Cellars in the Sky 2015: A toast to success

26 Feb 2016 by BusinessTraveller

Which airlines served the best wines last year? Rose Dykins reports from the 30th annual Cellars in the Sky Awards.

The results are in. After tasting more than 250 wines from 35 carriers, our expert judges have picked the winners of the 2015 Business Traveller Cellars in the Sky Awards, presented to the airlines that served the best in-flight wine last year.

Head judge Charles Metcalfe, co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge, handed out trophies at a well-attended reception on February 22 at the new Hilton London Bankside (hilton.com) – our thanks to Hilton Worldwide. We also held wine tastings at the Business Travel Show at Kensington’s Olympia Grand on February 24-25.

Joining Metcalfe were Tim Atkin, Oz Clarke and Peter McCombie, co-chairmen of the International Wine Challenge.


Airlines could participate providing they served wine in business or first class on mid- or long-haul routes. Each could enter two reds, two whites, a sparkling and a fortified or dessert wine from both their business and first class cellars. They could compete in as many categories as they liked, but to be eligible for the Best Cellar awards had to enter at least one red, white and sparkling wine.

Every bottle was blind-tasted over two days in December at the Hilton London Metropole – our thanks to the staff and judges for their hard work. Wines were scored out of 100, with award-winning ones rated between 93 and 97, and anything under 75 deemed undrinkable. As Oz Clarke has worked with SAS and Singapore Airlines, his scores for wines submitted by both carriers were discounted, and these wines were assessed using only the other tasters’ scores.

To calculate the Best First and Business Class Cellar awards, we took the average mark of an airline’s red, white and sparkling wines. For the Best Overall Cellar, we took all scores into account.


“I thought it was an exciting year – some of the best wines we’ve had, and a clear step up between business and first,” Atkin said. Clarke echoed this: “In the past, first has been about big brands and glitzy labels, and this year there are some modern names, such as Oakridge, shortlisted.”

McCombie added: “We also had some of the classic names that qualified simply because they were good. It’s about choosing the right vintages of those great names, because you could argue that some less glamorous vintages can work better in the air.”

While some wine labels impress premium passengers, the judges always bear in mind what they will taste like at 30,000 feet in cabin conditions. Certain prestige wines that are tannic and complex run the risk of having a drying effect when served during a flight. However, if chosen intelligently, they can work well. “With wines like Bordeaux, the big, powerful vintages may not be the best choice for the air, but lighter years like 2004, 2007 and 2002 work well,” Clarke explained.

A minor criticism of this year’s entries was an over-representation of French wines. “What was missing for me was old European [wines] that weren’t French,” McCombie said.       “We haven’t seen very many exciting Spanish or Italian wines, when they do exist. Some would be great in the air.”

Atkin agreed: “It would be nice to see things like Frappato or Chianti Classico from Italy, a top Vinho Verde from Portugal, or a Rioja, particularly in business, when they’ve got an opportunity to be more creative. We had a lovely [Chilean] Carmenere in business class, and we’d like to see more of that – choosing wine based on flavour as much as reputation.”

The usual conundrum exists for those selecting the wines – do they give people what they want, or something that tastes better in-flight?

“It depends on the kind of airline,” Clarke said. “Those with smaller budgets have to be adventurous, shop around and get, for example, a good value, unbaked pinot noir. If you put it up against the business class cellars of the big boys, you’d say, ‘Oh, that’s a cheap glass of fresh red wine,’ when actually it tastes wonderful in the air.”


Most carriers employ small teams of experts to test hundreds of options. “All the bottles are blind-tasted,” said Clara Yip, wine and beverage manager for Cathay Pacific. “Only in the final line-up will the best three to four be unmasked, and brand image and appellation will then be compared. The tasters are looking for specific characteristics that ensure Cathay Pacific only selects ‘wines that fly’ – fruit-driven, with soft tannins and balanced acidity.”

Many airlines also take the opportunity to showcase their local produce. “Australia and New Zealand have never made better wines than right now,” said Matt Skinner, wine selection panel member for Jetstar. “Our job is to take a small slice of that quality, diversity and enthusiasm and present it to Jetstar’s customers. We have a strict policy on quantity and vintages that producers are made aware of at the time of submission. As a result, Jetstar now offers a larger than normal selection of wines, which better allows us to work with smaller producers.”


