Virgin Atlantic Yanks Champagne From Upper Class

Filed Under: Virgin Atlantic

As Ben/Lucky is shuttling back and forth between China (or as I call it, the spiritual homeland of the Montblanc pen— JUST KIDDING!), posts will be a bit lighter and I’ve volunteered to step in now and then with thoughts on aviation, points and miles from the amateur perspective.

Virgin Atlantic has long touted its Upper Class as a sophisticated choice for the hip, mod jet-set elite.

In trying to win over passengers with a promise of swanky chic, Virgin Atlantic has for years served Lanson Black Label champagne in 1920’s-style champagne coupes.

Lanson champagne at the JFK Clubhouse, circa 2014. R.I.P.
Lanson champagne at the JFK Clubhouse, circa 2014. R.I.P.

Indeed, Virgin’s become rather famous for serving Lanson, and the champagne has become a hallmark of Virgin Atlantic’s service. Per Jaunted, Lanson was so associated with the Virgin brand that Richard Branson gifted every employee a bottle on the airline’s 30th anniversary.

Pour one out for Virgin Atlantic's former champagne service
Pour one out for Virgin Atlantic’s former champagne service

At some point in the last couple of months, Virgin Atlantic appears to have stopped serving Lanson champagne altogether. On the Virgin Atlantic website, the airline now claims to serve Gardet Premier Cru champagne in Upper Class, a little known brand to say the least (though, evidently, in the same price range as Lanson).

Except if you’re on the new 787 Dreamliner. Apparently, if you’re flying the 787 in Upper Class, you won’t get champagne at all.

Oh, you’ll get something sparkling. It’ll just be from those famous, lush vineyards of… England.

"I, for one, love British sparkling wine."
“I, for one, love British sparkling wine.”

A country renowned for its winemaking cuisine Indian food.

A press release from October 2014 alludes to the “new sparkling wine from English winery Hambledon Vineyard” to be available “exclusively on the 787 aircraft.” And now, the FlyerTalk message boards seem to be confirming this strange development.

Meonhill English sparkling wine from Hambledon Winery
Meonhill English sparkling wine from Hambledon Vineyard

To add insult to injury, Virgin isn’t even serving the most expensive offering from Hambledon Vineyard. Instead, they’re serving the Meonhill Reserve Brut, at £25 a bottle (roughly $37). Virgin’s onboard wine list seems to claim the Meonhill was chosen specifically for the 787’s “totally new cabin environment,” as if a change in cabin pressure suddenly makes Veuve Clicquot taste like bottled dishwater.

The internet seems to suggest British sparkling wine has promising potential, even though it may not just be there yet. Still, when even the BBC suggests that the “best English sparkling wine is as good as ‘decent’ champagne,” perhaps there’s still some room to grow before unwittingly foisting it on your premium cabin passengers.

I haven’t tasted the stuff myself, so maybe I’m wrong and it’s the world’s most spectacular sparkling wine ever served in the air.

And maybe the chicken breast American Airlines plans on serving next week will win a James Beard Award.

But frankly, even if Virgin wants to show off its very British bona fides, this seems like an awfully silly way to do it, and an even stranger way to suddenly alienate people who’ve shelled out thousands of dollars a ticket, or spent a great deal of miles, on the hyped-up Upper Class experience.

Or, hey, if Virgin just wants to showcase an up-and-coming British sparkling wine industry, fantastic! How about offering Upper Class passengers a taste test alongside a more familiar French brand?

For an airline so associated with Lanson champagne, just dropping Lanson from the wine list alone is newsworthy. But for Virgin Atlantic to ditch champagne altogether from its wine list, in favor of British sparkling wine, is not just unusual, it’s… a cork in the eye?

Virgin's new 787 Upper Class interior, which looks fabulous once you get past the janky wine list
Virgin’s new 787 Upper Class interior, which looks fabulous once you get past the janky wine list

I’ve reached out to Virgin Atlantic for comment. In the meantime, I’m scheduled to fly the 787 in July, and while I was excited to fly both Virgin Upper Class and the Dreamliner for the first time ever, I almost wish I was on an older aircraft so I at least wouldn’t be suckered into British winemaking propaganda.

If you care about this sort of thing, then be sure not to book yourself on the 787. Of course, I recognize on a very basic level that this isn’t really a huge deal at all. These are the concerns of the 1%, of effete snobs, and we’re all really fortunate just to be in a metal tube flying across the ocean to begin with.

