Glenmorangie is a distillery located in the northern Highlands, close to the town of Tain on the Dornoch Firth estuary. The distillery and its brand name are world famous and they produce some of the globe's biggest selling whiskies there. The distillery was opened in 1843 and is now owned by multi national drinks giant, Moet Hennessy. Glenmorangie is one of Scotland's largest whisky distilleries, producing 4 million litres per year, and has the tallest set of stills in Scotland with each one standing over 5 metres (16.5 feet) tall. This height also means that only the purest and lightest spirit reaches the condenser and get collected for maturation.
Glenmorangie has a large core range of whisky. The Sonnalta (which means 'generous' or 'liberal' in Gaelic) is the first in a series of special releases that will be exclusively sold in the Duty Free/travel retail sector. The series is named 'Private Expressions' and this whisky has been matured in bourbon casks for 10 years and then transferred to Pedro Ximinez sherry casks for a further year. Pedro Ximinez is a very sweet grape variety that originated on the Canary Islands and was bought over to Jerez on the mainland of Spain by a man called Pedro Ximinez in the 16th century. He went on to produce a very sweet, dark and sticky style of sherry that is still made today. Sonnalta was released approximately two months ago, initially in South East Asia (which is where we picked up our bottle), and is now available in Duty Free stores around the world. A bottle should cost around £70 for a litre, dependant on the local exchange rate.
The colour is a lovely rich golden brown and the nose is fantastic. It is delicate with a combination of caramel-like sweetness, dried fruits (think of raisins and candied orange peel) and something dark (imagine high cocoa chocolate and espresso coffee). Vanilla is there also, as is some sweet malted barley. On the palate this explodes on your tongue and is full bodied, viscous and creamy. An intense pleasant sugary burst hits the front of your tongue and dies slowly to reveal the elements from the nose. It has a great mixture of vanilla, caramel (think of dark brown sugar), dried fruits (some apricot this time as well), a distinct nuttiness (imagine coconut), slightly bitter dark chocolate and coffee and, strange as it may sound, a tropical fruit element (something like mango or papaya). This tropical note carries on in the lengthy finish, which is just as intensely sweet, complex and fruity as the nose and palate. Some cinnamon spice comes through towards the end.
Sonnalta is a top quality whisky. There is so much going on and fighting for your attention on the nose, palate and finish yet it remains balanced. It has the feeling of a good dessert wine and would be great to have as an after dinner drink and sit with it long into the night. The initial sugary sweetness may not be to everyone's taste but a drop of water opens Sonnalta up well, taking it to an even higher level in my opinion. This is a real 'try before you die' whisky. Fantastic stuff.