Tequila goes upscale in this roundup
It’s dusted itself off, cleaned up its act, and is hoping you might give it a second chance. Though it didn’t earn the nickname, “te-killya” for nothing, the blanco, reposado and añejo tequila coming out of Jalisco today, made from 100 percent blue agave, bears no resemblance to the embalming fluid you (perhaps reluctantly) knocked back in your student days (be those university, high school or grade school). Here are a few upscale numbers recently enjoyed (neat, I might add).
Guys looking to hate George Clooney for yet another reason now have this: he has his own tequila. Gals looking for Mr Hunko’s autograph now have a way to get it: it’s on his own tequila bottle. Clooney and Co.’s blanco offers up very clean, fresh, fragrant aromatics with suggestions of green apple, gunflint, citrus, cracked pepper and mint. Elegant and smooth, with fresh agave, a touch of citrus, and a gentle smoky/mineral finish.
The Casamigos reposado strikes a nice balance between subtle wood notes and clean herbal/floral notes. 7 months resting in ex-whisky barrels imparts hints of sandalwood and cedar, with some underlying nutmeg and toffee, but there’s also a crisp, bright, almost pine needle-like freshness to it. Fairly gentle and refined on the palate, with typical peppery notes, a dash of caramel, and a moderately long finish suggesting tobacco leaf. Classy and refined. An añejo version has recently been added to the Casamigos family.
Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Blanco
Certified USD organic, Dulce Vida tequilas are distilled from Pacific Coast highland agave and bottled at a strength the producer feels allows more of the true agave flavour to shine through. They must be on to something considering the number of awards these tequilas have racked up. The blanco earned a Double Gold Medal when it made its debut at the 2010 World Spirits Competition.
Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Reposado
Few tequilas on the market are bottled at much more than 40 per cent ABV, but the higher octane does seem to enhance the Dulce Vida line. A dash of water to cut the heat slightly also helps unlock aromas, in this case, a slightly resinous character with hints of underbrush, wet earth, sweet agave, cut grass, and spicy wood. Rich and complex in the mouth, with an engaging combination of sweet agave, citrus, hot pepper, and minty/grassy notes.
Dulce Vida Premium Organic Tequila Añejo
Complex aromas of mint, cinnamon, cola, ginger, toasted nuts, earth, mushroom, honey, caramel, and, still detectable among the mosaic of aromas, fresh agave. Smooth and viscous on the palate, with hints of vanilla, traces of oak, fresh herbs, mild smoke, and a dash of ground pepper. Nice warmth on the long, smooth finish.
This well-priced reposado spends 2 months (the legal minimum) “resting” in oak barrels. The relatively short time tied up in the warehouse may partially account for the price — but it also accounts for its fresh, slightly salty, agave-forward nose that also hints at lime and cut grass. White pepper, a mild smokiness, mint, herbs and sweet, cooked agave on the palate.
Hornitos Black Barrel
The concept of “finishing” a spirit in unique barrels is old hat to the whisky world, but now it’s seeping into other realms, like rum and tequila. The newest offering from Hornitos takes añejo tequila (oak aged for 12 months) and introduces it to deeply charred barrels for 4 months, then into toasted oak barrels for a final 2 months. The result is rather unique. Whisky notes are definitely there (caramel, toasted oak), but they don’t mask the baked agave aromas. Cherry/vanilla cola, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper also make appearances. Zippy spice in the mouth, along with sweet/smoky oak, tobacco leaf, caramel, and cooked agave nuances.
Though it doesn’t say it on the label (yet), the Omega tequilas are distilled from organically grown blue agave. The blanco is quite intense on the nose, with forward aromas of wet stone, anise, chilli pepper, and some underlying herbaceous elements. Clean and smooth with a medium to full body, it’s mildly earthy and quite intense overall, with a slight — and not unpleasant — touch of bitterness on the finish.
Nice complexity here, with some nutty/briny nuances complementing the somewhat smoky/vanilla profile. The impact of the wood maturation is subtle, though evident, with hints of caramel and sweet vanilla trailing off into mineral-tinged end notes.
The additional wood maturation makes its presence known in the guise of caramel, cinnamon, and cocoa powder, with the vegetal/agave notes playing second fiddle. Supple and slightly oily in texture, the flavours mirror the aromas, with caramel, vanilla, and cocoa all present, along with a dash of what might be a trace of caraway seed.
In keeping with the Patrón style, the overall impression here is of a reposado that emphasizes a fresh, almost fruity aromatic profile rather than the more common earthy/mushroom footprint. There’s also a hint of fresh herbs, and a subtle dash of mineral. Crisp, clean, and smooth, with some fresh agave, a touch of cut grass, and a dash of fennel. A faint whisper of oak and a dash of white pepper are detectable of the long, intense finish.
Gran Patrón Burdeos Añejo
The Gran Patrón line takes the term “luxury” to a bit of a new level (and into the mid-to-upper-triple-digit price range). The Burdeos spends 12 months in a combination of American and French oak. It is then redistilled and re-matured in vintage Bordeaux barrels. A very distinctive smoky, orange peel, tobacco, caramel, and cooked agave aromatic profile. Perfectly balanced, it shows spicy/woody notes, traces of vanilla, dark chocolate, and caramel. However, the unmistakable clean agave notes are still there. Incredibly smooth and long on the finish.
Gran Patrón Piedra Extra Añejo
Juice for this super-luxury añejo is extracted from the cooked agave piñas using the centuries-old Tahona process, which breaks down the agave fibers via a 2-tonne volcanic rock wheel. The distillate is then aged for over 3 years (hence the “extra” part) in new American and French oak casks. Mild cedar, polished wood, and black pepper/chilli pepper all show up on the nose. The palate, as expected, is velvety smooth with spicy/woody Cognac/Armagnac notes and a hint of tobacco and sweet caramel. Incredibly well balanced with a long, moderately dry finish.
What’s in a NOM?
If you look closely at the labelling of a bottle of tequila, you’ll come across a somewhat cryptic alphanumeric code; specifically, the letters NOM followed by a series of numbers (NOM 1102, NOM 1431, NOM 1536, etc.). ¿Qué pasa?
Well, the NOM is the Official Mexican Standard of Tequila (full name NOM-006-SCFI-2005). Regulated by the Mexican government, the NOM is to tequila what the VQA, DOC and AOC are to wine. In a nutshell, the NOM lays down the standards for the legal production of tequila, including geographical delimitations, production techniques, testing methods, quality control and so forth.
While this is a good indicator for consumers as to the authenticity of the hooch in the bottle, where things get interesting is tracing the number of tequila brands associated with a single NOM. For example, the Don Camilo, Tres Manos, Santos, and Tepeyac brands (among others) are all made by Fabrica de Tequilas Finos, S.A. de C.V.
This can help explain why certain similarities can be found among tequila brands that (apparently) have nothing to do with each other. It also makes claims such as “individual,” “unique,” and “artisanal” somewhat suspect when it is revealed that a tequila trumpeted as such is made in the same facility as half a dozen other brands.