But if there’s anything Ben’s blog has taught us, it’s the joy of fine bubbly in the air. And yeah, a glass of nice champagne as you settle in can be a magical experience. It’s part and parcel of the romance of luxury air travel, so it’s odd to me, to say the least, that Virgin Atlantic is moving in the opposite direction.

Well, I guess I’ll be trying Virgin’s famous cocktails!

"Anything but sparkling wine, please!"
“Anything but sparkling wine, please!”
  1. We are traveling on VS next year (combination of I think an A340 from Boston to LHR and a 787 from LHR to BOM). Any recommendations on seats good for a couple? Cabin doesn’t seem geared towards people traveling together in Upper Class. Also, any suggestions on how to maximize the VS experience? Things to do in BOS or LHR? Thanks.

  2. @Guarav: As I mentioned, I’m about to fly Upper Class myself for the first time in July, but I’d think two window seats in different rows (i.e., either the left side of the plane or the right side, one in front of the other) would be easiest to chat/communicate. You’re never going to be facing anyone, so it’s a bit tricky traveling as a couple. I’d say to maximize the experience, use the LHR Clubhouse which is supposed to be wonderful! Lucky has a review of it, though it’s a few years old.

    I’ll do a trip report of Virgin Upper Class as well as the LAX and LHR Clubhouses this summer.

  3. @Nick–thanks, didn’t get that would be your first flight. I’ll look for the clubhouse review!

  4. “just to be in a metal tube flying across the ocean”
    …or in this case, a carbon fiber and epoxy tube.

  5. RIP Lanson. 🙁 offering both would be better. On the query above… For people travelling together in Upper, it is usually best to book opposite the aisle from each other. Check seatguru for details. Many configurations have the very first row closer than the others. If you sit side by side, wall is too tall to chat. However for meals it is possible to sit together as one of you can sit in the foot rest. The LHR clubhouse gets really busy, arrive v early if you want to try for a spa treatment. (Haven’t been able to get one in past few flights.) safe travels.

  6. @BritChampagne: let’s unpack this article from 2010 just a little bit. It’s a little-heard of competition run by a struggling upstart Italian wine magazine called Euposia, and the competition was in its second year at the time they announced Nyetimber (from the UK) sparkling wine the winner. Other wins at this competition since have included sparkling wine from Wales, with strong performances by wines from Tasmania, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Russia.

    All I’ll say is, while I don’t think this “competition” is total poppycock, it’s also not really a very well-regarded (or even well-known) competition. What better way to get publicity then to declare an English sparkler the world’s best tasting, thereby guaranteeing you stories in the Daily Mail and the Telegraph? Just saying – I don’t know how much credence I’d give this brand-new competition from an Italian newsletter.

  7. @ Gaurav — I’ve flown Virgin Atlantic a few times, and would agree with Nick’s guess. Try to sit on the window side that doesn’t share the aisle with the center row, one in front of the other, and far from the bar.

  8. Honestly, I’ve had some pretty fantastic sparkling wines from England. They are typically a lot better than French champagne at the same price point. It’s admittedly kind of weird since English sparkling wine hasn’t really taken off outside of the wine geek community, but it’s definitely quality stuff.

    Also, its entirely possible that the different cabin pressure/air filtration situations on the 787 have different effects on how wine tastes (there’s a reason certain wines that are great on the ground should never be served in the air) and that the English stuff holds up better than Lanson. What’s the point of drinking more expensive real champagne if it doesn’t taste as good?

  9. @BritChampagne – along this train of thought, there may also be a pressure to “Buy UK” like the “Buy American” nationalism that we see quite often. Interesting info about the award. Look forward to tasting it. It wasn’t THAT many years ago when California wines topped French wines, and turned the industry upside-down. Who knows?

  10. @chasgoose: I’ve also heard from a wine snob friend of mine who’s lived in London for many years that British sparkling wine is simply not as good as champagne (perhaps with the qualifier “yet”) and “stupidly expensive for what it is.”

    I think the point is that, I’m sure some of it may be “quality stuff,” and I’m sure that the Meonhill might compare better than Lanson on the 787 (which is moot since Lanson’s been axed from Virgin’s wine roster anyway), but for better or worse, luxury cabin passengers on international airlines expect French champagne. Simple as that. It’s a known signifier of good taste and high living.

