|Richard Siddle: on the road with Glenmorangie at Sassicaia|
|Wednesday, 29 February 2012 09:16|
But then there are not many folk in the drinks industry with quite the creative mind of Glenmorangie's head of distilling and whisky creation, Dr Bill Lumsden. Or Dr Bill as he is affectionately known in whisky circles. The McWilly Wonka of whisky creation.
Thanks to his idea to mature a special private edition of 15 year old Glenmorangie in the casks of icon super Tuscan wine, Sassicaia, a coach load of specialist spirits and drinks journalists had been flown in from all over the world to Tuscany to see the famous winery for themselves.
And, of course, get to hear first hand how the Sassicaia influenced whisky, Artein, had been created.
Being part of a United Nations-style press entourage can take on a life form of its own. And it was with a deep breath that I joined up with this Glenmorangie-fuelled press corps, three days in to a trip that had taken the collective hacks from the US, Scandinavia, France, Germany and Blighty all the way up to Glenmorangie House in the Scottish Highlands and now down to the mystical landscape of northern, coastal Tuscany.
But I had cannily timed my trip to coincide with the visit to Tenuta San Guido, winery that is home of Sassicaia, and the chance to taste its wines for the first time.
It was soon apparent why Dr Bill had found some kindred spirits in northern Tuscany. Stone has always been at the heart of Glenmorangie as it is made from the hard water source of the Tarlogie Spring which runs through the limestone around the distillery.
Artein, the third release in its Private Edition range, is Scots Gaelic for stone and is a combination of 15 and 21 year old single malts.
Similarly the famous Sassicaia wines are made from the limestone and sandy terroir of its 75 hectare estate, where the vines have to dig deep to find any nourishment, resulting in the intensely flavoured nature of the grapes that they produce.
By maturing Artein in two-year Sassicaia casks, having initially been matured in hand-selected American white oak ex-bourbon casks of 15 and 21 year old whiskies, Lumsden hoped to bring out the unique qualities they both shared from their stony foundations, but in particular enhance the fragrant nature of the whisky.
But why two year old casks, Dr Bill? "We wanted two fills so that it would have taken more of the tannins out of the wine. Tannins can be a real problem when trying to age whisky. We also wanted the casks to have had two soaks of the wine in the barrel."
Or as he put in more plainly later, over a dram, it is the old tea bag test. A cup of tea made from a tea bag that has been brewed twice is just about perfect, try and make one from a bag that has been brewed three times and it just does not work.
Up to the taste
Each beautifully constructed to allow the acidity and tannins to combine to keep the wines fresh yet subtle. The Sassicaia carrying touches of mint and eucalyptus, adding to the sweet tannins and dark fruits on the palate.
But the star of this particular show was, in many ways, the casks themselves. It was intriguing to hear how the wines are matured in both new (around 15%) and old French oak, for two years, but how on six or seven times during the ageing process the wine will he taken out of the casks and stored temporarily in stainless steel tanks to enable the winery to wash the casks and take out any impurities. An attention to detail that went down well the whisky scribes.
Whisky on tour
There was even a bagpiper present to pipe guests in for dinner in a grand Tuscan castle.
Stone, though, was the main underlying theme. Be it the engraved stone invite, the stone placemats for dinner, down to chilled stone cubes slipped into your drink instead of ice.
The last words have to go to the wizadry whisky skills of Dr Bill Lumsden. Having created a number of private edition whiskies, including the Finealta and Sonnalta, and now Artein, he promises plenty more to come.
In the meantime you can pick up a bottle of Artein for £69.99 at specialist whisky suppliers.