The Airline With The World’s Best First Class Champagne Is… United?!?!?!?!?!

Filed Under: United

I nearly spit out the Krug I was drinking in the Delta SkyClub this afternoon (I’ll have a post on that tomorrow) when I came across this on my Twitter feed:


The picture United used to showcase their first class champagne is exactly why I find this all to be so unbelievable. They’re posting a picture of champagne in a plastic cup to commemorate that they won the award for the world’s best first class champagne? Never mind the fact that the airline is in the process of eliminating international first class.

Naturally I had to actually check out these awards, since that seemed so incredulous that I assumed this was a paid award ceremony or an April Fools’ joke. Per the Global Traveler Wine on the Wing 2017 awards, here are the top five airlines for first class champagne:

1. Joseph Perrier Brut Cuvée Royale 2004 (United Airlines)
2. Taittinger Brut Millésime 2008 (American Airlines)
3. Dom Perignon 2006 (Singapore Airlines)
4. Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs, NV (Asiana Airlines)
5. Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, Grande Cuvée, NV (British Airways)

I don’t think I’ve ever had Joseph Perrier Brut Cuvée Royale 2004, though it retails for ~50USD per bottle. Let’s be clear — expensive champagne isn’t necessarily good champagne, so I can appreciate them looking beyond price. But this is still a bit surprising, when Singapore Airlines serves both Dom Perignon and Krug.

The next question, naturally, is what their methodology is for selecting winners. Global Traveler had 21 wine experts do a blind taste test of all these wines. Airlines could submit two white wines, two red wines, and one champagne or other sparkling wine currently on their wine list.

The wines were then coded into flights, and served in code-marked glasses. The wines were then judged on a Davis 20-point scale, and the results are averaged among the judges.

So in all honesty, congrats to United for choosing an excellent, reasonably priced champagne. A higher price doesn’t necessarily mean a champagne is better, and I obviously have to yield to the professional wine judges on this.

I will say, however, that I think letting airlines submit just one champagne isn’t a good basis off of which to award an airline as having the best champagne. Airlines should score points for having options, and the entire menu should be taken into account. Then again, I can see the issues that would cause in terms of blind taste testing.

I’m now tempted to buy a bottle of this champagne for myself and give it a try.

Has anyone had United’s international first class champagne? Is it really that good?

  1. What is even more remarkable is that American’s came in second place — so U.S. carriers took the gold and the silver! I tend to think it’s a load of BS, but hard to disagree with a blind test.

  2. Champagne always tastes like bubbles to me. I feel I have a respectable palate when it comes to still wines, but I can never discern a high-end champagne from mid-tier. Maybe should submit my resume to Global Traveler and moonlight as a taste-tester.

  3. Haven’t tried it…but how is American number 2( which I have tried and don’t agree with). Seems strange to me that the two US airlines are one and two. Maybe that American for fair skies was the sponsor.

  4. Did Singapore’s serving of Dom beat out other airlines who serve that exact same Champagne? This entire thing seems suspect.

  5. Cowboy up, Lucky! Buy a bottle and give us a review. I’m in 773 Polaris now (en route to HKG), so my sparkling is sadly Drappier???….

  6. Then you’ve also got Asiana which recently downgraded their F class champagne to the one listed. The Barons de Rothschild is arguably business class level. They used to have Winston Churchill!

  7. Are you sure the award wasn’t for best F class cabin champers filled with mostly non-revenue pax?

  8. Which trailer park did they find these “experts” from? Salon, Krug and Dom all rate below the UA and AA offerings, also AA mostly serves LPGS IME. This sounds a lot like AA winning “airline of the year” :/

  9. The website you inked to for the JPBCR price lists the “aggregate critics score” for the 2004 JPBCR as 89/100. They don’t have an aggregate score up for the 2004 Krug yet, but that score for the 2002 Krug is 97/100.

    The Wine Access store has a listing of Wine spectator scores for various vintages of the JPBCR:
    92 pts Wine Spectator, 1985
    89 pts Wine Spectator, 2008
    88 pts Wine Spectator, 1990
    85 pts Wine Spectator, 1997

    All but one coming in the mid to high 80’s.

    Something is seriously wrong here. Perhaps it was rigged, or more likely the judges were not in fact true “wine experts”, but rather a bunch of people the magazine could get to participate for little or no pay. I did find it strange that the judges were told in advance what the varietal of the wines were; pinor noir say, or sauvignon blanc. Frankly if they couldn’t figure that out on their own, they are not fit to be judges. 😉

  10. Keep on digging, Lucky! You may be on to something really big here!!

    But joking aside: Professional wine lovers happen to favor wines that are “demanding” to those who drink it, be it too bitter, too sour, too this or too that. Whatever so called wine experts think is a great wine, I often abhor. The average Joe may prefer something rather average, like the Champagne equivalent of a Miller Lite.

