I can’t do any preamble, and I won’t spend too long on this subject. I’m simply too annoyed with this label. Firstly, what is terroir? I’ll tell you. Terroir is the interaction of microclimate, soil, variety and place – and its influence on a plant. That’s it. Literally, that’s it. Not difficult.
Why, then, did some joker in GlenDronach’s marketing department make themselves and the whisky industry look silly about the more intellectual elements of the drinks industry by writing this on the bottle label:
“A richly sherried 10 year old expression, matured in the finest Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez Spanish Oak casks, to encapsulate the heritage and terroir of the Forgue.”
Speak to many a French winegrower, where the idea of terroir is so ingrained in their lives, and suggest the above, and they would likely hit you over the head with a baguette, and you’d deserve it too.
You can’t encapsulate terroir with a bit of wood. You can not try and blend a bit of terroir in this way. Terroir simply is.
To even attempt to encapsulate the terroir of the Forgue, a valley in which the distillery is located, one has to know what the terroir is and how that influences flavour. Terroir is about the land, the climate, the environment, and the influence that has on the plant, how it grows – and the flavours that the plant will then give you from all of those variables.
Is it local barley? No. That’s provenance, that’s knowing where you get your ingredients from, which is a very good step of course. But then you still have to be able to capture that given site with a view to terroir – which is to say, you don’t mix your grain up for a start, you keep that individuality all the way from the field to barrel, and you’re able to contrast it with other drinks that you make.
Look it up anywhere online, go on, just a quick google, and you’ll find it derives from the French, ‘land’ – or, in Latin, terratorium. So unless someone has gone out, understood the entire soil profile of the valley, the geology, the aspect, the slope, the position, the topography, understood the weather patterns and microclimate, recorded all of this, then grown barley crops specifically here, distilled those crops separately, recorded the flavours they got off it, to fully understand how that land expresses itself, and maybe then, and only then, could someone possibly begin to consider how to artificially recreate that terroir – and even then it would still be an absurd idea.
This is so far the first and only significant sounding of the bullshit alarm for GlenDronach, since the takeover a few years back, but I still love them. They’re usually ever so good and make some lovely whiskies. So I will give them the benefit of the doubt, and put this down to some work experience kid in the marketing department trying to sex-up a dreary label with a bit of French. (And I’ve not even started on the word heritage.)
Anyway, what’s it taste like?
GlenDronach Forgue Review
Colour: old gold, quite pale for this distillery.
On the nose: pleasant, but feels like some old casks used here; olive oil, grassy, dried apricots. Caramel, burnt toffee. Touch of ginger, golden syrup, black tea. A little citrus. Doesn’t feel especially typical of the distillery, but it’s rather nice.
In the mouth: oily again, the robust GlenDronach spirit carrying it through, but it isn’t as complex as the nose suggested. Flavours fade far too quickly. Baked apple, ginger, golden syrup. Heather honey. A cereal component; slightly hoppy. Vanilla is the order of the day, quite creamy, milk chocolate, creme brulee, some warming spices, nutmeg and the returning ginger and pepper on the finish.
Pretty good. Disappointing for a GlenDronach fan, which I am, but it’s hard to put out a bad single malt when the spirit is generally well-made. A casual punter might enjoy this at £60 for a litre though, so if you’re browsing in Travel Retail and searching for reviews online, stumble across my utter nonsense above, skip to the bottom, then I’d say this whisky is worth a go.
Just take a Sharpie to the label and cross out terroir, would you?
I think you may be focusing a bit too much on the growth of the plant while explaining terroir. It can perfectly be the airborn yeast that helps to create gueuze beers (which doesn’t enter through the plant), or the specific architecture of sherry bodegas that help to shape their wines for instance. Terroir is what makes a product from a certain location unique, but not necessarily through the plant! (keeping the door open for whisky distilleries to claim some terroir because of their coastal location, for instance)
That said, I agree there’s nothing here that would indicate elements that are unique to the Forgue area.