    So, even if technically one champagne might be comparable to a British sparkler 35,000 feet in the air, for optics purposes this is no different than the Coca-Cola Company protesting how “New Coke won taste tests!” People just liked classic Coke better. And I guarantee you people who shell out $5,000 a ticket don’t want to take chances on sparkling wine from Blighty.

  11. @colleen @BritChampagne: Also, please don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily try British bubbly and I think it’s fabulous that Virgin wants its customers to as well. But I think that should be done along with traditional French champagne, not in lieu of it. That just seems to rub me the wrong way, I guess, and frankly reads a little cheap.

  12. Your quote “so I at least wouldn’t be suckered into British winemaking propaganda” should be changed to “since I’ve already been suckered into French winemaking propaganda”. Actually you could even take out French from that sentence and it would still work. All wine is propaganda. Even experts do miserably at blind taste tests between fine wines and cheap wines. I challenge that you can tell the difference between these wines, especially on an airplane. I love sparkling wine as much as the next person, but I don’t get bothered by the brand too much. If you can show me you can repeatedly tell these wines apart in a blind taste test, I will believe you. Until then, don’t worry about the brand.

    Also, love the Montblanc reference. LOL!

  13. @Tom: I think that’s a fair point, but I can definitely taste and tell a difference between Prosecco, Cava, Champagne, Crémant, and American sparkling wine. There can be stellar examples in each category and plonk in each as well. Prosecco is a great afternoon garden party drink, and Cava mixes well with OJ. Crémant is a nice everyday alternative to more pricey Champagne. So to me – it’s not about the brand of the sparkling wine, it’s about the method and origination of it. On special occasions, I prefer Champagne. (And sure, some of that is learned preference after years of indoctrination. But it is what it is.)

  14. Lanson isn’t that great and there are many English sparkling wines that are head and shoulders about it. The South Downs of England are part of the same geological formation as the Champagne region and as climate change has made them warmer are now so perfect for champagne growing that many of the great champagne houses have been buying up land as a hedge against global warming.

    Just because it’s champagne it doesn’t make it any good. There is a lot of cheap swill labeled as champagne and there at many English sparking wines, cava’s and proseccos that more than hold their own against the fairly generic low end champagnes.

    I’d much rather an interesting English sparkling wine than a dull French one.

  15. That’s disappointing but not surprising. I’ve noticed that the VS experience is becoming increasingly less “premium” in all classes.

    I don’t drink much but like having a glass of champagne as a “treat” when I travel. I’m sure that there are sparkling wines that are amazing, and equally there are champagnes that are downright awful, however … and this is very shallow … when paying a significant amount of cash or miles for a flight, I feel that an airline should make an effort to appear as if they are spoiling their customers and “English sparkling wine” doesn’t quite convey that. Not to me, anyway.

    Rant over.

  16. 1. Champagne is kind of a terrible wine for aircrafts. Compared to most other wines it has a light delicate flavor (some wine snobs would say limited expression potentiality aka a noob wine) that does not really express itself at altitude. That’s why champagne is served with strong intensity foods (oysters, smoked salmon). The general fascination with Champagne in the air is a mystery to me. I’m convinced if you did a blind taste test at 30,000 feet 99.9% of people (including Lucky) would not be able to tell a $20/bottle from a $100/bottle of the same type.

    2. American sparking wines can and often are made in chemically identical ways to Méthode Champenoise. Saying that there are large stylistic differences between some of the better American sparklers and French Champagne is just silly. It’s like the debate about whether Mexican Coke or American Coke tastes better. They’re functionally chemically identical.

  17. @Ed: If you, and Virgin, really think English sparkling wine can go head-to-head with Lanson, why not offer passengers a taste test comparison? That’s the best way to win people over and convince them the two are competitive – not by removing the competition. To me that just seems like a bait and switch.

  18. @Andrew M: The “taste” of champagne vs. American sparkling wine goes beyond just the Méthod Champenoise, wouldn’t you agree? The terroir is totally different and not at all comparable. Doesn’t mean you can’t get high quality sparkling, but it does mean you couldn’t possibly aim to replicate the taste… and that’s not even getting into the vines.

