Not A Whine: Emirates’ Unbelievable Wines

Not A Whine: Emirates’ Unbelievable Wines

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With most airlines having greatly cut back their inflight service, I think it’s worth recognizing one airline for its soft product investment.

Emirates’ unparalleled wine investment

In 2014, Emirates Airline announced that it would invest $500 million in its wine program. While there are several top airlines offering exceptional wine in premium cabins (in particular, champagne in first class), Emirates’ investment in wine is on a completely different level.

The Dubai-based airline made a long-term investment in its wine program in order to procure the best vintages up to a decade before they’re ready to be consumed. In many cases the airline is investing in wines before they’re even bottled and released to market. The airline even has its own cellar in France, which back in 2014 had over a million bottles of wine in it, many of which haven’t even been released.

Emirates has some fantastic wines

Emirates’ over-the-top “surprise” wines

Emirates is known in premium travel circles for consistently serving Dom Perignon champagne in first class, which is of course lovely. But that’s also the standard, so it’s not a surprise.

Dom Perignon in Emirates first class

What I personally find most intriguing about Emirates’ wine selection is the “surprise and delight” element to it, both in the air and on the ground. Emirates’ selection of red and white wines for first class passengers varies greatly, at least in terms of retail price. Sometimes the airline has $20 bottles of wine on offer, and sometimes the airline has $400 bottles of wine on offer. The airline doesn’t make a big deal of it, and you really wouldn’t know about this great price variance unless you’re a wine expert or do some research.

FlyerTalk member chongl reports recently being in the Emirates first class lounge in Dubai and seeing 2001 Château Mouton Rothschild just standing there. Not only is that wine ridiculously hard to find, but if you do find it, you’ll typically pay $500+ per bottle.

It’s the casual elegance with which Emirates goes about this that I love so much. You can really go on a wine hunt in an Emirates lounge, and you might find a couple of $20 bottles, and a couple of $500 bottles. It all depends on the day and where you look.

Now, let me acknowledge that I’m not a huge wine snob. When I go wine tasting I swallow — I don’t swirl for 30 seconds, look at the color, flush it in my mouth, spit it out, and then provide some commentary as if I know what I’m talking about.

Rather I’m coming at this from two perspectives:

  • I’m fascinated by this from the perspective of the general investment that Emirates is making in its passenger experience, which should be commended regardless
  • In many (though not all) cases, especially when they’re thoughtfully chosen, more expensive wines actually do taste better; I remember the first red wine I ever enjoyed in my life was Opus One in Emirates first class, and red wine has grown on me progressively since

For wine snobs, or even just those who have some time to kill while connecting, walk around Emirates’ first class lounge in Dubai and observe the wines (whether you have knowledge off the top of your head, or need to Google) — think of it like an Easter egg hunt for adults. Furthermore, you can review the inflight wine selection online before your flight, so you can decide what wines you want to drink in advance.

Emirates lounges have some amazing wines

Bottom line

Emirates has invested more than any other airline in the world in wine (if only it invested that money in its lackluster 777 business class product instead, but I digress). When most people hear that, they probably think of the Dom Perignon champagne that the airline is famous for serving, but it goes so far beyond that.

What’s perhaps most intriguing is how the airline just randomly seems to serve $500+ bottles of wine, with no real rhyme or reason. This is often done in the first class lounges in Dubai, though we also sometimes see some amazing wines rotated through the onboard menu. However, these are typically less rare vintages, given the amount of consumption there would be across Emirates’ first class network.

Anyone else find Emirates’ wine investment as fascinating as I do?

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  1. gstork

    This reminds me of the conversation I had many years ago with a Chicago-based auctioneer of fine wines after my one and only Concorde flight. He shared that BA had a massive wine program similar to how Emirates has created their own. However, back in those days, BA (and presumably AF) would buy out entire reserves of some of the best they could find.

    Case in point was an amazing white burgundy we were...

    This reminds me of the conversation I had many years ago with a Chicago-based auctioneer of fine wines after my one and only Concorde flight. He shared that BA had a massive wine program similar to how Emirates has created their own. However, back in those days, BA (and presumably AF) would buy out entire reserves of some of the best they could find.

    Case in point was an amazing white burgundy we were served on our flight from London to NYC, and my auction friend said it would be impossible to find, outside of making a special connection with a very high person within BA’s Concorde/First wine “programme.”

