Posts filed under Terroir

Does Single Malt Scotch Whisky Express True Terroir?

Is there a useful definition of terroir that has any real meaning for single malt Scotch whisky?

The concept of terroir was made famous by the French in marketing their wines (even though the Spanish had created local growing regions over 100 years earlier). This term is used to designate the unique qualities of a place as it affects the growth and final character of the grapevines planted there, their harvest of wine grapes, and the wine that results from that year’s harvest.

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Terroir is the unique fingerprint of a unique local place (even micro-plots within the same vineyard). It reflects its soil composition and chemistry, climate, weather, sun latitude, farming practices, craft, culture and history. Terroir tells how well a wine “expresses” the terroir of its constituent grapes, and enables the drinker to judge it unfavorably if he or she cannot discern any character indicating where it was made.

Yet when it comes to fine whisky, and here the focus will be on single malt Scottish drams, drinkers are unlikely to hear a description of the local terroir where the whisky was made. They are more likely to find descriptions based on flavor profiles that refer to qualities such as smokiness, honey, heather, nuttiness, peat, brine and grassiness.

All labeled single malt Scotch whisky must be made by a single distillery in Scotland. It must meet all legal requirements of being classified as a single malt offering (which may be a blend of selected spirits distilled at different times at that one distillery).

It is well known that most of the complex flavor of a single malt whisky comes from the interaction of the spirit in wood barrels through ageing for several years.

Does a fine spirit that derives anywhere between 2/3rds and 3/4ths of its final flavor from aging in wood casks have any right to claim it is in any real way influenced by its terroir? And could we taste any real difference?

This question was put to the test at a recent tasting at the Dillard Room in Seattle, Washington. Four offerings from Laphroaig were hosted by Simon Brooking, Master Ambassador, and Vicky Stevens, Master Blender. Sampled were Laphroaig’s classic Ten year old, Quarter Cask, Triple Wood, and Select (a new offering).

A lot of information can be gathered about these and other offerings, including excellent tasting notes and the colorful history of Laphroaig (founded in 1825 on Islay, Scotland), from the official Laphroaig website at

The tasting revealed that there was a recognizable flavor character underlying the individual flavor profiles across all four drams. This unique Laphroaig character forms the backbone of the distinct Laphroaig family tree, and is immediately recognizable within each dram with its combination of rich peat, hint of honey, briny iodine and nutty toasted barley.

While this character resembles other neighboring fine Islay whiskys such as Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Bruichladdich, as one might expect since they share many environmental similarities, nonetheless it is also distinct and has a unique and memorable quality all its own.

This back-to-back tasting confirmed this uniqueness as very real. Perhaps part of the secret to its unique character is the fact that Laphroaig not only uses local water from its glen but also is one of the only distilleries in Scotland using its own locally grown barley.

Combined with traditional small copper pot stills which are used to make the spirit and on-site ageing in select wooden casks in the cool and damp gray Scottish salty coast climate, one can identify the local Islay coastal terroir which is given fine expression in the various offerings from the Laphroaig single malt whisky family tree.

Even though much of the final whisky flavor is imparted through interaction with wood barrels in ageing, a unique family profile can still be identified. This profile is in part grounded in the specific local geologic, environmental and cultural history of the unique land, people and place where the barley is grown and the whisky is made.

The character of the local water, peat and influence of the nearby salty sea also add to the defining character of a particular distillery style. This unique family quality of Laphroaig’s character gives rise to some unexpected wonderful pairings with foods. For example, in addition to savoring it neat, the classic Ten Year Old pairs perfectly with Totten Island Virginica Oysters with their strong complex briny flavor profile.

Hence an expanded understanding of terroir is helpful both in appreciating the many offerings of a single distillery and in being able to identify the underlying family character, style and history they all have in common.

This local terroir based family identity is unique, recognizable and contributes to the present expression of the many complex qualities we value and prize in the resulting single malt Scotch whiskies.

While the individual flavor profiles of the four representative offerings from Laphroaig were easily identifiable, one can also recognize that they all belong to the Laphroaig family and share certain defining qualities we associate with that brand.

These include a unique combination of the local peat, smokiness from roasted local barley, brininess and iodine from proximity to the sea and an overall richness with balancing sweet notes from locally grown grains and cool wood barrel ageing.

One can instantly recognize a member of the long lineage of the Laphroaig family of fine Islay whiskies, and their fine expression of a unique terroir.

Fine whisky is not all in the wood. It is possible to define an authentic expanded notion of terroir which is expressed in unique styles of single malt Scottish distilleries and their family of offerings.

A definable regional single malt terroir gives rise to regional style similarities amongst unique whisky brand families, each with their own unmistakable styles.

And the entire world is that much the better for it.

Your Culinary World Copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel  2014

Where Will the Pope Live and His Guests Go to Dine After Resignation?

