Why Cathay Pacific changed its first class Champagne glasses

The traditional flutes have been swapped for tulip-shaped glasses with a long stem and tapered bowl.

By David Flynn, March 30 2023
Why Cathay Pacific changed its first class Champagne glasses

Champagne is often considered a cornerstone of the premium travel experience, and the best airlines insist on serving the very best bubbles and vintages in their first class suites.

Depending on which airline you favour, first class flyers will be treated to generous pours of Dom Perignon, Bollinger, Piper Heidsieck Rare, Taittinger Comtes De Champagne, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame – and of course, Krug.

The superb Krug 2004 is the Champagne of choice in Cathay Pacific first class, and in fact the Hong Kong flag-carrier was the first airline to partner with Krug, in a relationship stretching back to 1986.

“Krug is the greatest Champagne,” declares wine guru James Halliday in the Australian Wine Companion, giving the 2004 vintage a near-perfect rating of 99/100.

“It is superbly poised, the flavour and texture as complex as a Beethoven symphony played in a great concert hall under the baton of a great conductor.”

And with Cathay once again serving Krug 2004 in first class, the airline pondered if there was a way to make this already-stellar drop even more luscious?

Yes, says Vivian Lo, Cathay’s General Manager for Customer Experience & Design – by serving it in a glass specifically designed for Champagne.

“Krug has a very, very strong view that a flute glass is for bad Champagnes,” Lo tells Executive Traveller, “because they cover weaknesses, while one that is more like a white wine glass brings out the best in good Champagne.”

Lo readily admits that wine is “one of my favourite topics”, and science is in her and Krug’s corner.

Experts say the flute’s narrow opening inhibits expression of Champagne’s distinct flavours and aromas, because there’s less surface area exposed to that oxygen and its interaction with Champagne.

White wine glasses, being much wider than flutes, present a large surface area and increase that oxygen interaction to fully experience the complexity and layering of fine Champagne – which for Krug 2004 means bringing to life its promised delicate notes of brioche, toast and dried citrus fruits.

This led Krug and Riedel to reshape the Champagne flute: and after 18 months, 27 prototypes and a lot of sipping, Riedel created a line of elegant crystal hybrids combining the best attributes of a flute and a white wine glass to bring out the best of vintage Champagne.

“So since Krug is our signature, and we also serve other very high quality vintage Champagnes as well, we actually changed our glasses when we relaunched first class,” says Lo, with Cathay now pouring Champagnes in first class into one of Riedel’s new designs.

Having tasted the same Krug 2004 from a narrow flute and this stylish new stemware, Lo can attest to the difference. “You would think it's a completely different champagne,” she says.

“Krug is nice in any glass, but in a narrow glasses the bubbles are much stronger… but a vintage Champagne has very fine bubbles, has finesse, and the age makes it very, very elegant, and the right glass really brings all of that out.”

For first class flyers who prefer a glass or two of wine over a celebratory Champagne, Cathay has two of Lo’s favourite wines from Lynch-Bages, “who we have partnered with for 30 years.”

“To celebrate the relaunch of first class we picked a 2000 Château Lynch-Bages for the red – which we rotate with the Château Montrose that we launched a few years ago – and a Blanc de Lynch-Bages 2018 white.”

“And our first glassware now is all restaurant-grade, it’s the same as you'd be using in a lot of Michelin-star restaurants… to me, small details like that are very, very important because this is something that I'm very passionate about.”

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

11 Dec 2016

Total posts 73

Would have been good to be on the tasting team for that. Tasting a lot of Krug. What a job.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 409

After doing a 'taste test' just like CX did, comparing the same Champagne at a friend's place in a flute and one of these new glasses, I went out and bought a set of the new type of glasses, because you really can notice the difference in a good Champagne if you take the time to let it breathe a little and savour the Champagne in small sips, especially when complementing it with say a grazing or cheese platter.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 329

CX has always been excellent  - used to do 1A x2 yearly with AmericanAir miles JFK-HKG v.v  We all drink sparkling white  in white wine glasses, even in Lufthansa/Swiss First

And Cathay Pacific Lounges have always been good - the days self serve vintage champagne and rainfall shower cabanas in Wing First,  and sleeping rooms in Pier First  preCOVID, maybe United Global First /Polaris at HKG are welcomed

 Lets hope post COVID we can have a return to normality

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 329

Champagne with all courses, as with Qatar, Lufthansa Gruppe ( Swiss, Lufti) ,  Cathay,  SingaporeAir, United Old Days Global First, all ground and on board,  and of course AmericanAir in the First Dining Rooms  on ground

31 Dec 2014

Total posts 46

I agree with the shape of the champagne glass. A simple iso tasting glass makes an excellent vessel for champagne.

And Lynch Bages is an excellent Bordeaux. A visit to their chateaux was a highlight of a visit to the region a few years back.

Navigating the Australian wine importing customs process was a much less enjoyable experience.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 163

Riedel regularly do partnership dinners with various partners, I have done them at MFWF, Vintec, Emperor Champagne and the like.

And the old saying is correct, there is Champagne, then there is Krug

The 1990 I had when we got married is still the best bottle I have ever had including Cristal, P2, Elizabeth (although that is close and underrated) and Salon 

16 Jul 2021

Total posts 4

Your comment (perhaps taken from Cathay publicity material) about Cathay being the first airline to serve Krug is not historically correct. I used to work for British United Airways BUA which covered South America, Africa and Europe from London, and we served Krug on VC10 flights during the '60s and early 70's in First Class (there was no Business Class at that time). Remember it well!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2013

Total posts 57

As one with plenty of experience tasting champagne professionally, along with visits to many Champagne houses, I would contest the idea that somehow Krug occupies a different dimension to the other prestige cuvée wines. It's a matter of style. Some like that slightly old-fashioned, slightly oxidative style of Krug. These are the same people who would love old style wines like Bollinger, Gosset and a few others, although Bollinger has modernised somewhat in recent years. In panel tastings of the top wines over many years, Krug, whether NV or vintage, has usually been polarising, with some tasters opting for fresher, softer, less angular drops like Taittinger Comtes and Moët Dom Pérignon, others for the vinosity of wines like Roederer Cristal and Salon. Others enjoy the nutty. traditional wines of Krug. Krug is great no doubt, but there are plenty of wines of equal quality and interest in Champagne. As for glasses, larger tulips are essential.

01 Dec 2012

Total posts 52

My tuppence-worth on this important topic: as many of us discovered having caught COVID, our sense of smell interacts closely with taste. My loss of smell had me drinking wine purely for medicinal purposes!

Using a tulip glass rather than a flute brings in greater smell (‘nose’) to enhance Champagne’s taste.  That’s especially important at altitude, where both senses are dulled.

Now, about beer…

26 Oct 2017

Total posts 25

Hmmm -- but the smaller surface area of the traditional flute preserve the bubbles, which dissipate more quickly in a glass with a wider opening.

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