If

You have to be careful about blowing a lot of hot air when you qualify something. The ancient Macedonians found this out when they threatened to invade Sparta. Philip II sent a message to the Spartans saying, “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.” The Spartans replied with but one word: “If.” The Macedonians subsequently avoided Sparta altogether. It is advisedly therefore that I caveat the following blog by saying that it is based somewhat on supposition.

So, you may or may not recall that Glenmorangie are running a promotion/event/launch called Glenmorangie Cask Masters. In the first phase three whiskies were offered at tastings around the country and internationally. The public were then invited to vote for their favourite, which will be released as a new core bottling in the ‘Extra Matured’ range. Most whisky drinkers will be familiar with this range that includes, for example, Quinta Ruban (Port pipe finished) and Nectar D’Or (Sauternes cask finished). The other stages of the promotion allow the public to submit ideas and vote on: the name; the packaging design; the marketing; the launch event location.

A friend and I attended one of the tasting sessions at the Glenmorangie headquarters in Edinburgh in July of last year and very much enjoyed it. The cask finishes presented were (note them) Burgundy Grand Cru, Bordeaux Grand Cru and Manzanilla sherry, with the Manzanilla subsequently winning the popular vote. (It’s probably fair to say the world doesn’t need another sherry finished whisky, but it was the best of the three in my opinion.) The promotion still has a couple of stages to run until the new whisky is launched but we know it will be called Taghta (Gaelic for ‘chosen’) and it is anticipated that it will be priced similarly to the others in the range at between £30 and £40. So far, so good.

Now, Glenmorangie also have a series of annual limited releases known as the Private Edition series. This comprises the Sonnalta, Finealta, Artein, Ealanta and a newly released addition called Companta. The Companta, we are told, is:

“a refined balance between bold spice and rich, smooth sweetness; the result of a careful assemblage of spirit extra matured in Grand Cru casks from Clos de Tart and those of a lusciously sweet fortified wine from Côtes du Rhône.”

It’s interesting that Glenmorangie decided to use the specific appellation in their description. Those who know their wine would be able to tell you that Clos de Tart is, in fact, a Burgundy Grand Cru. Just like ‘Cask A’ in the Cask Masters series. What a coincidence! Perhaps it would be unfair of me to suggest that they were actually trying to be a little disingenous about the provenance. However it is worth noting that the Companta has a retail price of £70 or more, almost double that of the Extra Matured range.

Bearing in mind the qualification that I made at the top of the page, there is some dessert  wine-finished whisky in there too and it is also true that Glenmorangie have an enormous range of casks. But are we expected to believe that, with one vatting of Burgundy Grand Cru having been rejected by the public vote, Glenmorangie actually vatted another lot to put together this product? And, if indeed it is the same whisky, is it justifiable that the loser of that vote should be repackaged and presented as a limited release at twice the price? For me, at best this puts a question mark over the Companta, at worst the whole industry.

Bobby Anderson of Tomatin was quoted recently on the BBC (on the topic of sourcing barley), saying that “while much whisky marketing is aimed at stirring the emotions, the industry is run by hard-headed business people”. There have been a lot of no-age-statement (NAS) limited releases lately in the £70-£80 bracket, e.g. Glenmorangie Companta, Laphroaig An Cuan Mor, and Talisker Friends of Classic Malts. People have been metaphorically scrapping to get their hands on them and spitting feathers if they didn’t (the Friends of Laphroaig comment section after the the An Cuan Mor sold out was pretty ugly). So don’t be surprised to see that price point rise. But with Companta we have a rare example of circumstantial evidence of exploitation and, as far as I can tell (in the trade and on the whisky forums), no one actually cares.

“Having eyes, see ye not?”

KJV Bible, Mark, 8:18

So buy the Companta if you will. If it’s for investment purposes it will probably accrue (ahem, as long as we aren’t experiencing a bubble). But if it’s for drinking, at least buy it with open eyes!

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3 thoughts on “If

  1. So, did you not enjoy the taste of Companta then? I enjoyed it. I like the way it changes a few times the longer you let it sit in the glass – not just developing, but moving around quite a lot.

    The vatting for Companta is roughly 60% Clos de Tart and 40% Rasteau casks, so it’s a little more than “some dessert wine finished whisky”. Bear in mind also that Dr Bill has talked about having around 29 new products in the development pipeline – coupled with his interest in wine (and presumably his love of schmoozing vignerons over dinner – and why not?) is it out of the question that they’ve got a bunch of different Burgundy casks on the go? And while we’re on the topic, the winning Taghta candidate was aged in Manzanilla casks – this year’s Feis Ile bottling of Ardbeg also used Manzanilla, and imparted a wonderfully “different” savoury note to the whisky which many felt provided a lovely bit of texture to the flavour lineup coming out of that distillery. Are you going to enlighten us to the conspiracy that Dr Bill bought LOADS of Manzanilla casks at the same time so must’ve gotten some sort of discounted price, but yet they’re STILL charging full price for the whisky that was aged in them?!

    I suppose my point is: interesting story, mild correlation, shonky conclusion. But, cheers for writing it!

  2. Jason, thanks for your comment. Since I wrote this article some other facts have come to my attention. I don’t know if these would persuade you that there is more than a ‘mild correlation’ here.

    Bill Lumsden is on record as saying that the Clos de Tart matured whisky used in Companta was ‘too austere’ and needed a companion to ’round things out’:

    “After a long development process of blending the casks together in different quantities, a kick from Gillian to stop playing with the whisky settled Bill on a recipe (60% Clos de Tart, 40% Rasteau), and after six months of marrying Glenmorangie Companta was born.”

    http://blog.thewhiskyexchange.com/2014/01/glenmorangie-companta-private-collection-v/

    The Cask Masters winner was announced on 1st August last year, i.e. around six months ago. This only affirms for me that the same whisky that was rejected in the vote went into Companta. The quote above, though, does also suggest that Lumsden had already been experimenting with various possibilities.

    Another thing worth noting is a slight sulphur note to the Burgundy cask finished whisky that I picked up at the Cask Masters tasting, affirmed by one or two others there. Some online reviews attribute a hint of sulphur to Companta. Again, not compelling on it’s own, but another correlative fact.

    Lastly, a friend of mine twice asked Glenmorangie directly, via their Twitter feed, if the Companta does partly comprise the rejected casks from the Cask Masters event. He didn’t receive any response.

    The Burgundy cask whisky isn’t terrible. However it is slightly sulphured and, at least at the very well attended tasting that I was at, it garnered a single vote. My issue with it therefore, as I made clear, is that I suspect it has since been bundled into Companta. A release that, remember, is the successor to Jim Murray’s Whisky of the Year 2014 and was sold at a significant (though yet to be determined) premium to the winner of the Cask Masters event.

    Even if you wish to maintain an academic doubt about the provenance of the whisky in Companta, you must acknowledge that I caveated my article heavily, right down to the title. All I am trying to do, ultimately, is present some circumstantial evidence and allow others to draw their own conclusions about: the integrity of the Cask Masters event; and the price of the Companta. I feel too many ‘reviews’ are simply cosy adverts these days and we need to call out when we suspect exploitation.

  3. I picked up a bottle of Companta at the recent spirit release and it was in my opinion overwhelmingly sulphured. To the point where I feel it’s undrinkable. It’s confusing to me because I love so many of Glenmorangie’s range. But I will be trying to return this if the retailer will take it back.

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