Whisky and Words Number 49: Glenmorangie Nectar D’or

The golden nectar on an unusually golden Fall afternoon.

The final Glenmorangie ‘specials’ review! Today we take on Nectar D’or, which takes the standard Glenmorangie 10 and ages it for two additional years in Sauternes barriques (a fairly small barrel). Sauternes being a sweet wine (think noble rot), we expect the Sauternes treatment to result in a sweet and smooth spirit. Glenmorangie telegraphs this expectation with their moniker for this expression – Nectar D’or. So, is it really a golden nectar? Glenmorangie thinks so:

Our sumptuous, special reserve whisky is aged first in American oak bourbon casks for smooth, fruity notes. We then finish this single malt in hand-selected wine casks from Sauternes, the most famous and ancient sweet wine-growing region of France.

These rare casks bring layers of mellow sweetness to Glenmorangie’s renowned smooth style. Non chill-filtered for enhanced aroma and texture, our Nectar D’Or is enjoyed around the globe.

That’s some beautiful packaging. And dig the color of that spirit!

On the packaging we see descriptions like “rich, spicy and dessert-like,” “lemony, honey silkiness” and on the website, “sweet and sumptuous.” That’s impressive as the standard 10-year is already pretty sweet. I’m expecting the Sauternes of whiskies Also note the website mentions this spirit, like the Quinta Ruban, is non-chill-filtered. That and the ABV of 46% shows that the distiller is aiming for a premium presentation. Premium it is: as you can see from the photo, this bottle comes in a heavy-duty presentation case. The packaging is classic LVMH, restrained, modern and consistent in the palette (gold). Another sign that LVMH is going for premium is the price. From a modest $50 for the Lasanta, we’re up to $68 for this bottle (Oregon state pricing). By no means is that expensive for an outstanding whisky, but for Glenmorangie, that’s pricey.

The Glen 10 is a downright bargain for those who enjoy a smooth, sweet dram. I found the Lasanta interesting and a decent value for the price, and thought the Quinta Ruban all right, though no barn burner. Does the flavor of this dram measure up to their own marketing and a solid competitor? Once again, we’ll start with a comparison to the spirit that Glenmorangie builds on, their 10-year old.

How does it build on the Glen 10?

The Nectar D’or (l) adds some light amber to the Glen 10’s (r) light straw

How does it compare to the standard? As mentioned in the previous two reviews, the Glen 10 is innocuous, sweet, and has modest peat aroma from the water (no smoke here). Although sweet, Glen 10 has enough tannins to leave a balanced finish. At 46%, the ABV of the Nectar D’or  is higher than the Glen 10 so we expect a more intense flavor.

The Nectar D’Or makes a statement right off: wine! Right on the nose, you get a frontal note of that Sauternes wine – the fruity and slightly sour reek of white grapes – on top of Glenmorangie’s mineral peatiness. The wine is taking the fore, however. I get floral notes as well (rose, honeysuckle), and even though it’s higher ABV than the Glen 10, the Nectar is easier on the nose. The Nectar D’or is less likely to sting, but it can still bite when you dive into your Glencairn glass. The palate is indeed sweet but brings a lot of other flavors as well, so it is well-structured. The astringency of the grape adds to the oak’s tannic balance.

Oddly, the Nectar D’or is not as smooth as I expected from the company’s tasting notes. The finish is begins with honeysuckle sweetness but ends quite dry for such a sweet whisky, due to both the oak and grapes bringing their own. All in all, not as cloying as Glenmorangie’s tasting notes imply. Is it a dessert whisky? Sure, but so is the regular Glen 10, thought the Nectar is smoother overall.

An Arran challenge

Glenmorangie is up against a solid competitor here: a crafty, small, independent distiller. Arran had been shut for 20 years, and, like Ardbeg, was brought back to life. You may think this an unfair comparison but LVMH (Glenmorangie’s parent company) owns Ardbeg, so they know how to make good whisky. Of course, Glenmorangie is a much bigger producer. We assume the malt master at Arran has more control of each barrel chosen and at $77, we’ve paid a premium for Arran’s small-batch experience. Also, the Arran is bottled at 50% ABV, higher then the Glenmorangie and is also not chill filtered and uses no artificial colors. With that, lets start with appearance. Give the photo below a click to get a good look. The Glenmorangie has an ever-so-slightly darker look to the spirit.

