The 10 Best Inflight Wine Programs
Looking for first-class wines at 30,000 feet?
These 10 airlines offer top-notch wine experiences in the sky, with thoughtfully curated lists designed by Masters of Wine or unique tasting programs with international selections. Be ready to splurge, however. These inflight wine programs aren’t cheap, but they’ll prepare your taste buds for landing.
Forget about reheated meals made hours in advance of takeoff here. With a state-of-the-art galley outfitted with rice cookers, toasters and steam ovens, first-class passengers will find the freshest Asian and international food selections in the sky alongside a super-premium wine cellar.
And while wine selections in first class and business typically touch upon regions covered on a particular route, top appellations in France are always well represented (expect pours of Krug Grand Cuvée Champagne and Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet). These stand alongside picks from top New World regions like Artisan’s The Sands Block Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.
Looking for in-depth inflight tastings? The airline mixes up its wine list with premium promotions. Through August, six wines will be featured from the Rhône Valley’s most famous appellations, including tastes from Hermitage, the Côte-Rôtie and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The three-room Residence suite on Etihad’s Airbus A380 promises the ultimate in high-altitude luxury. With a living room, bedroom and private bathroom complete with a stand-up shower, it also boasts a personal Savoy Hotel-trained butler, gold-plated cutlery and some of the finest wines in the world, including selections from Château Petrus and Louis Roederer.
First-class and business passengers don’t suffer for excellent sips, either. Detailed wine lists highlight Old World and New World selections, representing top vineyards from 25 countries including France, Germany, South Africa and Hungary. Select wines, like Château du Tertre 2006 Margaux and Gramp’s 2011 Botrytis Sémillon, are served in full-stemmed crystal glassware created specifically for the airline by Lucaris, a luxury crystal company based in Thailand. Classic cocktails are made with premium ingredients (the French 75 gets topped off with Billecart-Salmon Champagne).
It’s hard to find a more luxurious inflight experience than this. First-class passengers can count on five-star service, menus created by celebrity chefs and even designer pajamas.
Fittingly, the onboard wine program is just as high end. Over 9,000 cabin crew members have WSET Level 1 certification, with many completing advanced wine programs, ensuring sommelier-level service. (Bottles are always presented to passengers to taste the wine before a full glass is poured.) The first-class wine list touches on 12 countries, and the menu is refreshed every three months to ensure that frequent fliers don’t get bored.
“We have a beautifully presented wine list with bottle shots, some background on each winery, the profile of the wine and food pairing suggestions,” says James Cluer, a Master of Wine and consultant for the airline. “In first class, you could sip on some Krug, a 100-point Ducru 2009 from Saint-Julien and a 1974 Tawny Port from Kopke. Or, if you feel adventurous, go for a Grüner Veltliner, a Toro or a Bierzo.”
Fun fact: Cluer has tested wine on some of the world’s highest mountains, including Everest and Kilimanjaro, to research how high altitudes can affect taste.
If you’re flying to South America, LATAM Airline Group (parent to LAN and TAM airlines) offers a wine list curated by the continent’s only master sommelier, Hector Vergara.
Tasting over 500 bottles annually, Vergara and his team select 36 wines to be served on different legs of LAN and TAM flights. The airlines showcase global wines with a focus on South American offerings like Errazuriz’s Wild Ferment Pinot Noir from Casablanca or Morandé’s Gran Reserva Syrah from the Maule Valley. Selections are divided into six menus, updated monthly. A particular focus is placed on big flavor wines, to combat dulled senses at 30,000 feet.
“We selected wines that best reflect the features of their vines, keeping in mind that the wines will be consumed on board an airplane, where cabin pressure at high altitude affects and changes sensory perceptions,” says Vergara. The selections also take into account Hugo Pantano’s inflight menu, which utilizes fresh and seasonal South American fare.
In addition to offering private suites complete with standalone beds and full-sized pillows onboard its A380 aircraft, Singapore Airlines also boasts stellar first-class wine amenities.