  19. @Nick It’s a little hard to talk about terroir when speaking of champagne as it blends grapes from at least 30 different base wines many of which come from different vineyards and even years. The macroclimate of the Champagne region is certainly somewhat different than that of, say, Napa but not all that different than places like Sonoma. And at that point it comes down to questions of aging and blend choice, both of which are variables that the French and Americans can equally play with to develop a unique flavor.

  20. @Nick sure a taste test may be in order but I think that offering English sparkling wine fits much better with Virgin’s brand values.

    As many people have mentioned it would be better to do the taste test in the clubhouse before taste and smell gets wacked by the altitude.

  21. Andrew, Mexican Coke and American Coke taste different and are not chemically identical. Mexican Coke is made with cane sugar and American Coke is made with high-fructose corn syrup. Mexican Coke is a little brighter and a little cleaner in taste. American Coke tastes thicker.

    Put the two side by side unlabeled and you may not know which is which but you’ll definitely taste the difference.

  22. @Dave, “Although intended for consumption in Mexico, Mexican Coke has become popular in the United States because of a flavor that fans call “a lot more natural tasting”. While many believe the primary difference in flavor between Mexican Coke and the American Coca Cola recipe is that Mexican Coke is sweetened using cane sugar as opposed to high-fructose corn syrup, a scientific analysis of Mexican Coke found no sucrose (standard sugar) in its sample of Mexican Coke, but instead found fructose and glucose levels similar to other soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. Coca-Cola claims that Mexican Coke exported to the United States is made with cane sugar, while some bottlers may use high-fructose corn syrup for drinks intended for sale in Mexico. Therefore, while coke labeled “Mexican” in the US will be made with cane sugar, not all coke sold in Mexico will.”

  23. @Dave @Andrew M: And yet no one has wondered about the special recipe in Colombian Coke.

  24. This is old news. I was on the VS 787 inaugural commercial flight in UC and we were all surprised Lanson wasn’t served on the 787 but the English sparkling was pretty good and a good number felt it was better. Lanson is still served at VS clubhouses though and on older aircraft if you wish to have that.
    I don’t really drink that much so I don’t care too much.
    Enjoy VS 787! I loved the experience. We made the bar area a dancing floor during the inaugural.

  25. @Joey: Are you certain Lanson is still served? All references to it on the Virgin website have just recently been scrubbed and as of a few weeks ago they appear to be serving a new champagne instead. When did you fly?

  26. I’m surprised anyone would build a herringbone seating arrangement in 2015. I hate facing away from the windows.

  27. @Nick I get your point (and I think English sparkling wine is still too overpriced, in addition to most Champagne, give me a good Cremant de Jura/Alsace any day) and I get that optics are very important, but honestly I’d rather have an airline actually pay attention to what actually tastes good in the air than what looks fancy on the menu. For example, the only drinkable wine on SQ flights in F is typically the Krug for me (and it still tastes terrible compared to on the ground) because they just pick basic Bordeauxs and the like that don’t work at all up in the air and/or without food. Also, as AndrewM points out, its hard to make the terroir argument with English sparkling wine, since geologically the regions where wine is grown are almost exactly the same and with climate change, they are becoming increasingly more and more like the Champagne region in that regard too. In the air, light fruity/acidic wines without a lot of tannins tend to work best (or, honestly, the big juicy juice CA style reds with no structure that I would never drink on the ground), which is why I have tended to have the best luck on Lufthansa, since German wines typically fit that bill.

    I wholly agree that this is a lame cost-saving measure (and I take back what I said earlier about the 787, because I can’t imagine English sparkling wine is THAT much better than real Champagne since they are so similar) but its not terrible either.

  28. The Gardet Premier Cru isn’t a budget cut. It’s more expensive than the Lanson.

    Regardless, beyond one or two glasses, champagne is overrated on airplanes. The reports from the bloggers about champagne are so gauche.

    You’ll have a much more enjoyable flight perusing their wine list. Some very forward and flavorful wines on the list right now. Well chosen.

  29. This article is a put-on, right — a parody of everything that’s ridiculous about those who think they’re somehow better coz they buy into someone’s definition of a ‘sophisticated choice for the hip, mod jet-set elite.’
    From that phrase in the first paragraph, it just got more and more hilarious. Thanks for the laugh, Andrew. It might offend some of the self-important out there, but it might also have the benefit of making at least one of ’em take a good look in the mirror.
    Excellent writing!

  30. @Mick: I assume you’re writing this from Nepal, where you’re doing humanitarian work.