    So, the right Champagne depends on the audience, really.

  11. My favorite Champagne is the reasonably priced Ruinart Brut. Ruinart Blanc de Blancs is also excellent.
    Disclaimer: Frenchie here

  12. Results aside – since they very clearly seem rigged or at least proffered by people who are very much not sommeliers, I’m wondering how often they actually stock the beverage carts with this champagne. Or did UA go out and buy what they think is a good bottle of champagne, submit it to the contest, then every actual flight that has Polaris first on it will somehow be out of that specific champagne…

  13. Quatar pouring Billecart brut and rose! That’s the best!
    Lucky I never liked Krug too heavy for me!
    But AA and UA winnning this seems stacked, sorry…

  14. A silly test which means nothing actually. Who are these 21 experts? And why so many? Maybe if Robert Parker or Oz Clark or Jancis Robinson were doing the judging it might mean something. Even then, taste is so subjective when sampling high end wine. It’s easy to discern the nasty stuff and I’ve had plenty of that on American.

  15. It should be mentioned that this is the judging of the best champagne CONSUMED IN THE AIR, ON AN AIRPLANE (which, we all know, changes the taste of everything). Krug may be one of the best champagnes on the ground, but it may not taste as good as others when its in the air.

  16. I think it is amusing that so many people are dismissive of the results. It is not at all surprising to me that so-called lesser caliber champagnes might score at the top in a blind taste test. There are plenty of studies that show that people will perceive a wine to taste better if they are told it costs more. At the same time, I imagine those that perceive the US airlines to be cheap will perceive their wines to taste worse. I would imagine quite a few of you (myself included) think you like Krug or Dom because they are high end, but wouldn’t know the difference if they swapped out the labels.

    Sounds like it would be fun to recreate. Get a group together, get some of these bottles and run a blind test. See if you really prefer the champagnes you think you prefer.

  17. So most snobbish, elitist, insufferable wine snobs are not just loudmouths but also incompetent.

    Do your own thing.

  18. Fake news! Joseph Perrier is a sad former friend of mine and his wines could never pair perfectly with my steaks. We all known my sparkling-wine is tops; though it cannot be formally termed “champagne” due to French sanctions the UN supports – very unfair!!

  19. Just like there are wines for every situation, there are champagnes for every situation too. Whilst the wine market is more or less price sensitive and adheres to market forces (a more expensive wine is generally better) because wine drinkers are (in general) more knowledgeable and informed about wine than champagne drinkers are about wine.
    You see you have crisp, dry, mineral, and flinty Chablis which is on the whole versatile and most people like it, then you have cloying Sauternes, which goes great with Foie Gras but would be just odd as a drink on its own, some Sauternes suck as Chateau d’Yquem far exceeds even a Premier Cru Chablis.
    Similarly with red wines, you could sit and quaf a light Pomerol all night long, but drinking a aged Barbaresco without truffles wouldn’t let its meet its full potential. Barbaresco has a higher entry point price but Pomerol, whilst the cheap ones start much cheaper than a Barbaresco, the high end ones reach unearthly prices. Which is better? It really depends on the situation and diving straight in to a mature Petrus (most expensive Pomerol) will not say much to your palette if you’ve not drunk some young Pomerol some 2ems and some 4ems. Whilst, diving in to a GAJA or Borgogno Barbaresco will certainly be a huge jump from a supermarket Barbaresco from a uncelebrated producer.
    Now on to the point at hand, Champagne, the Champagne market is saturated with consumers not connoisseurs, but I’d go so far as to say there are 4 main categories of Champagne,

    1. Mass market ‘brands’ – these are consistent Champages with nothing particularly special about them. They are drinkable and they used to be mainstay at most restaurants, bars and airlines too. They are not vintage, they are not anything to rave about, but they do offer consisitancy and a house style all of which are different to each other. These are Moet, Veuve, Lanson, Mumm, Piper Hesideck, and to a lesser extent, Pommery, Laurent Perrier and Tattinger.

    2. Grower Champagnes – these are totally different to ‘branded’ Champagne in that they are from one vineyard whilst the big names of Champagne are often from several. They are seldom heard of. Some offer amazing value for money, but most are pretty bland and the growers are better at growing grapes than turning it to Champagne which the ‘brands’ are better at. Some quality grower Champagne is found at Michelin starred restaurants but other than that I’d stay away from these unless you really know what you are doing. Eamples of a grower Champagne are Tarlant or Chartogne-Tailent.