Arran cask sauternes (l) vs Glenmorangie Nectar D’or (r). Click for hi-res.

On the nose, this is a close race. The Glenmorangie has an edge in grape aromas – pleasantly sour and sweet – while the Arran is a more balanced nose with some mineral peatiness and a little more oak. Also, despite the higher ABV, the Arran doesn’t sting the nose as readily as the Glenmorangie. On the palate, the Nectar D’or is lively and spicy, layering caramel with the grape; the Arran less lively, smoother, more graduated sweetness (honeysuckle to toffee) with a nicer mouthfeel. I’d say the Arran edges the Glenmorangie here, but then it should, being more expensive.

Glenmorangie Nectar D’or Single Malt, 12 years, 46% ABV

Nose: Fruity and slightly sour white grape wine, mineral peat, rose, honeysuckle. A bit stingy on the nose.
Palate: Fairly complex; lightly sweet, undertones of caramel and white wine, balanced by astringent grape and tannic oak.
Finish: Honeysuckle sweetness but ends quite dry for such a sweet whisky, due to both the oak and grapes.

Bottom Line: I’ll agree with the whisky-tasting wife on this on: the Nectar D’or is a better whisky than the Glen 10, but is it worth almost twice as much? That’s hard to justify on the face of it until you realize what a reasonable price the Glen 10 goes for. We both agree it’s nice to have around for a change-up, especially for me (I tend towards sherried whiskies and peaty monsters). As for the competitor, unlike the Cragganmore we tested against the Quinta Ruban, the Arran Sauternes Cask is definitely worth the premium. The Arran is a very nice whisky which I will review fairly soon on its own.

TL;DR: The Glenmorangie does bring a solid Sauternes experience and a crafty presentation at a reasonable price point.

A good sipping whisky, quite different from the usual, and expensive only in comparison to the very reasonably priced 10-year

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Whisky and Words Number 48: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban

The Quinta Ruban from Glenmorangie

This is the second of three reviews of Glenmorangie special expressions, each of which has been finished in specialty casks to elicit different flavors. The Quinta Ruban builds on the standard Glenmorangie 10 with two additional years in Port pipes (large casks). Let’s see what Glenmorangie is saying about this spirit:

The darkest and most intense whisky in the extra-matured range, Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban has spent 10 years maturing in American white oak casks, before being transferred into specially selected ruby port pipes from the Quintas or wine estates of Portugal.

Extra maturation in these port pipes develops Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban into a voluptuous spirit with a complex balance of sweet and dry flavours and an intriguing contrast of smooth and crisp, cooling textures. Non chill-filtered for additional aroma and mouthfeel

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Whisky and Words Number 47: Glenmorangie Lasanta

Lasanta’s lovely color adds gravitas to any occasion.

As promised, here is the first of three reviews of Glenmorangie special expressions, each of which has been finished for two years in a specialty cask. In this case, the Lasanta (Gaelic for ‘warmth and passion’)  takes the basic Glenmorangie 10 for a two-year ride in sherry-seasoned (Oloroso and PX Sherry) casks.

What do we get for an additional two years? Is the Lasanta able to challenge all-in sherry aged drams like Macallan’s Sherry Wood, Glenfarclas 12 or Highland Park’s 12? And how does it fare against another ‘finished’ whisky, in this case the very nice (and more expensive) Balvenie Doublewood? That’s what we’re here to find out.

The packaging is conservative and classy with a dark maroon label, an echo of sherry’s ruby tones, and you will see significant color in the spirit (see photo below). What does Glenmorangie say about its whisky? They are quite up front on the bottle about the extra two years maturation, so kudos for clear messaging. There are no claims of ‘craft’ techniques like non-chill filtration or avoidance of added coloration, but at the price point, $50 in Oregon, that’s not expected. On their website, we don’t get much more info than tasting notes, to wit: “the sherry casks bring rich raisin intensity, toffee and spices to Glenmorangie’s renowned smooth style.

