We spoke to Singapore Airlines’ top sommelier to see why the glitzy airline spends $30 million each year on wine and champagne

Jeannie Cho Lee

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Jeannie Cho Lee
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David Slotnick/Business Insider

Singapore Airlines is known for a few things, including running the world’s longest regular flight: Its over-the-top first class suites, and its food.

It’s also known for its champagne.

For years, Singapore has offered arguably the top champagne selection of any airline in first class, with both Dom Perignon and Krug, two legendary houses, available on its long-haul flights.

This year, the airline is adding another option: Tattinger (to be specific, a 2007 Tattinger Comtes de Champagne). On select flights around Christmas, the airline will also have a rare Krug rosé.

Sourcing consistent supplies of the two – now three – high-end champagnes takes a considerable amount of work. The major champagne houses see significant demand, and Singapore has to maintain relationships to keep its supplies uninterrupted.

Singapore Airlines' first class suite.

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Singapore Airlines’ first class suite.
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Singapore Airlines

Overseeing these relationships, along with the airline’s $30 million annual wine budget, is Master of Wine Jeannie Cho Lee, who, together with two other Masters of Wine, manages the wine program.

“Their very best is so sought after, that if you don’t go there and secure the relationships, you may not get an allocation,” Lee said. “We care about sourcing, we care about the relationships.”

During a recent wine tasting, as Cho walked Business Insider through the three champagnes on offer, she explained the airline’s mindset behind spending a small fortune on the champagnes that, ultimately, just the few passengers who get to experience the airline’s first class will drink.

“First impressions count,” she said. “It’s the first impression when you get on board, it’s what you’re offered.”

“We’re really committed to working with prestigious and like-minded companies and brands to partner with,” she added. “And there’s a lot of customer satisfaction,” she added, among high-value first class passengers. “If you’re one of the frequent flyers of Singapore Airlines, you know that no matter where you’re departing from, when you get on board if you’re flying first class, you’re going to be offered Krug or Dom Perignon, and you’re happy.”

The three champagnes Singapore Airlines is serving in first class this month.

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The three champagnes Singapore Airlines is serving in first class this month.
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David Slotnick/Business Insider

While Lee and her colleagues invest in a wide variety of wine – including options from all around France – the champagne is a particular focus. Partly for the branding, and partly, Lee said, because champagne is especially well-suited for the air, where cabin pressure changes and dryness can alter perception of taste.

“Our palates change and can’t recognize subtlety as well,” she said “We have to make sure that the wine has enough flavor intensity to be able to withstand not-so-favorable conditions.”

“The thing that’s really great about champagne is that it’s structured around being focused, lean, high in acid, with really refreshing carbon dioxide bubbles. That structure stays the same in the air,” she added, as opposed to many other wines which can see their flavor profiles more significantly altered.