THE TWELVE BEST NEW TEQUILAS YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD OF...YET
In Mexico, they’re referred to as Tequila Puro, while the United States we know them as 100% agave tequilas. The first sip of these luxurious spirits quickly reveals why they’ve captured the imagination of the American drinking public. They are so flavorful that you’re left with the unmistakable impression that this is how tequilas are meant to taste.
These are the best of times for tequila. Interest in the spirit has been nothing short of phenomenal propelling the category to grow a robust ten percent in 2006 in the United States, the steepest increase of the light liquors, outpacing the growth of vodka (6.7%) and rum (5.0%). Considering that the Mexican import constitutes only 5% of the American spirits market, there appears to be a tremendous opportunity for continued growth.
As their name suggests, 100% agave tequilas are single-ingredient products. They are distilled using nothing other than blue agave and a small amount of water. The majority of these tequilas are not overnight, one-hit wonders. Crafting great tequila is a labor- and time-intensive process. Agaves mature at their own pace irrespective of demand and taking short cuts during the production process consigns a tequila to mediocrity.
With the continuing growth of tequila, consumers are increasingly asking what’s the difference between the various brands. If they’re made from nothing but agave, how can there be such a huge disparity between quality, taste and selling price?
In reality, the differences between brands of 100% agave tequilas are years in the making. From cultivating agaves to the unbarreling an añejo, the production cycle can exceed 15 years. It is a time-honored process, one in which every decision made along the way ultimately will impact the tequila.
Production of tequila is most similar to that of Cognac. In each case, the distillation techniques are centuries old and both are distilled from expertly cultivated products—grape varietals or mature agaves. Both of these spirits are representative of their countries of origin. Tequila and cognac are both rooted in tradition and closely tied with their respective cultures.
It takes the agave between eight to twelve years to reach maturity and optimally is harvested when the plant’s natural sugar content has peaked at about 21-25 brix. The agave thrives in rich volcanic soil and a warm and dry climate. As it is with wine, the appellation and growing region the agaves were cultivated in is a point of distinction between brands.
The traditional method of baking agaves is in a large oven called an hornos. This slow process ensures that the agaves are properly cooked and that the sugars don’t caramelize. The technologically advanced method is to pressure-cook the agaves in large, stainless steel autoclaves. Here again are points of difference.
After baking, the agaves are taken to a crusher to extract the juice. The juice—called aguamiel—is separated from the crushed fibers and transferred to a fermentation tank. Water and yeast are added to start fermentation, a process that takes approximately 72-96 hours. Extending the period of fermentation is often cited as a qualitative difference.
The size, volume and exact shape of the still also affect how the finished tequila will taste. When tequila leaves the still, it is as clear as water. At this point, some of the tequila is sent on to be aged in oak, with the remainder being bottled as blanco or plata (silver) tequila.
Reposado (rested) tequila is aged in wood for a minimum of two months, although most remain in the wood four to eight months. Añejo tequila legally must be aged a minimum of one year in barrels 600 liters or smaller. Most añejo tequilas are aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Used oak barrels impart less tannin into the tequila and imbue the spirit with a subtle whiskey character.
The production of 100% agave tequilas is closely scrutinized by the government to ensure quality standards are strictly maintained. Seals are affixed to the opening of the barrels to certify that nothing is added to the tequila as it ages.
TEQUILAS IN THE LIME LIGHT
Nothing breeds success like success and tequila continues to be an impressive success story. From humble beginnings it has grown into a major international export and an expanding sector of the spirits industry in the United States. So is there a point where there are too many brands of premium tequilas on our shelves?
“Perhaps, but don’t start looking for that saturation point to come soon,” contends Rich Krumm, food and beverage director for the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group of New Orleans. “At one of our restaurants we carry 45 labels of tequila and they’re all extremely active. Tequila drinkers are different than, let’s say, vodka drinkers who find a brand they like and typically stick with that brand. Tequila aficionados are very open to trying new brands.”
