Travelling at the pointy end of the plane is more than just a fancy seat – it’s an experience, one often involving fine food, fabulous wine and impeccable service. Naturally, there are some truly exceptional Champagnes found above the clouds too.
A roll call of France’s leading Champagne houses, from the likes of Dom Pérignon and Krug to Taittinger and Laurent-Perrier, are frequently poured in first and business class.
But which airline serves the best Champagne?
As many Executive Traveller readers would know, the term ‘Champagne’ refers solely to wines originating from the Champagne region of France. It’s a legally-protected brand. If made elsewhere, they’re known as sparkling wine.
While we all have our personal preferences, Executive Traveller turned to Tyson Stelzer – wine expert, author, and a past editor of the Halliday Wine Companion (widely regarded as the ‘bible’ of Australian wine) – so share his knowledge and insight.
Stelzer’s is also founder of The Champagne Guide: an encyclopaedic online resource hosting more than 4,600 detailed reviews with extensive tastings notes across many of the top Champagnes, each one bestowed a rating out of 100 points.
Behind first and business class Champagne ratings
While Stelzer admits it is “a travesty to reduce the grand complexities of champagne to a single number,” he perseveres with the points system “not because I endorse it, but simply because it is universally understood”, while accompanying reviews add greater depth.
For some context, a 100 point score is the “pinnacle of character, balance and persistence”.
While that flawless rating is earned by less than 0.7% of all Champagnes tasted, 99/100 – signalling “almost perfection” – is achieved by just over 1%.
“A 94 point champagne has impeccable purity and immaculate balance – a gold medal in a wine show,” Stelzer enthuses.
Broadly speaking, “less than 90 is sound but unexciting, and 91 is where all the real fun begins.”
Rating descriptions become more colourful as the numbers dip, with an 88 “worth buying if it’s cheap” and an 84 “borderline faulty”. A score of 80 translates into: “Horrid. You’ve been warned”.
Given the vast number of Champagnes bottled annually, not every drop has been added to The Champagne Guide yet, though the overwhelming majority offered inflight have.
These are the Champagnes poured by some of the world’s leading airlines, alongside the associated rating; you’ll find the overall winner revealed at the end of this article.
- Behind first and business class Champagne ratings
- Air Canada
- Air France
- Air New Zealand
- All Nippon Airways
- American Airlines
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Delta Air Lines
- Etihad Airways
- Japan Airlines
- Korean Air
- Qatar Airways
- Singapore Airlines
- Swiss International Air Lines
- The best Champagne in first class
- The best Champagne in business class
Canada’s national airline offers a zesty Laurent-Perrier Brut NV (92 points) in Signature Class (international business), with tasting notes describing it as a layered Champagne with flavours of summer fruits, followed by nuances of toast, butter and nuts.
Given its status as the flag bearer of the nation behind Champagne, it stands to reason Air France must have a pretty magnificent selection onboard. That’s certainly the case, and it’s available in all classes from nose to tail – a key point of difference from its rivals.
In La Premiere, first class travellers will find an exquisite Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Grand Siècle (97 points) until October, when it’s switched out for a Piper Heidsieck Rare Champagne 2013 (not yet tasted).
Gosset Brut Excellence (86-89 points) is poured in business, with the blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier evoking aromas of yellow stone fruits and dried fruit.
Premium economy and economy are served Pannier Brut Sélection NV, which is as yet unrated.
Air New Zealand
Those reclining in Air New Zealand’s Business Premier Class to the likes of New York – read our review here – will find the same Laurent-Perrier Brut NV (92 points) as Air Canada.
The Kiwi flag carrier has a radical reboot of its international business class primed to take wing in September 2024, and Champagne will no doubt be an essential part of the experience.
All Nippon Airways
Japan’s well known for its deep-rooted ‘omotenashi’ culture of hospitality, where guests are always treated with the utmost respect. That extends to premium cabins on ANA, where Krug Vintage Brut 2004 (97 points) is poured in first class, followed by Castelnau Cuvée Brut Réserve (not yet rated) in business.
Well-heeled flyers on American Airlines enjoy Vollereaux Cuvée Marguerite (93 points) in International First Class – it’s described as possessing citrus-meets-floral qualities – alongside Champagne Boizel Brut Réserve (86 points) in Transcontinental First Class.
Passengers in business class are served Ferrari Brut, which the airline notes has been twice recognised as the top sparkling at The Champagne and Sparkling Wine Championships.
British Airways is another fan of Laurent-Perrier, though rather than choosing the same Brut NV mentioned above, it opts for a Grand Siècle NV (97 points) in its first class. Travellers are also offered a citrus and raspberry-accented Lanson Rose Champagne NV (89 points).
In Club World (business class) it pours Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Silver Top NV (not yet rated), as well as an English sparkling wine option.
Variety is always good. That’s something Cathay Pacific has taken to heart on its forward cabins, with the Hong Kong-based carrier offering Champagne Krug Vintage Brut 2004 (97 points) in first class, followed by a choice between four champagnes in business.
Depending on the route, availability and time of year, business class passengers can raise a glass of Deutz Brut Classic NV (93 points) or Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut NV (91 points), Thienot Brut NV (85 points) or Taittinger Réserve Brut NV (93 points).
Delta Air Lines
Travellers cocooned in luxury within Delta Air Lines’ Delta One business class are offered a well balanced Duval-Leroy Brut Reserve NV (86 points), which is said to have an aroma of dried biscuits and chocolate, pairing perfectly with white meats.