  2. RC

    time to look for some award space...im thirsty

  3. Jared

    During the visit, we spoke with some of their wine curators, who also have knowledge of other beverages. Basically, they told us that the primary emphasis when selecting a wine for their flights is taste. While rare and expensive bottles may occasionally make it on board (especially when they are aware of a person of great repute on board), the wines aren't chosen only based on rarity or cost, but chosen to be pleasing in...

    During the visit, we spoke with some of their wine curators, who also have knowledge of other beverages. Basically, they told us that the primary emphasis when selecting a wine for their flights is taste. While rare and expensive bottles may occasionally make it on board (especially when they are aware of a person of great repute on board), the wines aren't chosen only based on rarity or cost, but chosen to be pleasing in the drier environment presented within the aircraft. Beers are also impacted by the environment on board, but the demand for beer tends to be less. Therefore, emphasis on a curated beer list is low, especially since beer has a limited shelf-life. Other drinks are not as severely impacted by the lower moisture and oxygen so relatively expensive and rare(r) selections are stocked.

  4. Jared

    The wine cellar in France can be visited. My colleague and I visited during an assignment when we were scheduled to fly board Emirates F. The topic came up during a conversation with the FA who invited us to take the trip. Photography was prohibited. They have some extremely rare selections and the cellar also provides for the Royal Family.

  5. KBT

    Great article and the kudos to EK for having the vision to “invest” into something that can make a good flight experience a “great” one. I was flying from DXB - LAX in first (A380) back in those glorious days (2018) and they were serving Les Forts De Latour Pauillac. To buy that retail it’s somewhere between $300 -$450 per bottle depending on the year. My wife and I polished off two bottles over a...

    Great article and the kudos to EK for having the vision to “invest” into something that can make a good flight experience a “great” one. I was flying from DXB - LAX in first (A380) back in those glorious days (2018) and they were serving Les Forts De Latour Pauillac. To buy that retail it’s somewhere between $300 -$450 per bottle depending on the year. My wife and I polished off two bottles over a 15 hour flight and the flight attendants were so kind - they brought a bottle back to the bar for us to have. Needless to say the business class folks in the bar were a bit jealous and wanted to have some as well. The bartender told them - upgrade to first and you can have as much as you want. :-)

  6. Rico

    How about throwing a $400 bottle of Scotch in here and there? My last (and only) flight in Emirates F they "only" had a selection of $200 Scotches. I tried them all.

    1. Andrew

      They put it all into the cognac, lol. That Dalmore is about $300 though. I wish they had a good or even decent sipping rum on there; Bacardi ain't it. Even for mixing there are much better cheap options.

  7. Endre

    They served Opus One in the lounge back in 2019 — yum

  8. Nevsky

    As I remember, I generally find the business class wines to be over $40 and the first class wines over $50 and usually around $80 - $100 per bottle. Unfortunately, now that AS has divorced EK, I will mostly be flying BA and QR. In BA, most of the wines in F are bargain basement, except for the champagne.

  9. UGC

    Let’s think about LH where normally the most expensive wine in F is ~20€…
    But, ok, they are proud to go “off the beaten track” to avoid these crazy splurges ;-)

  10. SamFromQueens

    The first two wines on the menu in F class from top is always most expensive white or red, anything below in the list are the same they serve in J class!! That’s what FA told me….

  11. Scottrick

    Emirates first class introduced me to Sipsmith gin. Never heard of it before. Not terribly expensive and even even better than Hendricks and many other better known labels. Like you said, some stuff is not that expensive but they are paying closer attention to taste, not flash.

  12. Frog

    I was very pleasantly surprised to be served the Dom Perignon P2, which retails for well over $500 a bottle, on Emirates F a couple of years ago. No big marketing campaign or anything else. Just got onboard and found it on the wine list. It was undoubtedly the best Champagne I’ve ever had. There is a P3, though I don’t expect to see it on Emirates considering it retails for around $4000 a bottle.

  13. Justin

    There’s really nothing classy or understated about putting an off vintage first growth on your wine list for label whores. A skilled wine director could’ve found a better wine at 1/3 the price.

    1. Eskimo

      @Justin

      Are you supposed to be a snob or connoisseur?

    2. Chris

      Are you referring to the 2001 Mouton? Wine nerds love that vintage.

    3. Michael

      As a former “wine director” who ran multiple Grand Award programs I made an account solely to point out that this is a really bad take. 2001 BDX are drinking wonderfully right now, especially in a situation where decanting ahead might not be an option. Only a fool would turn their nose up at ‘01 Mouton.