  31. “And maybe the chicken on AA will win a James Beard award.” AHAHAHA Burst out laughing with that one.

  32. Yeah there are certainly a few English sparkling wines I would take over Lanson. But as a business decision this surprises me, because VS surely know that the skies are full of champagne fundamentalists.

  33. @Nick: Just because it’s the pot calling the kettle black doesn’t mean the kettle is any less black.

  34. Nick, I drink a fair bit of champagne myself and I don’t regard Lanson very highly at all. Like Moet (Brut Imperial), the champagne itself is of relatively poor quality but spends a lot on their marketing campaign. To put my money where my mouth is, we were given a bottle of Lanson black as a gift on our engagement night by a well known hotel in London – we said thank you very much and returned the bottle untouched.
    There are plenty of other small production champagne which are cheaper than branded champagnes like the above and will do better in a blind tasting e.g. Sanger, Gardet, Palmer. Yes, some of the big names are significantly better Krug, Salon, Jacques Selosse – but they all come at a premium price.
    With regards to English sparkling – most of them are drinkable, some are comparable to decent entree level champagne but as your friend rightly pointed out, they are also vastly overpriced because of the VAT levied on the wine maker. Nyetimber being the most famous english sparkling retails for £32, which IMO is £5-10 more than a similar quality sparkling/ growers champagne.

  35. Last week he could not hold his liquor, this week he is a sommelier. How was the 90 min Master of Wine course @ your local Green Tomato?

  36. I love this change for Virgin. The best of English sparkling is of a very high quality, even compared to Champagne. I think the folly in this situation is saying that Champagne is better as a blanket statement. There are a lot of producers and a big range in quality. There are some just plain terrible Champagnes. I would take a quality English sparkling over Veuve, the most overrated sparkling in the world, any day of the week for instance. I like that an airline with the Union Jack on its winglets is showing some British pride. If you fly them from Gatwick, your only about 20 miles from the vineyards. I’m sure some people will be upset, but you can’t knock it until you’ve tried it. I almost guarantee that it will not hurt the experience of flying Upper Class.

  37. The only English wines worth drinking are the sparkling varieties, which are getting better and better and beating well know quality champagnes in blind tastings. Perhaps not Dom and Grand Siecle, but up there with Moet, Lanson etc. One recently beat Bollinger..
    I don’t know how to phrase this politely Ben, but your blog is going downhill. Few of your trip reports are full length any more, and you seem to drink champagne as it is the done thing in a premium cabin rather than because it is so wonderful. Lufthansa carry EXCELLENT German white wines and yet we never hear of anything but the quality/price of the champagne.

  38. There is no dancing around the handbags about it – the quality has left the champagne bar some time ago. Benjamin is quoting Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas as his favorite (without staying there) and Nick with his know-it-all attitude & “a relatively sparse portfolio of flown miles and hotel stays” (as quoted by Benjamin) is now dismissing English sparkling wines with nada experience. It is all like a vast book of knowledge by Sarah Palin.

  39. I like Nick’s brand of humor and am happy he has become a semi-frequent contributor with his pro-Delta views and controversial commentaries on topics that keep us awake at night such as this.

    Ummm…Nick how we can we tell if our admiration for you goes beyond your writing style with just a half-face silhouette in your avatar? 😉

  40. @Drew & Samuel001 – It is not about knocking it. It is about expectation when flying first class and not taking away choice when introducing something new/different. Having both classic Champagne and English Sparkling wine would be awesome so people could try both – and that is exactly what Nick is saying. Please read the article again, or get out bed on the other side tomorrow.

  41. @Nick That Montblanc gag is one that keeps on giving 🙂

    I think people miss the point here – people in premium classes like names and feel a little sad when confronted with things they’ve never heard of before. Now they might be pleasantly surprised once tasted, but it’s still a risk straying from safe options.

    However I consider you can fix offering middling/cheap champagne or sparking – just turn it into a Kir Royale (like BA does lol). It covers many sins and comforts the lack of Krug (etc) on offer.

    As an aside, what I’d like to see is more airlines offering high class rose champagnes in First (I’m not a red wine fan but a Comtes de Comtes rose I had on a flight a few years ago really blew me away) – it’s probably suited better to an airline cabin.

  42. @Greg: I actually agree! I would never drink champagne throughout the flight, but I like it as a way to kick off the experience with a glass or two. I’ll switch over to a light red, generally, after that.