Champagne is just as impressive, with the airline boasting exclusive partnerships with Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon until 2024. Dom (96 points) is reserved for guests in first class, while the latter two take wing on select routes as follows:
- Veuve Clicquot is served on flights to the Americas, UK, and Europe
- Moët & Chandon is served on flights to Africa, Middle East, and Asia Pacific
Etihad Airways has two delicious Champagnes in first class also. The star is a Devaux & Chapoutier Sténopé 2009 (not yet rated) – a fifty-fifty blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, featuring aromas of vanilla, brioche, warm bread, lemon zest, and candy notes.
In addition there’s a Duval-Leroy Rosé Prestige Premier Cru (90 points), which delivers aromas of wild cherry and red berries with hints of ginger and geranium for those who request it.
JAL is primed to debut an all-new first and business class onboard its A350 from 2025. In the meantime though, there’s still plenty to enjoy within the existing suites. And yes, the Champagne is flowing freely.
First class flights from Japan see generous pours of a Le Mesnil Salon S Blanc de Blanc 2013, as well as a Lanson le Vintage 2012. In the other direction, flights to Japan pour a Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François 2008. Unfortunately, none are rated yet.
In business class, travellers enjoy a moreish Drappier Carte d'Or NV (91 points) – expect honey notes and a little spice – alongside a Duval-Leroy Brut Réserve NV (86 points), which draws out flavours of dark chocolate and cinnamon.
Collaborating with the world-renowned sommelier Marc Almert, Korean Air has recently rolled out a new wine and Champagne selection on international routes.
In first class, this takes the form of an Henri Giraud MV18 (not yet rated), which is said to have aromas of brioche and espresso and pairs perfectly with seafood and cheese.
Prestige Class (business) features a Piper-Heidsieck Rare Millésime 2007 (not yet rated) that boasts notes of dried black fruit, roasted pineapple and cherry. It’s said to go well with oysters gratin and mushrooms in a cream sauce… which are both very specific.
First class flyers jetting off on Lufthansa can look forward to two Laurent-Perrier Champagnes: a Cuvée Grand Siècle (97 points), in addition to a Grande Cuvée Rosé Alexandra 2007 (92-96 points). Both are said to deliver a feast for the senses.
In business class, Lufthansa’s Master of Wines has selected a Ferdinand Bonnet Blanc de Noirs (not yet rated) – said to have notes of ripe red apple, blackcurrant leaf, almonds and toast.
On Qantas’ A380 – already flying to Singapore, London and Los Angeles, and soon to take wing between Sydney and Johannesburg – you’ll find three first class Champagnes: Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2008 (99 points), plus Piper-Heidsieck Champagne Rare 2002 (98 points) and a Pommery Louise 2005. The latter is not yet rated.
The airline notes these are in circulation across the network; not all on the same flight.
Business class flyers will find either a Jacquart Cuvée Brut Mosaïque NV (90-91 points) – said to possess aromas of pear, peach and lemon – or a Duval-Leroy Brut Réserve NV (86 points). Based on those ratings, either one is worth raising a glass of.
Jetsetters travelling on Australian routes with Gulf carrier Qatar Airways receive a choice of two delicious Champagnes in Qsuite Business Class: a Gosset Brut Grande Réserve, which has aromas of citrus and peach, and a Taittinger Prestige Rosé (94 points).
Qatar Airways describes the latter as having “expressive aromas of freshly crushed raspberries, cherries and blackcurrants are followed by a silky smooth palate that can be summed up in four words: lively, fruity, fresh and elegant.”
First class flyers on Singapore Airlines can pair their caviar with a choice of three tantalising Champagnes: Krug Grande Cuvée (96-97 points) and the same Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2008 (99 points) found on Qantas, together with a third rotating option.
That third option is part of ‘A Celebration of Champagne’ that sees a different drop take flight for a limited time only. These are:
- Geoffroy Blanc de Blancs Cuvée Volupté 2016 – August and September 2023
- Henri Giraud MV 2018 – October and November 2023
- Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires – December 2023 and January 2024
- Champagne Egly-Ouriet Extra Brut ‘VP’ Grand Cru – in February and March 2024
Business class features a choice of two Champagnes: Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve (95 points), in addition to a Piper-Heidsieck Essentiel Extra Brut NV (94 points).
Swiss International Air Lines
SWISS takes wing with the same Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Grand Siècle (97 points) found on parent Lufthansa in first class, while business class currently pours Duval-Leroy Brut Réserve NV (86 points), though will be switched to Jacquart Cuvée Brut Mosaïque NV (90-91 points) from September 6.
The best Champagne in first class
So which airlines serves the very best Champagne in the sky?
Naturally, first class is going to claim first place: and based on scoring by Stelzer The Champagne Guide, this is actually a tie between Qantas and Singapore Airlines.
Both Singapore Airlines and Qantas’ Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2008 received the highest rating of those tasted by Stelzer – coming in at an impressive 99 points.
“The grilled toast nuances of reduction are heightened in large format, uniting effortlessly with the brioche and vanilla notes of a touch of barrel fermentation,” Stelzer enthuses, declaring it “the greatest Comtes of the modern era, with decades of glorious life before it yet.”
The best Champagne in business class
Singapore Airlines also takes pole position in business class, pouring a 95-point Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve praised by Stelzer as brimming with notes of “spicy lemon and grapefruit, crunchy pear and apple”.
Coming a very close second is Qatar Airways’ exquisite Taittinger Prestige Rosé, which at 94 points tied with another Singapore Airlines drop, the Piper-Heidsieck Essentiel Extra Brut NV – and in Stelzer’s expert opinion, both would win “a gold medal in any show”.