    3. Boutique Champagne- This is a relatively recent phenomenon. These Champagnes are brands as well but did not have the mass market appeal of say Moet and Veuve. They try to target high end modern restaurants in urban hotspots, like London and New York (however cliche that sounds it is the only way to explain it and it is true). These are brands like Ruinart, Billecart-Salmon and Pol-Roger. Pommery straddles this market and the mass market depending on where in the world you are. They are some of my favourite Champagnes not because of the brand placement but because they genuinely taste better than the mass market brands. Bollinger is a funny beast, it straddles this market, it’s too high end for the mass market but it kind of creates its own niche in that it’s a bit more premium than Boutique Champagne but it, for lack of better expression, rests on its laurels. The Boutique brands have really upped their quality (and price) in recent years.

    4. Finally we have the ultra premium segment, Krug, DP, Cristal. These represent consistent Champagne but it will surprise most that they have more in common with mass market Champagne than Boutique or Grower Champagne. They are not bad, far from it, but say the Prestige Cuvée of Ruinart (Dom Ruinart) or Salon (served in JAL F) will really blow your mind compared to Krug and DP which are great wines but really you are paying for the name and more than anything consistency. Put it this way, you can get Vintage Pol Roger or Vintage L-P or Vintage Billecart Salmon but they make an NV Krug. Is it bad? Not at all but is it the same as a Vintage Champagne, unfortunately not.

    As for the Champagne on United, that to me falls in to the category of thrifty Champagne, which I neglected to mention in my categories above because it not a category I find myself having to enter. I might have to drink a mass market Champagne because it’s the only one available, I might choose a grower Champagne that I can rely on, I will usually choose a Boutique Champagne when possible and I won’t ever say no to an ultra premium Champagne, despite knowing they are not all that. Other brands in the Thrifty category include Nicholas Feuittle and Piper Hesideck straddles this category. They are ok to drink, but usually priced low because they can not sell them. This is because their competition is the Mass Market Champagne brands like Veuve and Moet. For United to call this a Champagne on the level of Grand Selice is ridiculous.

    On another note it’s interesting to note that EK serve mass market brands, Veuve and Dom whilst EY serve niche Billecart from NV (J) to rose (J&F) to Prestige vintage (Residence) and regular vintage (F) in between. Qatar being a please all type serving niche in J but mass market in F.

  20. Is it just me or does that tweet from United make it seem like the can’t even believe it’s true either, they didn’t even bother to find a picture in a proper glass!!

    Plus they don’t use those stupid glasses anymore, thankfully.

  21. If you’ve ever seen the results of previous surveys conducted by Global Traveler, you will see that there is no way that this was a blind test. They make Skytrax look transparent.

  22. Good champagnes such as Krug NV, Salon and DP require proper ageing to unveil their true greatnesses. Say, Salon 96 arguably not even in drinking window, not to mention infanticide of Salon 06 which is currently serving in JL F. OTOH, it’s cost-prohibiting for airlines to stock-pipe their bubbles for several years before serving to pax. In this regard, it’s not completely unreasonable for a lower end champagne to taste better than a recently disgorged higher end bottle.

    Also, complex champagne benefits from larger size wine glass in disclosing aroma and palate. But for presentation and general common sense, airlines use flutes in serving. This works against them.

  23. @Scott C:


    Expensive wine or champagne on airplanes is all status signaling, conspicuous consumption stuff. It DOES improve the experience because people know “oh, that’s a 1er cru” and thus will get the “hey this must be good because it’s expensive” vibe.

    (I also like Ruinart, like R B up there. UA actually serves it in their GFL in SFO, last I checked,)

  24. Hi Lucky

    We stock this champagne in a hospital in London for events. We do as it was Champagne of Queen Victoria who founded the hospital. It was also given to William and Kate as a wedding present.
    Family run business. Very small compared to the big players. I would highly doubt any fixing as they are a small operator and would not compete against the likes of Krug etc. Great people to deal with and very supportive of many of our charity events. Very nice to see then get some credit for a great product. As others have said, not all about price. Recently Aldi low cost supermarket champagne also beat a number of luxury brands in blind testing

  25. couldnt agree more Scott C.
    perception is THE most important factor in flavour.
    there is countless research to prove that.

    another reason why the bloggers’ criticism of Etihad’s wine list is ridiculous… it is purely based on price. nauseating.

    I hate the american carriers so it’s a shame to see them win something but fair play to them for doing something right.

  26. 30€ Champagne from good Proprietaire Recoltant Manipulant often beat more expensive Champagne. The price tag doesn’t (almost) mean anything at all Ben, it’s mostly marketing. I haven’t tried that Champagne so far but the fact they serve it in plastic cups should rule them out from the competition. I know that many French “vignerons” ask Emirates what kind of glass they will use to serve the wine, and if they don’t like the answer then they don’t sell the wine. Just sayin’.

