Wine Enthusiast rated the top 10 airline wine programs. (HT: Michael W. Travelsmy seatmate who brought her own wine in a coffee cup onboard), though they think of it as a luxury good. Delta’s wine program recognizes this specifically avoiding bottles that are priced too inexpensively at retail (lest people think they’re low quality, regardless of taste) and that have too unsophisticated a label.
Here’s their list:
- Cathay Pacific
- Etihad Airways
- Qatar Airlines
- LAN Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic Airways
- British Airways
Who Should – and Should Not – Have Made the List
I don’t get the inclusion of Virgin Atlantic, for sure. British Airways does have some thoughtful choices though I don’t think of them as a top 10.
It’s interesting and unsurprising that there are no US airlines in this list. My sense is that Delta is willing to spend more on international business class wine than either United or American although they don’t close to be among the best.
US Airways Wine
Emirates, however, should be on the list for sure. Emirates is said to have spent $500 million acquiring wine for its flights. Now, that’s a multi-year purchase. And it probably involves lots of rounding. Clearly the goal was to get to the $500 million number in order to promote it.
Wine is Different in the Air — and Often Wasted
It’s hard to put together a good in-air wine program. Not only is cost a huge factor, given the number of bottles being consumed by large airlines (so even small price changes are magnified in effect) but when you need large orders sourcing and distribution capability is a constraint.
What’s more, wine tastes different in a pressurized cabin than it does on the ground. American’s approach is to select ‘fruit bombs’ — very fruit forward wines that will maintain their character in the air. Many subtle wines, great wines, simply don’t taste special in the air and aren’t worth the cost.
Singapore has a unique approach. They have a pressurized tasting room. Normally taste tests of wine and picking what people like doesn’t help, since it doesn’t match how those wiines will taste in the air. Singapore has designed the conditions on the ground to be able to taste things closer to actual flight conditions.
Singapore Airlines is also the only carrier that serves both Dom Perignon and Krug onboard. There’s this moment when a Singapore flight attendant asks you if you’d care for champagne, you say yes, and they respond, “would you prefer Dom Perignon or Krug?” with a certain confident smirk. While tastes vary, and many will prefer Krug regardless, I believe the only proper answer to this question is, “What year is the Dom?”
Champagne often works well onboard, and I tend to favor it over even better old world wines. And I don’t pick my carrier based on its wine program, even if it’s a signal of the detail that goes into a product — many of the airlines that do wine well do other things well also. But since I know the detail of those other choices, my preferences tend to be based on seat first and foremost, followed by service and food, rarely amenities or drink selection (even if I enjoy the non-alcoholic su jeong gwa on Korean Air).