyway….not my thang). Thanks for the post.

  5. How about a posting about the best business class champagnes? Int’l first class is getting harder and harder to find both with miles and just in general as airlines are reducing the seat count in there and sometimes eliminating it altogether on sub-fleets (QR, CX, etc.)

  6. i love lanson black label and was hoping it would get a shout out here. nicely done. krug has really grown on me flying cx but that might just be subliminal reinforcement from reading this blog so much.

    apart from champagnes offered on flights or in lounges, i’ve developed a real fondness for piper-heidsieck. not too pricey, really delicious and versatile — great for serving to company.

  7. Lucky,

    didn’t you say MH also serves Dom in first class?
    I’m pretty sure I saw Dom in your MH first class review.

  8. Yeah – that’s starting to get a bit old now, Nick and does it really need to be explained why an English sparkling wine is not reviewed in an article about Champagne?

  9. Having tried them all except the salon (really gotta make time to try JAL) I really enjoy Krug the most even though its not the priciest or flashiest it just tastes good to me and reminds me of eating a really good freshly baked sourdough bread lol

  10. Any thoughts on the Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque (I believe KE is still serving 2006 vintage on JFK/CDG flights in F)?

  11. Gene: I think you’re correct. It’s good champagne. I reviewed it last time. While I wouldn’t buy it at a wine store, I’d drink plenty of it on KE. 😉

    Jason: This whole blogging thing is really hard! Can I hire you to be my word processor/editor?

  12. Was on ANA in first NRT-SEA Aug 12, and they were serving Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1996 in addition to Krug.

  13. Having done Krug and Dom, really looking forward to Salon 2002 on JAL this fall. Round trip champagne flight with a perfect late morning departures on each leg. Post champagne nap will be perfect.
    Looks like Salon 2002 retails for almost twice the price of Krug ($250) and almost four time the price of Dom ($135) in the US.

  14. @ Matt,

    Kudos for this post! now I know what champagne should I choose in order to maximize luxury award redemption.
    By the way, how did you obtain the bottles of Krug and Dom? in your pictures, you were holding the bottles and drinking them, and from the background scene, it clearly wasn’t inside any first class cabin. Did you buy them personally?

  15. @ptahcha, Kelt, and Lucky(!)

    You folks need to read more carefully. From the intro, caps for emphasis:

    “I’m going for quality over quantity, and only pointing out what I think are the five best FIRST CLASS champagnes.”

    Unless EVA Air has reclassified their product they do not belong in the above list.

  16. We had some CX and JL segments a few weeks ago and really liked the Krug. Much more so than the Salon. But I’m sure we’ll be able to sample the Salon again to give it another chance.

  17. David: you’re correct. Those pictures were taken at the SLS and Andaz in “Beverly Hills” and WeHo, respectively. The bottles were purchased, but I prefer when they’re included in the cost of airfare!

  18. I’m not a technical wine buff by any measure (you’ll never hear me talk about terroir, etc), but I know what I like (that’s my measuring stick – does it taste nice?).

    I love Krug (and would love to try their Blanc de Blancs if I can ever get over the eye-watering price of a bottle), and have had indulged in it fairly often, both in the air and on the ground. It’s very easy to like.

    I also rate Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs (also had in the air and on the ground), and I had an exceptionally lovely encounter with their Rose version on a Qantas First flight (sadly, they only catered a bottle or two, so it ran out before the flight was even half-way over) which remains a top highlight (just a shame it’s very hard to find a bottle on the ground).

    Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque also is another favourite, although I’ve only had that on the ground.

    I don’t get excited by Dom, or a lot of the other “premium” labels encountered when flying. I might have one glass, but after that I’ve usually switched to something else (or taken it as a Kir Royal).

    I find it funny that I quite like Blanc de Blancs but loathe Chardonnay as a white wine (go figure).

  19. I don’t like Lanson that much, it tastes very basic and simple. Would like to see more Billecart-Salmon or Ruinart in the air 🙂

  20. My favorite champagne story was from a Delta Business Class flight from LA to Sydney. “Sorry. We don’t have any”. Ah yes, Delta, the airline that sets standards low, and then fails to meet them. It was an awful flight. Inattentive flight attendants, below average wines and food that was…..well, it is Delta. “Delta Food” is a new category.

  21. Although on its wine menu Qantas still lists Taittinger Comtes de Champagne and Pol Roger Winston Churchill, both of which are excellent, these days they’re usually serving the dreaded Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame. “Agent Orange” is probably my least favourite Champagne and as much as I try I can’t manage more than a few glasses before switching to red. Therefore I’ll fly Emirates to London next time and drink Dom all the way.

  22. New contest idea – win an around the world trip with Matt…
    This post didn’t even need text tbh

  23. I would argue that JAL’s “second” champagne is even better the Salon… Laurent Perrier Cuvee Alexandra Rose 2004.

  24. We didn’t much care for the Salon, and we didn’t even think to try their 2nd champagne. We were burnt out from our two other flights form BKK and it was almost 1am before we were airborn and just wanted to sleep.

  25. Chris–that’s a fabulous and very rare rose offering from LP. Their only tete de cuvée that is vintage. I’ve never heard about it being served on JAL, though. Korean serves it ex JFK and maybe CDG too. It’s just not very prevalent.

  26. Dear Matt,

    I found your website while searching for the champagne that I just had on Air France (Business) last week (on both Bangalore India to Paris and then Paris to Chicago flights). It tasted affordable (;) but it was tasty. Very crisp, refreshing, and bubbly. Do you have any idea what they serve? Or where I can find out? I left the damn wine list on board…aaaargh.

    Thanks!

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