While some of our domestic airlines are proudly upgrading their inflight snack selection to include Snyder's brand pretzels, Dubai-based Emirates Airlines has spent the past few years smugly showcasing its wine list, which includes bottles from some of the world's most exclusive vintages. Over the course of a year, Emirates will serve more than 300 different vintages of wine, a list that has been praised by wide-eyed wine experts for its depth and exclusivity.
Emirates quietly started its wine program in 2006 and, in the decade since, it has spent an estimated $690 million filling its cellars—which are actually housed in a group of warehouses in Burgundy, France. That's where the flag carrier of the UAE stores its collection of more than 3.75 million bottles of wine, some which will not be served on Emirates flights until 2025. "We buy early, and we buy smart," Joost Heymeijer, an Emirates senior vice president, told Bloomberg.
The airline considers its wine holdings to be "investments" more than just part of the beverage cart, or even of the luxury in-flight experience. The Emirates Group, the airline's parent company, also has a subsidiary called Maritime and Merchants International (MMI) that is able to facilitate some of its purchases and help build relationships with vineyards that perhaps wouldn't necessarily sell to an airline. (MMI claims that it has "the largest wine portfolio in the Gulf," which includes 30 of the world's top 50 most admired wine brands).
According to Bloomberg, Emirates has had to work to convince skeptical oenologists and vineyard owners that their wines won't be affected by the serving altitude: it decants the wines, as necessary, in personal carafes, and claims that the air pressure in the cabin is the same as a Swiss chalet would be.
Despite the limited quantities of some of its wine, Emirates isn't stingy with its offerings. Last year, its flight crew poured 9 million glasses of champagne. Although Emirates president Tim Clark would probably cringe to be included in the same sentence as Costco, the bargain-in-bulk warehouse store is the only company that buys as much Dom Perignon as Emirates does. (And, at one point, Emirates was the only airline that served the 2005 Dom vintage; it now proudly uncorks the 2006 for its first class passengers).
Although Bloomberg praised Emirates for having "the best wine list in the sky," other outlets haven't been as quick to praise the airline, which seems weird. It didn't even make Wine Enthusiast's list of the 10 Best Inflight Wine Programs and at Business Traveller's 2014 Cellar in the Sky Awards, it was completely shut out of the Best Business Class and Best Overall Wine Cellar categories. It chose not to participate the next year.