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Whisky and Words Preview: Glenmorangie Finished Expressions

What’s coming up – reviews of three Glenmorangie specialty-cask ‘finishes’ of their single malt.

A cask (from Glenmorangie website)

How distillers switch up the casks and hence flavor profiles

There are a few ways a distiller can introduce flavors outside of those provided by the very common ex-Bourbon cask. One way is to age the whisky entirely in specialty cask types (port, sherry, rum or wine casks). The Macallan standard expressions (12, 25) and all Glenfarclas bottlings are aged exclusively in sherry butts. Highland Park uses only sherry-seasoned casks, but employs two kinds of oak to get their flavor profile (American and Spanish).

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Book review: Dhalgren

Note: This review covers adult subjects and I use some frank words.

Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delaney. A million copies have been sold, accounting for many more than a million reads as I assume many get this book from the library or secondhand.

I have read it, twice. The first time I read Dhalgren was when I was in high school. I had a high tolerance for long books. Even obscure books; I must have, because I read Dhalgren. And I remembered it as a foundational work, a standout. Amazing. Now, some forty years later, I re-read this book (after recommending it to one of my kids, oops) and I think, what the hell was I thinking?

TL;DR: This is an otherworldly, often entrancing work by a very talented artist. Pros: very detailed characters with an accurate ear for verbal styles (though some are dated or stereotypical). Some passages are cogent, gripping, intensely visual. Eerily realistic presentation of mental illness as presented from the inside. Delaney delivers compelling scene descriptions, though this is often overdone, wordy, and heavy-handed. Cons: the book explores dissociative reality by foisting very turgid syntax on the reader and repeatedly scrambling the narrative, throwing the reader into different parts of the timeline or obscuring it. There is no plot beyond a passage of the protagonist through reality in a post-apocalyptic city (Bellona), where every experience is questioned–by the protagonist, his associates, eventually by the narrator/author. Meanwhile, the reader must patch together violently fragmented chunks of text in search of the narrative. The book is interspersed with extremely detailed and intimate scenes of sex in multiple flavors/styles/body count that drag on way too long; pages, in fact. Many of the themes that do come through crisply are dated.

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Whisky and Words Number 46: The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 3

It’s a pretty whisky. Click for full res.

In this blog, I’ve focused mainly on whiskies the average Joe can afford, and can get without having to pay international shipping fees. But now and then I’ve acquired rarer whiskies with a tale attached to them. This is one such whisky and it’s tale belongs in a whisky blog. Why not this one?

My wife and I visited Scotland a couple years back and we visited the Balvenie distillery (covered here). This tour was high on my list for a few reasons: Balvenie creates a whisky I like (the Doublewood), and recommendations on various whisky sites named their tour as the best. Also, they offered a ‘valinch your own bottle’ option on the tour. Count me in…

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Whisky and Words Number 45: Tomatin 12-year

A deeply colored spirit

A deeply colored spirit

This is another review I have to credit to my local scotch-loving spirits retailer, Kelly. His recommendation for Oban was spot on, so I gave him heed when he told me the Tomatin 12 was akin to the Balvenie Doublewood (which I really like) and at a comfortable discount to the Balvenie. Tomatin sells for about $36 here in Oregon, whereas the Balvenie retails for $62. Frankly I think it’s a tall order for anyone to take on The Balvenie, but let’s give Tomatin a fair shake.

What do we know about the distillery? The box art implies a start of 1897, and that is indeed when the ‘legal’ distillation commenced on the site. The distillery has expanded and contracted over the years, having survived one bankruptcy and a liquidation. It was purchased from liquidation by the Japanese conglomerate Takara Holdings, putting this brand in the multi-billion-dollar club of holding companies. Curiously, Tomatin is the only Scotch distillery owned by Takara. More curiously, its web page is the only Scotch distiller web page I have seen with a Japanese language prompt alongside the English one:

Hm, many Japanese visitors perhaps?

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