High-flying wine: Review of sparkling wine Bernard-Massard served on SAS flight

On intra-European flights my hopes of having any decent wine is usually very slim, especially these days when even traditional airlines are scaling back on service. I seldom drink at all on flights, mainly due to the low quality of what is offered but also due to usually being on the way to something where I do not want to have had any alcohol before. This time I was however intent on at least sampling the wine and even if it may perhaps not be that good I am willing to so to say take one for the team (the team being you readers) to write this short piece about it.

I was flying Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and they had an offering of 4 different wines (on an intra-european flight). Two reds, one white and one sparkling. We sampled two of the wines but in this segment we will focus on the sparkling one. SAS replaced the champagne a few years ago and now offer a traditional method sparkling wine from Luxembourg the Bernard-Massard Cuvée de l’Ecusson Brut. I have seen this bottle several times before both in the stores in Sweden and Finland as well as in some duty free shops but never tried it.

The company was established in 1921 by the then young wine-maker Jean Bernard-Massard, a native of Luxembourg. He had spent time in Champagne to learn the skills of how to make sparkling wine and he went into business backed by investors/wine enthusiast from both Luxembourg and Belgium

The idea was to produce high quality sparkling wine in Luxembourg, and by making use of the recently established customs union between Belgium and Luxembourg sell the wines to both markets. His partners were well connected in Belgium, thus helped them to establish a strong presence there and it has since the start been the biggest market for the company. The Grevenmacher winery was built on the Moselle river. The company also established a German subsidiary, ‘Sektkellerei J.Bernard-Massard’, with a winery in Trier so it possible to see the Bernard-Massard name on those bottles as well. After Jean Bernard-Massard passed away the Clasen family took over the management and they are still running it and the company remains a family managed business producing around 4 million bottles a year.

The Bernard-Massard Cuvée de l’Ecusson Brut is made of a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir, 35% Pinot Blanc and 10% Riesling. It is perhaps not the most common blend but all well-known grapes. This is, if I understand it accurately, their mid-range cuvee, the Millésimé being the premium one, and it was created in 1971 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the company.

Opening the bottle, the first thing that hits me is that it is a screw cap. Can understand it as it is for a flight but gives a cheap feel to it. The wine is pale yellow in color but with fine persistent bubbles.

The aroma had notes of sweet citrus, yellow apple and pear. The palate had a clear sweetness to it that I did at least find a bit disturbing as it took over the apple and pear that is there as well. For me this is not a favorite as it was too sweet. The fact that it is a brut surprised me so when reading up it actually has 11.5 (!) grams of residual sugar so in many markets this would not be a brut. Quality does not fully impress, so I would give it a 2.5 rating. I could however see that this would appeal to people who appreciate a bit sweeter wine, yet not super sweet, sparkling wines and it is not at all a bad, so if you have another taste preference than me you may very well appreciate this one a lot.

It is available at Alko in Finland for €13.90 and at Systembolaget in Sweden for 127 SEK(approximately €13-14) and at that price I would give it a value for money rating of 2.5 as well. There are better value sparkling wines than this at around or below this price but I do feel the need to once again stress that if you have a taste profile leaning a bit more towards the sweeter wines (and that is then more compared to the dry brut nature or zero dosage wines) you may very well find Bernard-Massard good and then the value for money rating would of course also be higher.

I am a bit surprised that SAS would opt for such a relatively sweet wine as the only option for sparkling wine on their European flights. I guess it comes down to cost and this may be something that they have been able to buy relatively cheap and I have also understood that their are some other airlines serving this (Finnair have at least done so). I do hope that SAS has some better wine on their intercontinental flights and I will report back on that after some of my upcoming flights with SAS to Asia.