Special menus like Míng Jiā Zhēn Zhuàn (a multicourse Chinese meal service) and an artful, Japanese-style Kyo-Kaiseki spread are served on Givenchy tableware alongside the world’s most sought-after bottlings. Suites and first-class passengers are greeted upon boarding with a glass of Dom Pérignon 2004 Champagne or Krug Grand Cuvée (some 194,000 bottles of Champagne are consumed on flights each year). Guests can also choose from an array of Grand Cru Burgundies and second-growth Bordeaux served in crystal glassware. Wines were selected for the airline by three acclaimed wine consultants: Jeannie Cho Lee, Michael Hill Smith and Oz Clarke.
Whittling down its 2015 wine list from 2,400 labels to just 300, ANA’s selection process took six months and involved a 40-person tasting panel composed of novices, cabin crew members and certified sommeliers, including senior sommelier Katsuhito Inoue and Ned Goodwin, MW.
The final two-day blind tasting resulted in a supremely sophisticated first-class wine list that includes top pours from Piedmont, Stellenbosch, Champagne, Rheingau and Burgundy. There’s also a collection of high-end shochus and prestigious sakés like Ippakusuisei Junmai Ginjo. There’s even a saké-focused snack menu with bites like grilled eggplant with sea urchin and deep-fried Daisendori chicken dusted with Japanese spices.
First-class passengers shouldn’t miss the “Taste of Switzerland” culinary experience onboard SWISS. The country’s top chefs (some with Michelin stars), including Heiko Nieder from The Dolder Grand Zürich, Edgard Bovier from Hotel Lausanne Palace and Antonio Colaianni from Mesa Zürich, have created unique, multicourse menus meant to pair with eight fine wines.
Served in Riedel glassware, the inflight list always includes a Grand Cru Bordeaux, a top Champagne, a Chablis, one white and one red wine produced in Switzerland, a Port, a dessert pour and an additional red and white selection that the airline deems an “icon wine.”
Further emulating a fine-dining restaurant in the sky, premium cabin travelers can enjoy meals and wine service anytime during a flight. You can even order a surprise slice of cake or a Champagne toast delivered to a passenger before takeoff.
Fun fact: The wine served onboard is selected in partnership with Britain’s oldest wine merchant, Berry Bros. & Rudd, which has supplied wine to the British royal family since the reign of King George III.
In Virgin’s upper-class cabin, wines and menus change quarterly, including “comforting and familiar favorites, like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc,” as well as at least one wine choice that ventures off the beaten track, says Mark Pardoe, a Master of Wine and buying director at Berry Bros. & Rudd.
“This quirky wine might be from a less well-known area of production, like Brazil, England or Slovenia, made from an unusual grape variety like Bacchus or Fetească, or one that highlights a method of production which is unusual,” says Pardoe.
Upper-class passengers can participate in inflight wine tastings held at the Upper Class Bar, where pours can be paired with an after-dinner cheese board or small-plate selection designed to create a social atmosphere. If you don’t feel like sharing, there’s a guided wine tasting tutorial video on the inflight entertainment system.
Photo courtesy Virgin Atlantic Airways
From programs like Sommeliers in the Sky—cabin crew with formal wine service training—to a worldly list of boutique and prestigious bottlings some 250 selections strong, this Australian airline knows a thing or two about inflight imbibing. Quantas invests $19 million AUD in the Australian wine industry each year. It offers its first class and international business cabin members sips of Taittinger 2000 Comtes de Champagne and Australia’s own Leeuwin Estate 2009 Art Series Chardonnay. Selections are chosen by a group of acclaimed winemakers and industry leaders, including Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines and Tom Carson of Yabby Lake.
“The diverse selections of high-quality wines on planes today show that airlines are recognizing a shift in general wine knowledge,” says Emma Swain, CEO of St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery in Napa Valley, California. Its Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend is available aboard British Airways on select first-class routes, along with a host of worldly wines selected in part by a Master of Wine, Keith Isaac.
First-class passengers can choose from a diverse drink menu that includes apéritifs and spirits like Glenlivet’s 18-year-old Single Malt Whisky. You can also stick to a wine program highlighting the world’s most iconic regions, touching on top producers in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Central Otago, Champagne and Rioja.
But the drink menu doesn’t stop there: Don’t miss afternoon tea complete with sandwiches, warm scones and clotted cream—this is British Airways, after all.
- 1Cathay Pacific Airways
- 2Etihad Airways
- 3Qatar Airlines
- 4LAN Airlines
- 5Singapore Airlines
- 8Virgin Atlantic Airways
- 10British Airways