Aer Lingus, Aeroflot, Air Astana, Air Berlin, Air Canada, Air France, Air Serbia, Air Seychelles, Alitalia, American Airlines, ANA, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Croatia Airlines, Delta Air Lines, El Al, EVA Air, Finnair, Garuda Indonesia, Jetstar, Kenya Airways, KLM, Korean Air, LATAM, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, South African Airways, SAS, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic.

Our sincere thanks to all participants FULL LIST OF WINNERS AND SHORTLISTED AIRLINES:   BEST FIRST CLASS RED Gold Medal: Korean Air – Château Clerc Milon 2007, Bordeaux, Pauillac, Médoc, France Silver Medal: American Airlines – Lavau Châteauneuf du Pape 2011, Rhône Valley, France Bronze Medal: Malaysia Airlines – E Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde de Guigal 2010, Rhône Valley, France   BEST FIRST CLASS WHITE Gold Medal: British Airways – Domaine d’Ardhuy Corton Charlemagne 2009, Burgundy, France Silver Medal: Qantas – Oakridge 864 Chardonnay, Willowlake Vineyard Block A6 2012, Yarra Valley, Australia Bronze Medal (joint): Garuda Indonesia – Vasse Felix Chardonnay Margaret River 2013, Australia; Qatar Airways – Saint Clair Family Estate Pioneer Block 21 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Dillons Point, Marlborough, New Zealand   BEST FIRST CLASS SPARKLING Gold Medal: Garuda Indonesia – Champagne Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart 1999, France Silver Medal (joint): American Airlines – Champagne Louis Roederer Brut 2008, France; Korean Air – Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs 2004, France Bronze Medal: Singapore Airlines – Champagne Dom Pérignon Vintage 2004, France   BEST FIRST CLASS FORTIFIED/DESSERT Gold Medal: Qatar Airways – Château d’Yquem 2008, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France Silver Medal (joint): Singapore Airlines – Taylor’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal; Qantas – Seppeltsfield Paramount Rare Tokay, Rutherglen, Australia Bronze Medal: Cathay Pacific – Ramos Pinto RP10, 10 Years Old Tawny, Quinta da Ervamoira, Portugal   BEST-PRESENTED FIRST CLASS WINE LIST Cathay Pacific   BEST FIRST CLASS CELLAR Gold Medal: Singapore Airlines Silver Medal: Qatar Airways Bronze Medal: Korean Air Highly commended: Cathay Pacific, Qantas   BEST BUSINESS CLASS RED Gold Medal: EVA Air – The Islander Estate Old Rowley 2014, South Australia Silver Medal: Aer Lingus – Saint-Joseph “Les Challeys” 2013, Delas Frères, Rhône Valley, France Bronze Medal (joint): Air Astana – Casa Silva Reserva Cuvée Colchagua Carmenere 2013, Rapel Valley, Chile; Air Canada – H J Fabre Malbec 2014 Barrel Selection, Fabre Montmayou, Argentina   BEST BUSINESS CLASS WHITE Gold Medal: Jetstar – Church Road Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2013, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand Silver Medal: British Airways – Condrieu “Les Ravines” 2013 Domaine Rémi Niero, Rhône Valley, France Bronze Medal: American Airlines – Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett 2009, SA Prum, Mosel, Germany   BEST BUSINESS CLASS SPARKLING Gold Medal (joint): Philippine Airlines, Singapore Airlines – Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve, France Silver Medal: EVA Air – Champagne de Castelnau Brut 2002, J M Cazes Selection, France Bronze Medal: Cathay Pacific – Champagne Cuvée William Deutz 2000, France   BEST BUSINESS CLASS FORTIFIED/DESSERT Gold Medal: Jetstar – De Bortoli “Old Boys” 21 Year Old Barrel Aged Tawny, NV, Australia Silver Medal (joint): Korean Air – Inniskillin Ice Wine Vidal 2012, Vincor, Niagara Peninsula, Canada; Austrian Airlines – Weingut Kracher Cuvée Beerenauslese 2012, Burgenland, Neusiedlersee, Austria Bronze Medal: Singapore Airlines – Taylor’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal   BEST-PRESENTED BUSINESS CLASS WINE LIST El Al   BEST BUSINESS CLASS CELLAR Gold Medal: Eva Air Silver Medal: Cathay Pacific Bronze Medal: Singapore Airlines   BEST AIRLINE ALLIANCE Oneworld   BEST OVERALL WINE CELLAR Gold Medal: Singapore Airlines Silver Medal: Cathay Pacific Bronze Medal: Korean Air, Qantas Highly commended: Qatar Airways
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