  43. @Kieran: I think a few airlines (which I’ve never flown) do offer rosé champagne? I agree, I’m a big fan, and would happily sip on a Möet rosé setting in at my seat.

  44. @BHil @Kieran I don’t knock people at all that use labels as reference points. If someone asked me to go to a wine shop and pick up a Hungarian wine there is a 99% chance I’ll get a bottle of Tokaji because I haven’t the foggiest about the characteristics of the rest of Hungarian wines, even though they may be great.

    The problem is with label chasers. People that automatically assume that anything not of a premium label is crap. One of the first things you learn when you move into more serious wine tasting is that there are great wines of all kinds from all over the world. At the top level, there is often more difference between wines of the same region than there is inter-region. So if I try a wine from a region I don’t have a lot of experience with, I always try to give it a chance and it might surprise me.

    I’m not saying Nick and Lucky are label chasers but in blind taste tests there is at best a very loose correlation between price and scoring. So I’m immediately suspicious of posts that use price and label as a guide to quality. Tasting it reveals quality. Not observing its price or origin.

  45. I also want to make the following point: yes, the taste of champagne and all wines is affected by altitude and air pressure. But champagne is typically offered as a welcome drink as you settle in to the cabin and board. That’s often when I drink it, and I switch to red when any sort of heavier food is served. Which is just to say: passengers are drinking on the ground as well as in the air, so you’re never going to hit the magic bullet with a bottle of sparkling anyway.

    I’m more than happy to try a British sparkler. In fact, I’d like to! (They’re very hard to source in the US.) But from a marketing and business perspective, it seems very suspicious/silly/weird to swap OUT tried-and-tested champagne in favor of something from Hampshire. Offer them both!

  46. @AndrewM: Hah, I totally appreciate what you’re saying and actually agree. I love a really good grower champagne, especially over something relatively routine like Möet (which I think has become far too overpriced, in any event).

    Actually one of my very favorite champagnes I’ve ever had in the air was in Air France economy class, when they served Heidsieck Monopole, which I think is a fantastic, versatile and tasty option on the ground and in the air (and inexpensive – you can find it as low as $25 a bottle here in the States and it blows away far pricier bottles in my opinion). Whereas, when I tried Krug on Cathay, I was underwhelmed! (Actually preferred the Billecart-Salmon for drinking in business class.) So the label/price doesn’t clinch it for me – though I suppose the varietal/region does.

    As I mentioned, I haven’t tried the English wine and I’d like to (it’s nearly impossible to source here), but I’m more suspicious of the change from a marketing / business perspective than I am actually personally up in arms about it. I’d love to try them side by side, but Virgin isn’t giving people that option.

  47. @Samuel001: You’re a delight, as always. But your burns might have more power to them if anybody understood what you’re talking about. What the hell’s a Green Tomato?

    Step one to throwing shade: use references people understand.

    Nick: 1, Samuel001: 0.

  48. @Nick

    One of the things that science has taught wine tasters over the last 10-15 years is to be humble and question what the actual basis of our judgements are.

    As studies have shown, labels have a very strong impact on evaluation of wine quality even when the wine coming out of the bottles is exactly the same. So I see one side of your point here: the optics matter. Someone that doesn’t drink much wine might be excited to see a well known champagne on the wine list, savor the thought of drinking it, associate it with good memories from previous times drinking champagne, and evaluate it highly.

    Contrast that with a sparkling English or Sonoman wine that is nearly chemically identical (identical production processes, very similar climate). The same person may be a bit apprehensive about the taste, wonder if corners were cut in Virgin catering, and when drinking it evaluate it as being inferior despite not being able to tell the wines apart in a blind taste test.

    So the experiential aspect of it matters in evaluations, no matter how much we imagine ourselves to be above such biases. It’s essentially impossible to eradicate and is half the fun of drinking wines.

    ***However***, British are the world’s largest consumers of sparkling wine. Especially those in Upper Class will tend to be fairly sophisticated and many will likely already be at least aware of the up-and-coming local English sparklers, or will at the least be fairly adventuresome, having been used to regularly drinking cava, prosecco, and cremant.