    PS. since you love Champagne you should visit the region at some point, and try some “off the mainstrem” bubbles

  27. So many haters in here. The simple fact that an American Airline won a category in a competition and you bozos claim it was rigged shows how little you all know.
    Just because it isn’t Krug or Dom which your holy emperor “Ben” loves you instantly shout “inconceivable”.
    Like cattle to the slaughterhouse if Big Ben disagrees with anything it must be so.

    How about just applaud and say well done United. Oh that would mean you would have to admit United serves something that an independent panel of judges thought was the best that day. Oh the humanity!

    Btw champagne Jacquesson 739 is the best.

  28. The champagne on a United international flight from Shanghai late last year was Ayala Brut 2007 which retails for about $75. It was nice, but I’m no expert. Maybe they have changed. A recent Polaris 777-300 trip served Drappier as @Ethan mentioned. And the plastic cup is pre-departure only. But they don’t have real champagne glasses in the air, that I’ve seen.

  29. Doug Frost, UNITED sommelier, is a noted wine expert who carefully chose this champagne.

    UNITED is rising.

  30. I would call myself a champagne lover and I have tried quite a broad range of champagnes, including those from the well known premium houses as well as from several “niche” wineries (such as Egly-Ouriet).

    Generally I would agree that, when it comes to wine, a high price tag is not a sole indicator for a good taste – especially as this can be highly individual.
    However, we must note that quality has many aspects, some of which cannot even be tasted at all. The prestige-cuvées like Dom Pérignon live off a set of quality attributes like having a history, very specific selection of grapes, long ripening processes, lots of experience from the cellarmasters, high levels of quality control and even the design of their bottles. Mostly, their taste is a lot more complex with lots of sublte and exotic character, which can be more difficult to appreciate. There are even many highly interesting champagnes available from smaller and lesser known vineyards that offer high grades of quality and dedication and which easily match those top cuvées for half their price.

    Coming back to the (surprising) result of this tasting, I would would take it with a pinch of salt to be honest. While I can believe that quite some people would agree to drinking a tasty champagne at first glance, the product itself is definitely not comparable to a Dom Pérignon or Krug. Although, at least UA seems to have made a decent choice for probably a reasonable price.

    Presentation and food pairing is a whole different story which cannot be taken into account here. I strongly agree, though, that a good champagne can be enjoyed even more if it is presented correctly.

  31. Lucky, I would also make the argument that just because a champagne is a certain brand – does not equate to quality (I’m looking at you Moet). I’ve had some of the most amazing champagnes (albeit it was in Epernay, France) that were not costly nor came from famous champagne houses.

  32. “I nearly spit out the Krug I was drinking in the Delta SkyClub this afternoon”

    Oh, the first world humanity of it all…

  33. @Eric – in agreement with you. How much value does the brand hold and how much the actual product is always an interesting subject of market evaluation.

    Not surprised with the results since there are too many subjective tones when it comes to taste.

  34. @Giovanni – I like your suggestion! “PS. since you love Champagne you should visit the region at some point, and try some “off the mainstrem” bubbles”. Lucky, maybe you could bring along some Buzzed Balls from your Spirit flight for a point of reference.

  35. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this blog, it’s that the price of something is 100% correlated to its value. So using the OMAAT principles of discernment, it is obviously impossible by definition for a $50 champagne to be better than a $200 bottle.

    It goes without saying that Global Traveller is patently WRONG on this. Fake news, sad, and all that.

  36. Flew a few weeks back from SFO to Frankfurt First Class and that was NOT what they were serving .

  37. I for one agree with R B …
    Ruinart Blanc de Blanc is far better (and less over-priced & over-hyped) than the Krugs (ick) or Doms, wish I could get those on a SIA, Cathay, Lufty or other FC flight.

  38. Champagne is not simply about price. Yeah, the NF UA was serving 3 years ago was cheap and terrible, but I love Piper Heidseick. Wines taste different in the sky, and choices should reflect that.

  39. I prefer Segura Vuidas (Spanish Cava) retailing for $10. The price makes it sound like Andre Cold Duck (the world’s worst) but it really is a nice sparkling wine. Nice to add in some Taittinger from time to time. But to serve in plastic cups is downright criminal. The very least an airline can do is run out to Ikea for some half-decent glasses (which are washable and don’t end up in landfills). Dom? Cristal? Krug? Hmmm – I’d rather have 25 bottle of Segura Vuidas to one bottle of massively priced luxury bubbly.

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