  14. Chris

    I've flown EK first 6 times, and don't remember ever seeing a $20 bottle, either in the lounge or in the air. Maybe there was a $30 bottle in an value category? But there's always more to choose from on EK than those cheaper options, which, it's worth noting, are generally thoughtful selections, likely intended for specific pairing. Same is true in business class.

    For sure, some of my flights had wines that were extraordinary...

    I've flown EK first 6 times, and don't remember ever seeing a $20 bottle, either in the lounge or in the air. Maybe there was a $30 bottle in an value category? But there's always more to choose from on EK than those cheaper options, which, it's worth noting, are generally thoughtful selections, likely intended for specific pairing. Same is true in business class.

    For sure, some of my flights had wines that were extraordinary (and fairly aged, like a 2005 Pontet-Canet.) Other flights were a bit more like my one experience on Air France first: Excellent wines but not very unique.

  15. pstm91

    Funny to read that the airline with the most ostentatious finishes and decor is displaying "casual elegance." I'm not arguing your point, and it's great to see that they do this under the radar, it's just so unlike Emirates to be "casually elegant."

  16. Steven M

    "Sometimes the airline has $20 bottles of wine on offer, and sometimes the airline has $400 bottles of wine on offer."

    This gets to the issue for a wine connoisseur, who if paying top price for a first-class ticket generally expects the bottles to trend towards the $400 price and not the $20 price. While the average first-class flyer would expect e.g. Dom Perignon Champagne to be served, it would take some flyers aback to...

    "Sometimes the airline has $20 bottles of wine on offer, and sometimes the airline has $400 bottles of wine on offer."

    This gets to the issue for a wine connoisseur, who if paying top price for a first-class ticket generally expects the bottles to trend towards the $400 price and not the $20 price. While the average first-class flyer would expect e.g. Dom Perignon Champagne to be served, it would take some flyers aback to be offered a $20 bottle. This despite the fact that worldwide many fine bottles do exist at the $20 level.

    1. Super

      Not necessarily disagreeing with you but your last sentence seems to invalidate the rest of your reply. If fine wines can be bought for $20, a wine connoisseur should be happy. I think a wine snob would not be happy, but a connoisseur should be happy getting good wine irrespective of the cost.

    2. Motion to Dismiss

      Emirates never, ever offers ONLY a $20 bottle onboard in F--you might see that in the lounge. My understanding is that their wine list generally has a range of options that run the gamut in terms of price, though I don't think an F wine on EK is ever is cheap as $20. I have a flight coming up soon in EK F and have been perusing the wine list; there is one bottle that...

      Emirates never, ever offers ONLY a $20 bottle onboard in F--you might see that in the lounge. My understanding is that their wine list generally has a range of options that run the gamut in terms of price, though I don't think an F wine on EK is ever is cheap as $20. I have a flight coming up soon in EK F and have been perusing the wine list; there is one bottle that seemed oddly cheap, Collazzi 2015 (about $40 retail), and it turns out it's actually one of the J wines that they also list on the F list, just in case an F passenger might also want it. That said, on the same list, there is Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet, which is around $400. I'll avoid the Collazzi and stick to the Dom, the Corton-Charlemagne, the Araujo, the Sauternes, and the Hennessy Paradis.

      As an oenophile who has flown F on a number of different airlines, EK has the best overall offerings.

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SamFromQueens

The first two wines on the menu in F class from top is always most expensive white or red, anything below in the list are the same they serve in J class!! That’s what FA told me….

Motion to Dismiss

Emirates never, ever offers ONLY a $20 bottle onboard in F--you might see that in the lounge. My understanding is that their wine list generally has a range of options that run the gamut in terms of price, though I don't think an F wine on EK is ever is cheap as $20. I have a flight coming up soon in EK F and have been perusing the wine list; there is one bottle that seemed oddly cheap, Collazzi 2015 (about $40 retail), and it turns out it's actually one of the J wines that they also list on the F list, just in case an F passenger might also want it. That said, on the same list, there is Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet, which is around $400. I'll avoid the Collazzi and stick to the Dom, the Corton-Charlemagne, the Araujo, the Sauternes, and the Hennessy Paradis. As an oenophile who has flown F on a number of different airlines, EK has the best overall offerings.

Super

Not necessarily disagreeing with you but your last sentence seems to invalidate the rest of your reply. If fine wines can be bought for $20, a wine connoisseur should be happy. I think a wine snob would not be happy, but a connoisseur should be happy getting good wine irrespective of the cost.

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