Two years. 14 credit cards. Hundreds of thousands of Alaskan Airlines points. That’s what it takes to fly from Toronto to Dubai in first class on Emirates, if you’re not amongst the “what could a loaf of bread possibly cost? $50?” crowd. But with Covid raging, our wedding in a constant flux of uncertainty, and not much at all to do, one thought kept me going — soon I’ll be drinking in Emirates first class.

I made this image during one of our more desperate moments.

For anyone who hasn’t flown first class (I sure hadn’t, until my honeymoon), it’s comically absurd luxury. Flying economy is to flying first class what taking the city bus is to getting carried across town on a silk-padded golden palanquin, being fanned with palms and fed grapes. Technically they’re both taking you somewhere, but that’s about where the comparison ends. And Emirates is an airline known to be at the pinnacle of the first class offerings, serving the best food, offering the largest pods, and having an alcohol selection worthy of Jay Gatsby. Oh, and it’s all complimentary.

When choosing what airline would take us across the world for our honeymoon, my wife and I decided on a fairly simple equation. Which served the best complimentary Champagne? Japan Airlines offers the excellent Salon, while British Airways tempts with Laurent-Perrier. But in the end, it was the allure of Dom Perignon (notably paired with with a curated caviar course) which sealed the deal on Emirates, and sent us careening down our road of credit card point mania.

But Dom was only the beginning. Here’s what drinking in first class Emirates is like, beginning to end.

The Bubbly

Much to my surprise and delight, as soon as we were seated, we were offered a beverage — champagne perhaps? Naturally I assented, and was promptly brought my pre-flight bubbly (a great excuse to remove my mask after hours in the airport.) A quick sip revealed this definitely wasn’t Dom. I checked in with the flight attendant and oh! The pre-flight champagne was Veuve. Dom was served once we were in the air. I’d have to be patient.

The reason we flew Emirates.

In no time at all we were in the air, and my real order was taken. And that was the 2008 Dom Perignon Champagne, served in a fairly wide flute. I took notes (and perhaps gauchely) requested a photo of the bottle. The 2008 Dom was brilliant (like its 2002 predecessor I had previously tried.) Intense minerality was paired with toasty bread notes and underpinned with stone fruit. Yum! Went absolutely perfectly with the creamy, briny caviar we had it served with.

The Wine

Before our flight, I had the foresight of looking up the wine selection, and selecting the glass I was going to try so that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by choice when confronting the generous wine list. Part of this prudence stemmed from having been on the wrong side of a mile-high hangover before, and wanting to curate my must-haves without wildly overindulging.

The lovely and knowledgeable flight attendants were kind enough to help the wine pose for me.

The wine I had my eye on initially was the 2014 Eisele Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa California. Why this bottle in particular? Well for one I’m a sucker for Napa Cabs of all stripes. And two, uh, well, it retails between $350 and $500 making it one of the priciest wines offered on the menu. If I was going to be drinking in first class Emirates I was going to get my points worth! The Eisele was wonderful, intense and full bodied with dark fruits, tobaccos and leather. It tasted of old-fashioned luxury.

I cannot stress enough how patient the flight attendants were with my wine photography.

Here’s another example of where the fine details of this experience exceeded my expectations. Obviously noting my glee at the wine, and seeing me take tasting notes, the flight attendant brought me a taster of the 2005 Clos du Marquis Saint-Julien Bordeaux, which she noted having a personal preference for over the Eisele, and perhaps I’d be partial to it? To my delight, she was absolutely right. Despite it’s age, the Clos du Marquis was still lively, with a deep earthiness, plenty of strawberries and pepper.

The Liquor

This is where drinking in first class Emirates gets downright dangerous, at least if a semblance of sobriety is your goal. While the bourbon section of the menu is completely underwhelming, the scotch offering titillates with the Dalmore King Alexander III (north of $300 per bottle), and the snooze-inducing-but-enormously-expensive Johnny Walker Blue Label. Drinking it complimentary might just be worth your time.

The on-plane bar you can sit and drink at.

After sitting in our seats for the first few hours, my wife and I decided to stretch our gams and take a stroll to the bar. Open to both business and first class passengers, the bar only stocks booze available to business class. That said, if you want to flex on on the point-poor-pedestrians who could only scrape together a business class Emirates ticket, you can have first class booze delivered to you directly at the bar. And flex we did.

A glass of the $1k+ Hennessey Paradis? Sure, why not.

Perhaps the crown jewel in the Emirates first class drink offering is the Hennessey Paradis cognac. A blend of fine old cognacs from a variety vintages, ranging into the multi-decades-old territory, this was a dram I returned to more than once over the flight. When I sat down at the bar, it was the first thing I had sent over. Almost the instant I had finished, a flight attendant was at my side. “Would you like one more, sir? Or…as many as you like?” As many as I like indeed.

While my cognac palate is far from refined, the Paradis had lovely orange notes, honey, and a pronounced floral back bone. It’s texture was unlike anything I’ve ever tried, with a richness and viscosity more intense than any other liquor I’m acquainted with. Really quite delicious, even if I’ll probably never spring for a bottle at retail price.

Inexplicably Christine is drinking tea at the bar.

In conclusion, drinking in first class Emirates absolutely slaps

I’m pleased to say that due to the copious water I drank, the four hour nap I took, and carefully pacing myself over 13 hours, I was able to sample widely across the menu without falling into a drunken stupor. I can’t say I’ve ever had whisky and cognac with my breakfast before, but at the professional recommendation of my flight attendant/sommelier I simply had to make an exception during this flight.

If you’re ever afforded the opportunity to fly first class, prepare yourself for a genuinely once in a lifetime experience. Come prepared with a list of your must-try items, but leave yourself some room to receive the excellent recommendations from the brilliant staff, who probably know a lot more about fine alcohol than I do. Drinking in first class emirates is definitely an experience you’re going to want to sip in slow.