I spent a day in the field with a lady who has many degrees in terroir. She would profoundly disagree! Nothing to do with buildings, certainly not distilleries. That’s location. Or character. It’s just not terroir in any sense. Not by any winemaker’s definition either, surely.
Terroir is 100% plant focussed and it’s completely measurable.
A baguette to your head!
I wouldn’t want to disagree with your Terroirist, but even in winemaking circles there is debate as to whether the conditions within the maturation cellars and their natural flora (yeast, etc.) constitute part of the terroir or not. With purists arguing that if anything the addition to the final flavour at this stage are only masking real terroir-driven flavours, hence should not be included within the definition. To be fair the concept itself is really driven by mono-cépage (single varietal) wines made from grapes which are hypersensitive to their environment – something difficult to argue Barley is. So the argument really is – is whisky terroir the same as wine terroir?
“even in winemaking circles there is debate as to whether the conditions within the maturation cellars and their natural flora (yeast, etc.) constitute part of the terroir or not” – there maybe debate by some people, just like there’s debate about whether or not the earth is flat in other circles, but it doesn’t make it anything to do with the terroir. It maybe an effect afterwards, as you suggest the purists argue. But it’s nothing to do with the plant.
“something difficult to argue Barley is” – why? What makes you say this? Terroir has already been shown in barley for beer in the US. Waterford Distillery is working right now on a major academic project with Oregon State University and UCC in Ireland to demonstrate it in barley for distilled spirits (sensory, environmental and gas chromatography). Though you can even taste it when you compare different terroirs, subtly, but quite easily.
“Is whisky terroir the same as wine terroir?” Terroir is terroir. Barley, grape, bananas, oranges, apples… plant. It is the affect of environmental factors *on a plant*, its growth, its expression, and the flavour compounds for any given growing season. Naturally plants will interpret the terroir in different ways, hence even variety is considered.
Barley is very adaptable and can grow in a wide range of conditions. Whole barley grain consists of about 65% to 68% starch, 10% to 17% protein, 4% to 9%β‐glucan, 2% to 3% free lipids, and 1.5% to 2.5% minerals. Nitrogen (and to a lesser degree sulphur) levels in the soil effect protein content with high protein content impacting upon carbohydrate (sugar) availability. In beer these proteins go a long way to contributing to flavour, mouthfeel, head retention etc – another aspect to consider in beer brewing is roasting of the barley (like coffee beans), may have more impact on final flavour (as do hops, water and yeast strains). The major changes in grain constituents will occur due to genetic manipulation (i.e. barley variety) genetic lack of specific enzymes which chnage the chemical composition of the stored starch. During the malting and fermentation process the microbiota; bacteria and fungi carried on the barley (is that Terroir or not?) will contribute a great deal – possibly more so than the differences in grain constituents as they will fluctuate during the malting process and contribute biochemically to the breakdown of starch and proteins. Finally after distillation most of these proteins and minerals remain in the pot ale – not the distillate. I’d be very surprised if your GC analysis at spirit stage is pretty much detecting changes occurring during malting and fermentation though would love to see if you could correlate them back to specific alterations in grain composition… or phenotype of the plant *straps on baguette-proof helmet just in case*. Taking a wider view of terroir as a concept referring to the character (rather than the literal translation which would only apply to your grains and not your distillate) the major impacts of local environmental factors upon whisky flavour occurs during fermentation, distillation and cask maturation in the warehouse – processes that mostly occur within the distillery.
You wrap up a few odd claims among that barley information. 17% protein is useless to a distiller for example. And yes, you’re right about nitrogen – the high proteins/beta glucan fuck up the distilling equipment. (Scientific term.)
In what you say, you miss all the other variables that affect flavour formation: climate (most important), soil (second) all of which influence the rate of nutrient uptake, grain fill, and more besides. Microbiota? Absolutely that’s terroir. Some soils have more microorganisms than others (especially organic and biodynamic). Terroir is all of these things when broken down. But wouldn’t it be great to actually acknowledge and *learn*?
