This was meant to be a nice, straightforward sort of review. “Here’s a Glengoyne, it’s 21 years old, it’s bottled by Cadenhead’s and somehow or other it hasn’t already been dissected by Jason. Smells like this, tastes like this, costs this much, mark out of 10.”
I’d probably have thrown in a cheap laugh – or at least had a crack at a cheap laugh. Something or other about the funny phrasing in the Glengoyne brochure when I visited. That sort of thing. But in truth there’s been a lot of preambulation to my posts lately (not that that’s a bad thing per se) and I was rather looking forward to doing something simpler, and enjoying an extra hour of free time in which to do something useful. Such as bingeing Netflix and eating crisps.
And then Jason reviewed this Auchroisk. (So don’t blame me for this preamble, blame him.)
Some way down you’ll find a paragraph that begins thus: “This Auchroisk has spent around 8 years in a Château Lafite cask.” (Alright, he wrote “Chateau”, but it hurts my wine merchant soul to spell “château” without its hat-eau.) Anyway, at this point the editor – no idea whether it was Jason or Mark – cuts in with “[ed – Cadenhead’s constantly misspell this as “Lafitte”]. [extra ed – it was Mark]
As a practicing pedant I’d noticed that apparent typo myself. And, as it happened, this Glengoyne had been partially matured in a wine cask, also from “Lafitte”. We discussed the misspelling on Malt’s top-secret digital hideout amongst much sarcasm and clever-clever ribaldry. I’d even planned to spell the bottler as “Caddenhead’s” throughout this review. Which – obviously – would have been hilarious…
But as Baker Street’s most famous ex-inhabitant teaches us, one should never assume anything. And something about the misspelling had me scratching my head. After all, the Auchroisk wasn’t the first time Cadenhead’s had written “Lafitte” – they’d had previous form with a 19 year old Glengoyne. So why such belligerence when it came to ignoring autocorrect? Once might be a mistake, twice might be careless, but three times was surely deliberate.
And then there was the description on Master of Malt when I’d brought the bottle. “From two hogsheads: one that had previously held bourbon, and another from a renowned French wine estate.” Other websites had written “Lafite”, and the bottle itself read: “Lafitte”, so why such a coy writeup from the usually-so-ballsy MoM?
My nostrils were practically clogged with the stench of rodent, so I googled “Château Lafitte”.
“Did you mean Château Lafite?”
I swore at google for trying to be helpful, and clicked “show results for Château Lafitte”. The first link was the Wikipedia page for Lafite – effing SEO – but the second link was this.
Egad! Château Lafitte exists. A £20-a-pop estate in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux. Other side of the river from Lafite, and presumably Merlot-led, rather than Cabernet-forward. But, most significantly, well under a tenth the price-per- bottle. (Not that I’m calling £20-a-throw vino “cheap”, you understand.)
So, questions raised, of which there are several. Firstly, which château has Cadenhead’s been buying its casks from? Secondly, if it has been buying them from the more famous “Lafite”, why have they consistently misspelled it? After all, where it’s been on sale from other merchants, the one-T spelling has stood.
Thirdly, and here we slosh into murkier waters, if the casks have been bought from the humbler Château Lafitte, are we consumers supposed to assume a misspelling has been made? As in: is this an attempt to make us keener to purchase the whiskies, erroneously believing them to have done time in the ritziest casks in Bordeaux?
If the casks are indeed Lafitte then, strictly speaking, Cadenhead’s are under no obligation whatsoever to elucidate further. They have openly and transparently given the name of the château on the label of their whisky bottles, and people have bought accordingly. They haven’t made up a story or a faux-heritage, and if the barrels were from one-T Lafite, an accompanying explanation wouldn’t be expected.
But – and I’m not belittling Lafitte here in any way – one wonders whether Cadenhead’s might have bought barrels from them predominantly because of their verbal closeness to a four-figures-per-bottle superstar. It isn’t as though Bordeaux is short on châteaux to buy from; 7,375 wineries are available by google’s estimation. And at least 7,374 of those aren’t especially confusable with Lafite.
None of this means that you’re getting an “inferior whisky”. And, as I say, if the barrels do indeed come from Lafitte, then Cadenhead’s have – technically – been completely transparent. Albeit they’ve caused a fair bit of confusion, wilfully or otherwise. Personally I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt – they’re good eggs, the Cadenhead’s lot – but I’d love to know whether someone has a definite answer!
The point of all this, as it so often is, is that you, dear whisky-drinking reader, must bear responsibility for fact checking. Because it will so rarely be done for you by the companies who make, bottle and sell. Cadenhead’s are about as straight-laced, upfront and transparent as it gets, yet enough fog has still descended here to warrant a 900-word investigative intro.
Caveat emptor, ladies and gentlemen. Question everything. If something doesn’t look, feel, smell, taste, or sound right, it almost certainly isn’t.
But let’s see what it tastes like, wherever they’ve sourced their casks from. Bottled from two hogsheads – one ex-bourbon, one ex-claret – at a cask strength of 52.9%. Mine cost £75, but it’s probably only available on auction sites now.
Cadenhead’s Glengoyne 21 years old – review
Colour: Dark. Middle-aged bourbon.
On the nose: Cask dominates. Huge wine and oak. Tangy cranberries, cassis, fruity meat jus
and balsamic vinegar. Drier aspects of dusky walnut-wood furniture and leather. Sweetness comes from marzipan and golden syrup. Fruitcake. They’ve caught this just in time – indeed the bourbon cask may have balanced out any excessiveness from the claret.
In the mouth: The fruit takes a firmer hand than the oak here. Red and black fruits to the
fore, with some apricot, peach and even dried mango in the background. The bourbon cask says a lot more for itself here than on the nose. Coconut, nutmeg and clove. Loads of spice actually, and again the balance is cracking. Just a little poke from the booze. Long, fruity finish.
This is one of those rather stately whiskies that calls for a wingback chair, a hearth and a golden retriever. Alas I have none of those things, though my soul yearns for the latter. Fans of wine casks will have an absolute blast, but that palate brings it back into touch for those who don’t like their drams to be total wine/sherry-bombs. It’s a class act.
I’d like to know the answer to our “Two T Problem”, but it’s lovely whisky either way. And really, demanding all wine casks to have formerly held the likes of Lafite or d’Yquem smacks of slight snobbishness. After all, we don’t ask which bodegas our sherry casks come from, or which distilleries provided the ex-bourbon hoggies. (Though we probably should.) In any case, First Growth casks can’t cover up rubbish spirit, and this Glengoyne is a beaut.
Two quick thoughts to end on. Firstly, reading about the legal battle between Lafitte and Lafite made me think of the newly-fought skirmish between Compass Box and Box Distillery. Speaking as a fan of both, I’m surprised and saddened at the position that Compass Box have taken; it seems contrary to their own ethos, and more-than-faintly ridiculous. I’m sure Bacardi are to blame, rather than the folk at Compass Box itself, but this of course is what happens when one makes one’s bed with major corporations. All support to Box, who will soon become High Coast – I expect their goodwill supplies have only increased in the last few weeks.
Secondly, you know what the real difference between Lafite and Lafitte is? The reason one is amongst the most lauded names in alcohol, and the other gets hidden by google? It’s actually a second ‘T’. Terroir.
More on that ‘T’ another time.
Lead image kindly provided by Abbey Whisky