Brendan Moylan, owner of Noonan’s Bar & Grill in Larkspur, CA, agrees that tequila enthusiasts thrive on the sense of discovery. “Stocking new brands is a significant sales driver. We carry over 300 labels of tequila and invest in new brands when they enter the market. I’m a devoted fan off 100% agave tequilas, and like most, I appreciate getting an opportunity to sample a new line of tequilas. It’s an enriching experience.”
The past year or so has seen the introduction of a number of new brands of 100% agave tequilas. These are super-premium products in price and degree of excellence. Their impeachable quality suggests extending them V.I.P. treatment—snifters and chilled cocktails glasses versus serving in a tall slushy concoction. Tasting flights and elegant cocktails are also ideal paths to introduce these new players to your guests.
So who’s at the head of the class? Here’s our list of the twelve best new tequilas that you may not have heard of…yet.
• 4 COPAS — Made at La Quemada Distillery in the lowlands of Jalisco, 4 Copas is a masterfully crafted line of organic, super-premium tequilas. The blanco is filtered and bottled immediately after distillation. It has a wafting bouquet and a delectable palate of lemon zest and white pepper. Aged for nine months in American white oak, 4 Copas Reposado is graced with an array of orange, honey and ripe fruit flavors. The añejo spends up to three years in oak and has lingering finish marked by the flavors of vanilla, spice and toasted oak.
• CHAYA — This range of tequilas is made in the highlands of Tepatitlan. Chaya Silver has an oily, supple body with an assertive bouquet of anise, honey and notes of toasted cereal grain and dry flavors of black peppercorn and roasted vegetables. The reposado is aged seven months and has a delicious, complex palate. The highest praise is reserved for the two-year old Chaya Añejo. The pale amber tequila is lightly wooded with earthy, floral and spicy flavors. Its finish is superb.
• CORZO — Distilled in the Los Altos region of Jalisco, Corzo is a range of remarkably vibrant and flavorful super-premium tequilas. The secret to its greatness can be explained by the exacting nature of its production. The tequila is slow fermented, double-distilled and aged in oak barrels for two to four months before being redistilled a third time. Bottled fresh from the still, Corzo Silver is elegant and sublime with a seamlessly smooth body and a lightly peppered, long lasting finish. The reposado is matured in two different woods to give it more complexity. Aged for over a year in white oak, Corzo Añejo is lush and exquisite, a fascinating top shelf spirit.
• EL CHARRO — Made by Compaña Tequilera de Arandas in the highlands of Jalisco, El Charro tequilas are triple distilled in small batches. El Charro Silver is rested prior to bottling and El Charro Añejo is aged 24 months in French oak barrels. While the entire range is excellent, the likely star of the trio is the El Charro Reposado. During its six-month stay in French oak it acquires a pale golden hue, lightweight body and citrus and toasted oak aromas. It’s an outstanding representation of the style, loaded with layers of white pepper, caramel and citrus..
• EL DIAMANTE DEL CIELO — These ultra-premium, limited production tequilas are handcrafted in Jalisco. El Diamante Del Cielo is made from estate-grown agaves triple-distilled in state of the art pot stills. The blanco is bottled straight from the still and brimming with bakery fresh flavors. The reposado is aged up to 364 days in white oak barrels, imbuing it with honey and floral aromas and a classy, long lasting finish. El Diamante Del Cielo Añejo is magnificent, noble spirit. It’s a blend of tequilas aged up to four years in oak with a generous bouquet; sultry, full body and a palate laced with fruit flavors.
• FINA ESTAMPA — This handcrafted newcomer is distilled at Un Tequila Artesanal in the highlands of Jalisco near Atotonilco. Fina Estampa Blanco has a svelte, lightweight body, voluminous bouquet of cracked pepper and garden herbs and an imminently satisfying, slightly vegetal finish. The reposado has a velvety, slightly oily body, herbal bouquet and a fruit and caramel finish. The Fina Estampa Añejo is a rare, distinct pleasure. Aged a year in oak, the tequila has a sultry bouquet of cocoa, ripe fruit and notes of pepper and smoke. The palate gradually builds in intensity and lasts long into the finish. Top-notch.
• GRAN CENTENARIO LEYENDA EXTRA AÑEJO — Tequila enthusiasts have cause to rejoice. Famed Gran Centenario has extended its world-class range with the release of Leyenda, an extra añejo aged an average of four years in French Limousin oak barrels. After which the Maestro Tequilero blends in older reserves to complete the masterpiece. The ultra-premium añejo drinks like a dream come true. The tequila is a dark amber with a satiny, medium weight body and a vanilla, clove and oaky bouquet. The palate starts spicy and finishes long and luxurious. Leyenda is the epitome of seduction.
• LUNA SUEÑO — New to the market is Luna Sueño, a sophisticated range of ultra-premium tequilas distilled in Jalisco by La Cofradia. At this time only the blanco and 6-month old reposado are available. The Luna Sueño Blanco is a superb, light bodied tequila with a reserved, yet delightful floral bouquet and a palate imbued with spice, honey and dried fruit. The warm finish is flavorful and lingering. Luna Sueño Reposado is an accessible tequila with a satiny body and a spicy, sumptuous palate. The brand should receive a warm and enthusiastic reception.
• PARTIDA — The super-premium Partida range is produced from mature, estate grown blue agaves cultivated in the lowlands of Amatitán, Mexico. The piñas are slowly baked, slowly fermented and double-distilled in pot stills. Unaged Partida Blanco is a sleek, aromatic tequila with a delicate floral, herbs and citrus-laced palate. The reposado is aged in new French Canadian oak barrels for a minimum of six months, which imbues it with a slightly sweet bouquet and the flavors of vanilla, spice and almonds. The Partida Añejo is aged a minimum of 18 months in oak barrels previously used to age Jack Daniel’s. The tequila has a generous bouquet of ripe red fruit, honey and cocoa and waves of pastry like flavors. Partida tequilas are too magnificent to share with friends.
• PATRÓN GRAN PLATINUM — Those who find themselves with a few extra dollars and a palpable thirst for a classy spirit should invest in a bottle of Gran Patrón Platinum. The ultra-premium silver tequila is light bodied, richly textured and imminently satisfying. It is triple-distilled in alembic pot stills. Another twist is that a portion of each batch is aged briefly in American oak barrels prior to being blended back. It has a satiny texture and a bouquet of black pepper and citrus. The initial attack is warm—not hot—and the tequila immediately fills the mouth with spicy, peppery flavors. The finish is perhaps best described as luxurious. It is a tequila created with a snifter in mind.
• SCORPION MEZCAL — While not tequila, this skillfully produced line of 100% agave spirits more than deserves inclusion. Small batch Scorpion Mezcals are triple distilled in pot stills and aged in charred, oak barrels. The FDA approved, scorpion exoskeleton inside the bottle is a harmless observer. The flagship of the Scorpion range is the triple-distilled, 7 year old Añejo Gran Reserva Mezcal. It has captivating bouquet marked with the aromas of vanilla, black cherries and peaty smoke. The oily, medium weight body delivers a semi-sweet array of flavors, including maple, caramel, vanilla and a lingering dose of smoke on the finish.
• TEZÓN — This super-premium range of tequilas is crafted in Jalisco by Viuda de Romero. The agaves are crushed by a two-ton, volcanic stone tahona wheel and then roasted for three days in brick ovens. The tequilas are double-distilled on the lees, a traditional style in which both the fiber and fermented juice are put into the pot stills. Unaged Tezón silver has an oily body and a vanilla and honeyed palate, while the 8-10 month old reposado is creamy, woody and notably spicy. Highest marks go to Tezón Añejo, which is aged 18-20 months in seasoned white oak. The tequila has an alluring bouquet of oranges and leather, an oily medium weight body and a palate laced with butterscotch, vanilla and a hint of smoke.
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