    A large part of the joy of getting into wine tasting is trying new things and expanding your knowledge of wine from various places. So the experiential aspect can work in reverse – I actually have more fun trying oddball wines than I do trying the same old same old. And of course the English sparkler appeals to the Brits bit of hometown-ism. Given the level of sophistication of British consumers (who likely already rate Lanson as a bit crap if they know anything about champagne), I’d say it’s not really a bad change at all.

    It is a bad change for them amongst less sophisticated consumers (likely primarily Americans, who don’t drink much sparkling) and those less willing to branch out. But I suppose their gamble is the former group is larger than the latter.

  49. @AndrewM: Fascinating analysis, and thank you for it. I suspect you’re right, that this change isn’t likely to ruffle any feathers at all on the UK side of the pond (where, of course, Virgin’s main customer base is).

    Americans do tend to view sparkling wine, or at least fine sparkling wine/champagne, as a “special occasion” beverage (though Americans do love their unlimited brunch mimosas, so we’re fairly used to sub-$15 crap you have to mix with juice to taste anyway). So I do feel from the US-based perspective that the idea is, oh, we’re flying business/first class on a premium carrier, this is an opportunity to drink champagne. I get that, I sympathize with it, I’m prone to it, actually, but I recognize that of course there are fine bottles of Sonoma County or English sparkling wine, or even crémant for that matter, that would blow away a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte.

    Which leads me to wonder – if there is such an appetite for sparkling wine in luxury cabins on airplanes (which there surely is), perhaps even offering a selection of sparklers might be appropriate and interesting – not just “oh, let’s let them compare Hambledon to something French,” but a menu of 3-4 bubblies that nicely compliment various dishes served onboard, akin to how the red and white wine lists are curated.

    Anyway, you clearly have the superior knowledge here, and your input is incredibly helpful! Thank you!

  50. @Nick I assume the problem is due to catering costs, although BA does stock a few sparklers on their flights.

    And anyway I don’t mean to case aspersions on people that experience wine like many Americans experience champagne. I was that way once and I’m sure there are plenty of aspects of my life where I’m probably still doing this.

    The one thing I’ve learned as I’ve tasted more wines is that the people that are most open and honest about the funny way our minds experience wine are the voices that I trust the most, not the snooty sommelier-types that look down their nose when you order a Finger Lakes riesling. Which leads to my motto: keep an open mind, try everything, and salud!

    Safe travels 🙂

  51. @Nick I assume the problem is due to catering costs, although BA does stock a few sparklers on their flights.

    And anyway I don’t mean to case aspersions on people that experience wine like many Americans experience champagne. I was that way once and I’m sure there are plenty of aspects of my life where I’m probably still doing this.

    The one thing I’ve learned as I’ve tasted more wines is that the people that are most open and honest about the funny way our minds experience wine are the voices that I trust the most, not the snooty sommelier-types that look down their nose when you order a Finger Lakes riesling. Which leads to my motto: keep an open mind, try everything, and salud!

    Safe travels 🙂

  52. @AndrewM: I don’t suppose you’re in the UK and have access to a bottle of Meonhill, do you? I’m now genuinely curious!

    Now as to the business aspect, at the end of the day, while this may be a bottle that can stand up to the best of them, I’m also aware that Virgin has entered into a partnership of sorts with Hambledon Vineyard, and can likely get wine at substantially below list price from them – moreso than any deal they could negotiate with a French winery (it’s all speculation of course as to pricing), so, ultimately it does come down to cost savings on Virgin’s part.

    Anyway, you should apply to be OMAAT’s resident sommelier!

  53. @Nick Unsurprisingly for this blog, I’m traveling for the next few weeks but will be back in London in early June and could see if I could arrange for it to be sent then. Drop me a line at [] if you’d seriously be interested in a bottle. Shipping will probably double the cost of the bottle and you’d have to live in a state that allows direct shipping of wine but otherwise shouldn’t be a problem.

    I’d recommend trying it blind with the Lanson and a similar price point champagne-style sparkling wine if you can round up some friends and pull it off. It may be that the Meonhill is actually bad and Virgin’s made a big mistake but my suspicion is that Meonhill is at or above the level of Lanson taste-wise based on this review: whatever their business arrangement with Hambledon.

    Haha, I don’t drink (i.e. don’t have the cash to buy :-P) enough super-high end wines to be a real sommelier but would be happy to play one on OMAAT.

