Ultra-Vintage Scotch Is Delish, But Is It Worth It?



A review of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut and the Glenmorangie Pride 1981.


By Joshua E. London and Louis Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  August 10, 2011


Glenmorangie Pride 1981Champagne is usually associated with celebrations and secular holidays. Served chilled, Champagnes and other sparkling wines are very food-friendly and refreshing, especially during the warm summer months. Although other countries and regions have tried to expropriate the name, true Champagne is produced exclusively in the eponymous French appellation northeast of Paris.


The principle grapes used to make Champagne are pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier and they must be grown in specifically designated areas within the region. Production and quality are strictly regulated to assure the high degree of quality expected from this most regal of sparkling wines.


Made from grapes grown during a single year, vintage Champagne is an expensive indulgence. Non-vintage champagnes are a blend of different years created to reflect the specific house style. While many non-vintage champagnes are less costly than their vintage brothers, some of the very best remain quite dear.


A wonderful way to celebrate a midsummer simcha is with the excellent, kosher non-vintage Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rose Brut ($110) that is made entirely from pinot noir and aged at least four years. Strawberry, raspberry and floral aromas predominate in this delightful medium-bodied sparkler that opens into bright blackberry, cherry and strawberry flavors. As the kosher wines of Laurent-Perrier are special limited production runs for the Jewish market, be mindful that the overwhelming bulk of Laurent-Perrier’s wines are not certified kosher – so be sure to check for the OK kashrut certification symbol if not procuring through a kosher-only purveyor.


Spirits-wise, we thought we’d address a question that is often asked of us regarding those super expensive, top-shelf, trophy-style single malt Scotch whiskies. By this we do not merely mean the $100-plus whiskies, but those $1,000-plus beauties. The question being, “Is it worth the money?”


Our short answer is invariably “no” – though really this is just because we’ve generally gotten no closer to tasting such whiskies than any other mortal. More than that, however, one’s sense of rectitude and proportion rightly crowds out the possibility of such obviously gross extravagance. For as sublime as any whisky might be, it is, after all, merely grain alcohol.


In what universe, one wonders, could it possibly be justifiable for a company to set such a price for a product made of water, yeast and barley? These are the same simple ingredients as bread and beer, after all – and yet, such price tags are not only set, but also, at least occasionally, paid.


Take, for example, the newly released 1,000-bottle limited edition Glenmorangie Pride 1981 (at 56.7 percent alcohol by volume, or 113.4 proof), with specially designed super expensive-looking packaging and sleek decanter, and selling for roughly $3,600, give or take a few hundred bucks. Products like this remind one that Glenmorangie Scotch whisky is wholly owned by Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton.


So what makes this spirit so expensive? Well, greed, obviously – but, putting that aside for a moment, what is used to justify this whisky’s claim to being something special is its quality and careful handling.


Beginning around the early 1990s, Glenmorangie was spearheading the process of finishing whiskies in wine casks. So another alternative is that the 1981 produced spirit might have been transferred, after 10 years of aging in ex-bourbon barrels, into used wine casks, and had been bottled two years later as Sherry Wood Finish Glenmorangie (now sold as “Lasanta“) or Port Wood Finish (now “Quinta Ruban“) or even Sauternes Finish (aka “Nectar d’Or”). All three are also wonderful whiskies.


Instead, the spirit that is now marketed as “Pride” spent 18 years in ex-bourbon casks and was transferred to Château d’Yquem Sauternes barriques (yet another fancy term for barrels), where it spent another 10 years maturing. Since the age alone doesn’t justify the extravagant sticker price, Glenmorangie opted for ultra-premium presentation. So Wouter Scheublin, a Dutch wood craftsman, was commissioned to design the packaging, and French designer Laurence Brabant was commissioned to create the bottle. Scheublin’s packaging is a sleek oak box that slides apart while raising the bottle toward you, while Brabant’s bottle is a round Baccarat decanter with a circle of wood inlaid around it. Very chic and expensive looking.


As for the whisky, well, the Pride is simply astounding – rich, thick body and soft, rich, complex aromas and flavors of lovely caramelized fruits (particularly citrus) that become dry and tart, with lovely oak overtones and undertones. The whisky is tannic and warm, but kept in beautiful balance. With water, it opens and deepens brilliantly, teasing out vibrant spice and dried herbs, and some added sweetness (but only just), ending in a lovely, long, lingering finish. Glenmorangie Prideis truly a wonderful, luxurious tasting whisky. It is worth $3,600? No, obviously not.


So assuming you do not wish to spend your next mortgage payment on a lone bottle of whisky, we heartily recommend virtually anything else made by Glenmorangie. These folks produce consistently excellent whisky, most of which is reasonably priced, and two of these are certified kosher under the O.U. L’chaim!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *