Tequila Grows Up

By Leslie Marin

Many people associate Tequila with down-n-dirty, straight-ahead drunken partying, full of good times and bad judgment calls (oh c’mon, like we haven’t all been there at least once!). But tequila has a more sophisticated side as well, and although springing for the elegant versions of this Cinco De Mayo favorite isn’t cheap, it’s well worth the investment…because these tequilas are meant to be savored, reflected upon, and reserved for the most special of occasions.

Useful definition: Blue Agave, of the Agave tequilana species, is the base ingredient of tequila.

Blancos are the youngest kind of tequila and have not been barrel aged at all.

Certeza Blanco ~ A slightly peppery tequila with a hint of sweetness to its finish, this Blanco is a collaboration between the French wine-producing Boisset family and agave growers Francisco and Jorge Beckmann. A bottle will run you about $40.
Partida Blanco The Partida family, famous for supplying agave to other tequila producers for years, began producing its own premium tequilas in 2005. One of their first is this blanco, full of elegant agave notes. Plan on spending about $50.

Tequila Tezón Blanco ~ This tequila is made with the artisanal tahona method, meaning that hearts of agave are roasted in brick ovens for 3 days before being crushed by a massive stone wheel made from volcanic rock; this process results in a floral taste with citrus undertones. Try it for around $50.

Spending 2 to 12 months in wood makes reposados richer than blancos but lighter than añejos.

Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Reposado ~ Aged for 10 months in new oak barrels, this incredibly smooth, 100% blue agave tequila is triple-distilled and blends oaky vanilla notes with bright, minty flavors. It’ll cost you, about $80 per bottle.

Frida Kahlo Tequila Reposado ($60) ~ Although there continues to be a bit of controversy about Kahlo’s niece using the celebrity of her aunt’s name (Frida is the Mexican painter whom you may remember was portrayed by Salma Hayek in 2002’s “Frida”), all who taste this 100% blue agave tequila agree that it is superbly balanced and perfectly spicy.

Mexican law requires that these tequilas spend at least 12 months in oak barrels, but they are often kept there for longer. These Añejos are best when sipped neat or with a single ice cube.

Jose Cuervo Black Medallion ~ One of the least expensive (at $20 per bottle) and most familiar of the anejos, Black Medallion spends a full year in charred new oak barrels to get its smoky, rich caramel flavor.

Tequila Distinguido Distinguido has only recently become available in the US although it’s been produced abroad since 1840. Distilled from 100 percent blue agave by the descendents of founder Don José Trinidad Contreras, it’s silky, subtle, and spicy and will cost you about $55.

El Diamante del Cielo Añejo ~ The name of this 100% blue agave añejo, which means “the diamond of the sky,” is in honor of the bright sun that beats down on the agave fields. The aging time for this añejo is 2 – 4 years, and out comes a pale amber tequila with vanilla and pepper flavors. You’ll pay a little more for this one, around $60 per bottle.