The world was shocked and very surprised when Pope Benedict XVI announced yesterday he is “retiring” from his duties as head of the Roman Catholic Church and leaving the Vatican. No pope has taken such an action in nearly 700 years – and then only in times of great conflict.

Among the many, many questions that such a decision rises is where will a living Pope reside (not to mention what will his title be). Currently Benedict is planning to retire on February 28th of this year to Castel Gandolfo, the grand historical papal summer palace, located in a small town of Castello about 15 miles southeast of Rome while he waits for his permanent Vatican apartments to be made ready.

Castello is a small town of just over 8,000 citizens perched above Lake Albano and is considered by many world travelers one of the most beautiful small cities in Italy. 

As you might guess, many of the small town’s residents serve in and/or work at the papal establishment that commands the heights above the lake. The religious property include 2 palaces (Papal and Barberini), apartment housing for 21 inhouse servants, an electrical plant, star observatory (Galileo would be happy), professional offices, farm buildings and animal stables.

Also contained in the complex are buildings in the Villa Cybo, set aside for the religious community of the Maestre Pie Filippini and their school, and two cloistered convents, housing the Poor Clare and Basilian Nuns.

So the Pope, as you can see, will not be exactly alone. As a world leader, many people, despite his stated desire to maintain a private life of quiet prayer, will want to seek his counsel and advice.

After meeting with the Pope, his many future visitors will not be left without aid and comfort for in Castello there is a remarkable restaurant that has been offering hospitality since 1882: The Ristorante Pagnanelli. 

This legendary restaurant is located next door to the Pope’s own villa and is now run by the fourth generation of the Giovanni Pagnanelli Family. Today Aurelio Mariani and his wife Jane along with their four sons continue a tradition that includes both heritage and innovation.  


And if, success is declared by how the rich and famous come quietly to dine on the remarkable cuisine here, than Pagnanelli can be very proud indeed of their guest list.

Besides the many heads of state and princes of the church that have confidentially booked a balcony table overlooking the Lake, such thoughtful artists as Daniel Day Lewis and Robert De Niro have greatly enjoyed dining here.

The view and the proximity to the Papal Estates certainly are attractions. But what may additionally draw guests to the Pagnanelli dining room is their culinary philosophy, which rests on two cardinal points.

First, every ingredient must be outstanding and purchased whenever possible from local farmers and producers, not to mention those sourced from the family’s own farms. Pagnanelli also changes their menu monthly to flow and connect with the seasons. 

Second, while honoring Italian culinary history, they are not afraid to seek innovation combinations, such as Ostriche Fin de Clair e Ostriche Noblesse and La Nassa dei Crostacei con Aragosta, Astice, Scampi e Mazzancolle. (Diners' Alert: the menu is only available in Italian). 

In short, this remarkable restaurant have endured, high on a mountain top, for over 100 years by never fearing the new while also respecting past traditions.

Perhaps this wise blend of both the tested and the innovative is a wise theme for the College of Cardinals in nearby Rome to consider as they seek to pick a new pope for the 21st Century.

It’s a philosophy that any wise chef knows will enable his restaurant to grow and to be part of modern life. This same philosophy of the old and the new could also guide and strengthen the contemporary church. Let us hope the Cardinals come to understand the feast that both life and spirituality can and should offer to all.

Post Note, February 13, 2013:

Vatican spokesman have revealed to the world’s waiting press that the final residence of Rome’s retiring Pope will be the Convent of Mater Ecclesiae – minus the good Sisters of the Community of the Visitation. The 20 year old four story building and gardens are central located right behind St Peter’s grand Basilica.

It will contain a complete home residence as well as contemporary chapel, kitchen gardens and a roof terrace overlooking Rome itself. Benedict, once dubbed the "Prada Pope" for his fondness for fine red designer loafers and haute-couture crafted vestments, directed that customized renovation on the Convent begin in November of last year.

While it is unknown what activities the Pope is planning to address in his retirement, it is well known he likes to stroll in sunny gardens. At Mater Ecclesiae he will have a chance to see the eggplant, zucchini and other vegetables planted by the Sister in the Convent's vegetable garden prior to their gracious departure. 

Nearby are also Spanish orange and lemon trees, whose fruit has been used in making the Vatican's legendary maria marmalade. One can only wonder if this Pope, who left before death's deadline, will ponder the complex nature of his legacy as he breakfasts on tea and toast high in his secluded garden world.  

Post Note, February 14, 2013:

Of interest to Vatican watchers was the information released today that the charming Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, the Pope's devoted private secretary, will remain his holiness' aide, residing with him at the renovated Convent of Mater Ecclesiae on the Vatican grounds. 

Eyebrows were, however, raised when it was also announced that Monsignor Gaenswein will also serve as Perfect of the new pope's household.

This position has long been regarded as that of gatekeeper as the Perfect maintains the pope's calendar and so controls who has access to the papal throne.

One can only wonder if the new pope will also be a fan of 'marmalade' or if he is allowed to prefer a different 'jam'.

Your Culinary World copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2013