Through the kaleidoscope

William M. Dowd photos

Sometimes a swirl/sip/spit tasting doesn't do the spirit or wine justice. That's when it's time to whip out the kaleidoscope.

Not the iconic toy used to dazzle youngsters with color displays. In this case, it's something Dr. Bill Lumsden (right) came up with to help samplers of his whiskies from The Glenmorangie distillery broaden their experience.

Lumsden, Glenmorangie's head of distilling and whisky creation, and his associates went beyond the usual palate expressions for their tasting to bring the whole sense experience into play. The categories of the "kaleidoscopic tasting" process are:

• Refreshing and cooling
• Luscious and tropical
• Stimulating and zesty
• Mellow and mature
• Warming and vibrant
• Velvety and sumptuous
• Comforting and silky
• Mellow and mature

The tasting is accompanied by a slide-show that adds a visual aspect to the event along with strong suggestions for the palate.

Here's how it works, using "refreshing and cooling" as an example.

Look for the cooling notes, a touch of mint, a touch of cool green in the color, a hint of pear in the top notes. The slide-show accompanying the tasting provides complementary images such as a woman with cool water running over her hair, and a fresh sprig of mint.

Or, looking for the "luscious and tropical" aspects of the whisky, the on-screen images show a heavily-lipsticked set of pouty lips, a ripe peach, the silhouette of a palm tree against a sunset.

I participated in such a tasting last week in Louisville, KY. The four-whisky sampling set included the original Glenmorangie, the 18 Years Old expression, The LaSanta and Astar, the newest whisky in the portfolio.

Bearing Lumsden's guidance in mind, here's what I experienced:

Original Glenmorangie: This expression is light both in color and on the palate, with ethereal floral notes that open more when a few drops of water are added. Bold vanilla mixed with herbals of mint, fennel and thyme, as well as a bit of mild orange and a comforting warmth.

18 Years old: This is the "big brother" of the original, 100% of it aged in ex-bourbon casks for 15 years, then 30% of it re-racked in ex-olorosso sherry casks, then blended. It has very pungent floral notes, topped by jasmine along with honey and lemon. With water the oiliness is released along with lots of leather, honey and nuttiness. Long aftertaste and clingy mouthfeel.

The LaSanta:The name is Gaelic for warmth or passion, and the taste reflects it. After at least 10 years' aging in bourbon wood, this single malt gets extra time in ex-sherry casks, usually two years. Its gorgeous amber color set up the palate for a quick burst of toffee, cocoa and caramel, along with the tang of allspice and cinnamon. Water releases an acidic balsamic note, followed by those of walnuts and hazelnuts. The finish is slightly oily with a peppery edge and lingering touches of mace, vanilla and guava.

Astar:The name is Gaelic for journey. There is a surprising burst of white chocolate in the nose, along with some pineapple and menthol. With water, more spices plus hints of balsamic and coconut flavors play around the edges. Although this whisky is very spicy, there is no unpleasant bite. Nuttiness, vanilla, creme brulee all come to mind. I find this the closest thing to bourbon in the Glenmorangie portfolio.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to sample a somewhat different lineup of Glenmorangie whiskies at a private tasting session in Manhattan. Two in particular stood out:

• Quinta Ruban: This whisky has been aged in used bourbon barrels, then transferred for extra aging in port barrels. The result is a lovely combination of the essences that make bourbon so unique as well as the additional smoothing from the port-soaked wood.It envelops the tongue in a warm, smooth coating then moves on to release notes of chocolate, caramel and even a touch of mint. The complexity of flavors and aromas make this a whisky worth lingering over.

Nectar D'Or: From aging in ex-bourbon barrels to finishing in used sauternes casks makes for an unusual result. Sauternes is a sweet, delicate French wine, usually served as a dessert wine, made from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, the "noble rot.'' Thus, the characteristics it imparts to the 10-year-old Scotch during the two-year extra aging process are truly unique. The Nectar D'Or contains some of the distinct flavor notes of the partially raisined Sauternes wine, with a pleasing golden color. Fruit, honey, a touch of spice and a long, lingering finish make this a desireable whisky.

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