Re: project. It’s a major academic project in association with two major universities in two countries and the Irish government, using independent micro distillations and micro malting, in strict lab conditions, two varieties of barley grown in two different locations, over different years going forward, so that only the terroirs are speaking. Because naturally sceptics as I understand you to be, a denier perhaps(?!) on the subject, would naturally come to that as the first line of attack.
And you’re right barley is adaptable – as are any plants. You can grow a lot of things in a lot of different places; as any gardener would tell you. But some places are more favourable than others, for barley – as it is a plant – and this one will find better yielding but also better quality barley in some places rather than others. Not enough people talk about that: in theory, English and Irish barley would be way better than Scottish because it is a more favourable climate. A better spirit produced from it? (If by better we mean more compounds.) I’d be asking those questions. As maltsters and breeders were asking of barley over 100 years ago.
Is that something you’d accept?
And why would you not want to investigate that further? Find out what combinations make things more flavoursome? To have the spirit of exploration? To be inquisitive, to want to know and understand how the environment shapes any crop’s spirit?
It sounds like distillation is your issue, so what about makers of eau du vie? You’d get more than a baguette to the head if you told them their spirits were the same as the bloke in the next village, regardless of terroir!
It isn’t to say that the pursuit of terroir is good or bad: it’s neutral in and of itself. This isn’t saying anyone who isn’t interested in their raw material sources is bad (which would be most of the industry anyway). Though naturally one might wonder why people do tend to ignore the *quality* of their raw material. Think how interesting the industry could be!
Come to Waterford – have a play with these new make spirits, the different terroirs captured in spirit form. Different varieties, years, farms, casks, watching the subtleties develop on their own terms… you’ll have fun. You tell us if you can’t detect any difference using that good old tool in the middle of your face.
No baguettes involved.
(I’ll ignore that last statement on ‘wider’ terroir though. Because it isn’t terroir!)
Frankly, question the veracity of the 5 star reviews.
Decent enough flavour but hidden behind far too much ‘burn’ for a £100 bottle.
Many, many, many better options out there. Accept “better” is a subjective term for a drink, but really do believe this should rest down low in any bona fide lists of top likes.
1.5 stars because of daft price for what you get.
Without going too far into the question of terroir it is important to remember that terroir is a combination of soil and weather in a singular location. In effect terroir will make its presence felt from year to year. Only when winemakers minimize intervention and allow the vintage and the soil to speak do you get what they call gout de terroir in the wines and allow the vagaries of the vintage to express itself. To talk about terroir in a malt whisky you will need for the source of the barley to be consistent from year to year and to produce a different whisky from year to year. The closest a distillery can get to terroir is make vintage dated whisky. The moment you blend whiskies from different years and different ages, especially to get a consistant product, the concept of terroir no longer exists.
Hi Mahmoud. Thanks for stopping by. When distilleries make a vintage dated whisky they will speak of the year of distillation – perhaps legally with Scotch regulations? – which could contain barley not only from any old place (indeed, the same as each other) but from different years potentially too, I might think. This is largely due to their approach to distilling any barley.
But I might quibble philosophically with your point about the concept of terroir no longer existing – as long as one can source different terroirs, and provably distill them individually, and keep them individually, then they become ingredients. Is one point of terroir also not to capture distinct flavours? And should one not experiment with combining the different terroirs over the years if flavour becomes a point of interest? Indeed, it is not capturing a single year, but if one assumes terroir is about – for the sake of arguing – capturing the flavours of the land in any given year, then surely combining them in a greater assemblage gives something interesting perhaps? Although I do agree – it is best to keep things as vintages.
Apologies for wading in unbidden, but I’d also add that the overwhelming majority of Champagnes are blended from a range of different vintages, Mahmoud, and their makers would baguette your head with extreme prejudice if you told them that their wines didn’t express terroir.
How do I get a one litre glendoranch 10 years bottle at my Resi in India, uttarpradesh, Lucknow, pin 226005