Sunday, October 16, 2011

Whisky Reviews: Glenmorangie Vertical Tasting

About a month ago I was lucky enough to stumble upon a Glenmorangie gift pack containing a full bottle of the Original expression and minis of the three current wine barrel extra-aged bottlings, all for the same price as the Original by itself. This lets me do a tasting where I can directly compare how each type of barrel affects the flavor of the underlying whisky.

Glenmorangie has been distilling since 1843 in Tain, Ross-shire, Scotland. While the distillery was family owned for most of its history, it has since been sold to the French conglomerate LVMH. The new owners have brought new design ideas to the company. I've got to say that their presentation is top-notch and the corporate website does an excellent job of conveying their story and providing some rather nice videos for tasting their original and extra-aged expression. The distillery's claim to fame comes from having the tallest stills in Scotland, which produce lighter bodied whiskies that are the most popular in Scotland. Staffed by the so-called "Sixteen Men of Tain", the distillery seems to manage a good balance between tradition and experimentation. Almost all of their whiskies are first aged in used bourbon barrels and their extra-aged expressions are then transferred to used wine casks to add another layer of flavor.

Now that's what I call a good spread

Glenmorangie Original 10 Year - 43%

Color: pale honey

Nose: malty, citrus - lemon and orange, vanilla, a hint of wine

Taste: creamy vanilla, malt, chocolate oranges, honey

Finish: medium, pleasant but trending towards bitterness

Overall this is a seriously solid dram. It's extremely well priced for a single malt, going for as little as $30. There's absolutely nothing bad that I can say about it, other than wishing that the flavors were just a bit more bold. Especially when my palate isn't quite as clear, the flavors tend to seem less robust and the cacao notes are replaced by green apples. I'd stick to drinking this before rather than after a meal.

Glenmorangie Lasanta - 46%

Color: amber

Nose: sherried wood, vanilla, nougat, almond, slight wood char or burnt sugar smell evolving with time and water

Taste: sherry, creamy sweetness

Finish: short with just a bit of burn

This whisky makes me think of 3 Musketeers bars. I've tried a few other sherried whiskies that really didn't do much for me. This was a much more enjoyable expression. There is clear sherry flavors in both the nose and taste, but it doesn't dominate the underlying characteristics of the whisky. This is a very delicious and more-ish dram.

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban - 46%

Color: rose gold

Nose: toasted almonds, nougat, brown sugar, falernum(?), chocolate, hints of wine and peaches, developing blackberries and raisins with a bit of water

Taste: port wine, chocolate

Finish: lingering port wine and vanilla

There are a lot of similarities between the Quinta Ruban and Lasanta expressions, though I felt like the port wine influence was just a tad less strong than the sherry. While the nose of the Lasanta is a bit more robust, the finish on the Quinta Ruban helps its overall experience. Ultimately I'd have a very hard time deciding between these two.

Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or - 46%

Color: honey

Nose: burnt sugar, wood, wine-y sweetness, hints of citrus, fruit preserves that shifts towards wood char and nougat with water

Taste: light, chocolate, honey, orange

Finish: slightly bitter, cacao?

I felt like the wine influence was less directly apparent with this expression, instead beefing up the intrinsic qualities of the Original and layering on more barrel flavor. I didn't find this to be as explosively sweet as other reviewers have, but it is smoother than the Original which might let that aspect shine a little bit more clearly.

Overall, I don't think you can go wrong with any one of these whiskies. As I noted above, the Original is an incredible value and a great whisky for the scotch novice or those who prefer lighter Speyside malts. The Lasanta and Quinta Ruban expressions are usually less than $10 over the basic 10-Year, so it's easy to upgrade. At least for me, the Nectar d'Or is a little harder to justify as it's usually up in the $60-70 range. I'll probably add it to my collection one of these days when I have some extra cash, but the port and sherry cask expressions are in the must-buy category.


  1. I recently purchased the Discovery pack, despite promising myself that I wouldn't buy alcohol while unemployed. At $32, I couldn't resist.

    Thus far, I've only opened the Original. Intererstingly, it's much lighter than I recall. It's been a couple of years since I've had it, so I may be misremembering. I wish I had an older bottle with which to compare to see if it's my memory or the whisky that's changed.
    I'm interested to see how my tasting notes end up comparing with yours for the others in the pack.

    Looking through my cabinet, I realize I have an 18 yo and a 15 yo Macallan. I may have to get a 12 yo (I can't splash out for a 25 yo until I get a job) so that I can do a vertical tasting.

    I envy you your tasting glasses.

  2. Yeah, the Discovery pack is what I got. Sounds like you got an even better deal than I did!

    Depending on how long it's been since you last tried the Glenmorangie, there was a change in ownership back around '05. Hopefully there haven't been too many changes in the flavor, but they're definitely trying to be a more broadly appealing brand.

    I'd definitely be interesting to hear your views on a Macallan vertical tasting. I'm coming around to sherried whiskies after the Lasanta, so I'm going to have to investigate some more Speyside malts.

    The glasses were ~$8 each from Kitchen Kaboodle. A whole lot cheaper than the "official" Glencairn glasses that usually run $20 a pop.

  3. Did you see this article about a "mystery whiskey fungus"? As a scientist and a whisky drinker, I found it quite cool.

  4. Last November, K&L Wines released a mysterious 10 year old North Highland Single Malt under their own Faultlines label. Besides mentioning that they found this single refill sherry butt in the warehouse of an unnamed independent bottler, the label notes that independent releases from this distillery are extremely rare and that this distillery rests on the shores of the North Sea. Well, from those clues I guessed Glenmorangie and I turned out to be right when I asked at the store.

    This is also an unusual Glenmorangie since it was aged entirely in a sherry butt. As such the whisky is like an interesting combination of elements from the Original and the Lasanta (and bottled at 50%).

    1. Ooh, and still plenty of bottles left. That's a very tempting proposition.