  54. Unfortunately the average consumer does not know that the most famous champagne brands you have heard of actually buy most of their grapes from different farms. The blend across villages, across vintages and hope for a consistent taste. On their bottles you will find in tiny lettering the letters NM

    Farmers have gradually realized this. They have started their own bottling efforts. ( quickly, do you think they sell their best grapes to be sold on some other label or their own?). These relatively unknown brands can be local ted when you see in tiny letter on the bottle RM
    If you prefer a lighter style you should focus on Blanc de blanc. If you prefer the best that Champagne has to offer go for a Grand Cru single village champagne ( such as Mesnil Sur Oger). And if you like low sugar you can go for extra Brut or even Zero Dosage. The terms are not mutually exclusive so you can in fact search and buy Grand Cru Extra Brut single village champagne ( it’s my own style and I buy as an example Guy Charlemagne for $35 locally)

    English Sparkling has come a very long way and some of it is quite excellent. While I have not tasted the ones mentioned in this article I would urge all of you to give the farmers a shot in the arm and try RM champagnes!

  55. @Nick. – If someone can’t get through a few hours without alcohol, I’d bet they’re most unpleasant to be around regardless of whether or not they’ve been drinking.

  56. Gosh – live a little! Isn’t travel about exploration and new experiences? Who knows you might even surprise yourself!

  57. Re: “@Mick: I assume you’re writing this from Nepal, where you’re doing humanitarian work.”

    @Nick…. no, Nick, on my salary (I’m merely a middle-class teacher in a Canadian prison, which is humanitarian work in its own way), I can afford neither the money nor the time off work to get there.
    But I DID just get back from doing human rights work with Lacondon natives in Chiapas, Mexico — Nepal, tragic though the situation is, is not the only place where equality needs to be restored

    And you?

  58. @Mick: I read your comment just now without my eyes rolling all the way to the back of my head, which feels like an act of charity at this point.

  59. @Nick – I don’t write trip reports, and I would never fly on Saudia for reasons that have nothing to do with their lack of alcohol.

  60. And who want to be drinking inferior plonk in a seat where you cant look out of the window and your feet point into the aisle.

  61. @Nick…. Well, I’m glad that your vision is still intact.
    You and I clearly have very differing world views…. I am just thankful to Ben that he is not into censorship, since my views are obviously very different to the vast majority of readers. I’m glad that I can portray an alternative worldview to that majority (minority?) who live a travel existence that largely cuts them off from experiencing the richness and diversity out there.

  62. It tastes better… Quite simple really. Has a lovely Amber colour to it and is similar to a frizzante in amount of sparkle… Very easy to drink and most enjoyable… But maybe I’m not so above myself that it has to be champagne!? The premium economy DOCG Prosecco is a beautiful drink too… I might add that I’ve never heard anyone complain that it’s not Lanson on any of my flights! Pay the extra few thousand and fly BA first if that’s how particular you are… I’d rather have the clubhouse and a Virgin FA any day!

  63. Nick,
    I don’t know whether to be offended by the instant dismissal of English/British produce or to let it go but the constant reference to how inferior this wine must be has irked me (yeah I’m a proud Brit also).

    The point here is that Virgin Atlantic is a British brand (somewhat overrated my opinion and classically British in being brilliant at marketing and not so great at substance) and it is trying to promote British produce which I hasten to add isn’t all bad/tasteless. Indeed such is the renaissance that there are plenty of Michelin Brit chefs who promote home grown produce and even the mainstream market has significantly improved. I know nothing about wine but this offers an opportunity (rather forced) to taste it and why judge it before you’ve tasted? I’ve had decent Moldovan wine before – you don’t know until you’ve tried and I am pleased Virgin are promoting British produce. I think they should. It’s not a French airline! I understand the point about choice but it will probably be short lived anyway so, in the spirit of balanced journalism, don’t judge until you’ve tried or complain that a British brand is er trying to promote British produce. Heaven forbid if an American airline did that – “sir, we’ve got provolone or provolone for your 5,0000 calorie sandwich.” Yuk.

  64. Virgin only had those retro champagne glasses for a couple of years if I am correct,the wording implies they have used them for a very long time.
    VS the airline we know from the early years suductress, verses the VS current “was so trendy airline” is a former shell of itself.
    The blood transfusion is the only thing that’s keep it alive.

    She was a Beautiful woman,now she’s an old “Maiden”that no one really fancies anymore and has gone past her best sadly.

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