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Cellars in the Sky Awards Winners

The best bottles served by airlines in business and first class, according to Business Traveller U.K.

Photo: Fabian Gysel/iStock/Getty Images

Following two years of restrictions on in-flight services, travel is back. This also signaled the return to a normal judging process for Business Traveller U.K.’s Cellars in the Sky awards.

A panel of judges convened to select the best bottles served by airlines in business and first class in 2022. The judges were John Worontschak, Helen McGinn, Masters of Wine Peter McCombie and Sarah Abbott and head judge Charles Metcalfe, cofounder of the International Wine Challenge.

“The standard has been greater than previous years,” explains Metcalfe. “There were very few wines that we felt did not perform.” The pandemic did not lead to a drop in quality, with airlines continuing to invest in top-class beverages.

How the Awards Work

The competition is open to any carrier that serves wine in business or first class on mid- or long-haul routes. Each airline is invited to enter two reds, two whites, a rosé, a sparkling and a fortified or dessert wine from both cabins. They can compete in as many categories as they like, but to be eligible for Best Overall Cellar award they must enter at least one red, white and sparkling. For 2022, 22 airlines entered.

All tasting is blind, with the branding of bottles hidden beneath black bags. The judges are unaware of the wine make or the airline that entered it. Working in pairs, the judges taste half of the entries for each flight, with both teams putting forward their favorite bottles before retasting the final selection and grading them out of 100.

What the Judges Look For

Acidity and tannins are emphasized at altitude, so the judges look for expressive, bold and fruitier wines. “Subtlety can be a little problematic because humidity is low, so passengers dry out and become less sensitive to aromatic things,” says McCombie.

Red wines always present a challenge as they have high tannins. Metcalfe points out that pinot noirs and Shiraz are more gentle and appealing options. McCombie advocates for fresher reds: “It would be nice to see someone getting excited about a good Beaujolais.”

Even wine experts have personal preferences. “It’s better to acknowledge them than to pretend you don’t have them,” explains McCombie, adding that the collegial element is critical. While the airlines are in competition with one another, the judges are working in alliance, so there’s certainly “no fisticuffs,” as Metcalfe puts it.

Often they are all in agreement. “The winning white in first class [Tolpuddle Tasmania Chardonnay, 2018, Australia] absolutely stood out,” says McCombie. The winning wine in the fortified and dessert category for business class [Domaine La Sobilane, Rivesaltes, 1948] prompted smiles.

The joy of this competition is that the wines occasionally even take our judges by surprise. The most off-the-wall entry this year was a church wine put forward by Finnair, which achieved a good score despite not winning an award. “We appreciate when carriers do that. It’s part of the sense of discovery,” says Abbott.

Big Expectations

Passengers must set their expectations aside, as some of the more expensive labels don’t do the trick. “The kind of wines that do very well at altitude are not necessarily the most famous, classic ones,” says Abbott. Many come from the New World. “It’s by no means certain that the European wines will win,” Metcalfe adds.

Winning Reds

Best First Class Red

Gold — British Airways
Teusner The Riebke Barossa Valley Shiraz, 2019, Australia

Judges said: Delicious black fruit flavors, warm spices and lovely, lingering saline finish

Silver — Singapore Airlines
Clonakilla O’Riada Canberra Shiraz, 2019, Australia

Judges said: Very refined, supple, juicy, elegant, classy and beautiful

Best Business Class Red

Gold — Singapore Airlines
Teusner The Riebke Barossa Valley Shiraz, 2019, Australia

Judges said: Delicious black fruit flavors, warm spices and lovely, lingering saline finish

Silver — British Airways
Santa Rita, Medalla Real Gold Medal Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017, Chile

Judges said: Bursting with plum, berry and chocolate flavors, lovely tannins and long finish

Winning Whites

Best First Class White

Gold — Qantas
Tolpuddle Tasmania Chardonnay, 2018, Australia

Judges said: Toasty fresh oak, subtle depth and elegance, lovely length and delicate intensity

Silver — Qantas
Penfolds Reserve Bin 18A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, 2018, Australia

Judges said: Crisp oak, creamy, reductive, tangy, fresh, vibrant but not aggressive

Best Business Class White

Gold — Qantas
Penfolds Max’s Chardonnay 2018, Australia

Judges said: Stone fruits, faint wafts of citrus, floral notes with a hint of ginger, oak balanced giving a nutty nuance

Silver — Aircalin
Crozes Hermitage Mule Blanche Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aîné, 2021, France

Judges said: Aromatic nose, white flowers, delicate woody note, well-rounded, fresh finish

Winning Cellars

Best First Class Cellar

Gold – Qantas
Silver – Singapore Airlines

Best Business Class Cellar

Gold – Singapore Airlines
Silver – Qantas

Best Overall Cellar

Gold – Singapore Airlines
Silver – Qantas

First Class Best Presented Wine List

Gold – Singapore Airlines
Silver – Japan Airlines

Business Class Best Presented Wine List

Gold – Singapore Airlines
Silver – JetBlue

Best Alliance

Gold – Oneworld
Silver – Star Alliance

Winning Sparkling

Best First Class Sparkling

Gold — Oman Air
Champagne Charles Heidsieck, Blanc des Millénaires, 2007, France

Judges said: Creamy and complex, deeper gold-green hints, breezy aromatics

Silver (Joint) — Qantas and Singapore Airlines
Champagne Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs, 2008, France

Judges said: Rich, complex, spice and citrus feel, dense yet elegant

Best Business Class Sparkling

Gold — Air Tahiti Nui
Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV, France Judges said: Creamy and complex, vanilla, brioche, light and reductive on the palate

Silver — Singapore Airlines
Champagne Piper-Heidsieck, 2014, France

Judges said: Sophisticated style, evolved, stony, salty, fresh acidity

Winning Rosés

Best Business Class Rosé

Gold — Air Tahiti Nui
Château des Demoiselles – Côtes de Provence, 2021, France

Judges said: Vibrant, lively, savory, hints of lavender and rosemary

Silver — Qatar Airways
Château Beaulieu, Cuvée Alexandre Rosé Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, 2020, France

Judges said: Savory, crisp, flavors of strawberry and red currants, nice acidity

Winning Fortified / Dessert

Best First Class Fortified / Dessert Wine

Gold — Qatar Airways
Château Rieussec 1er Grand Cru Classé Sauternes, 2010, France

Judges said: Bouquet of ripe peach, nectarine and honey; hint of ginger, perfectly balanced acidity

Silver — Qantas
Morris of Rutherglen Old Premium Rare Topaque, NV, Australia

Judges said: Treacle, raisin, nice bitterness, molasses, fig jam, smooth and balanced

Best Business Class Fortified / Dessert Wine

Gold — Aircalin

Domaine La Sobilane, Rivesaltes, 1948, France

Judges said: Aromas of quince and oranges, flavors of nuts and dried fruits, smooth and balanced

Silver — Qantas

Baileys of Glenrowan Founders series Classic Muscat, NV, Australia

Judges said: Clean and bright within treacle muscat lusciousness

See the complete list of Business Traveller U.K.‘s Cellars in the Sky winners at