A tequila sampler

How many tequilas are there? You count them. Photo by David Lansing.

How many tequilas are there? You count them. Photo by David Lansing.

I got a comment from Fred yesterday wondering which tequilas are worth sampling (actually, I think Fred wanted to know how many tequilas worth sampling are out there and the answer to that is, god only knows–but I’m trying to find out). First of all, let me talk about tequila in general.

Any tequila that blends 51% agave with simple sugar alcohols is known as a “mixto.” Two of the best selling tequilas in the world, Jose Cuervo Especial and Sauza Conmemorativo, are mixtos and, as such, are just fine when you’re mixing up big batches of margaritas or drowning the alcohol in sweet fruit juices (in other words, when you’re not interested in actually tasting the agave spirit). If, however, you’d like to sample the supple notes of more sophisticated tequilas, which can have as many as 600 different aromatics compared to 300 for wine and 30 for cognac, then the first thing you should look for on a bottle are the words “100% agave.” This means that, as regulated by Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT), the bottle contains only tequila made from agave. This is important because agave, like grapes, gets much of its herbaceous flavors from the soil—what the French call “terroire.”

The next distinction is the age of the tequila. Plata or silver is not aged. Reposado is aged from two months to a year in large wooden vats or barrels where it gets its amber color and picks up subtle tones of butterscotch and apple. Anejo is aged from one to five years in sealed oak barrels where the flavors mellow, like single-malt whiskeys, picking up hints of vanilla, mocha, smoke, and dried fruit, depending on whether they were aged in new French white oak or charred bourbon barrels. Your favorite will depend on whether you like the clean, herbaceous essence of a silver tequila, the smoky richness of an anejo, or something in between. Some of my favorites:

White or silver: Chinaco Blanco ($40)—complex for a white tequila with hints of citrus.

Don Julio Silver ($40)—sweet agave flavor with a touch of vanilla.

Reposado: El Tesoro de Don Felipe Reposado ($40)—delicate floral flavors with a hint of eucalyptus in the nose.

Corzo Reposado ($55)—sweet, honey flavor.

Anejo: Gran Centenario Anejo ($60)—clove and orange aromas with spicy, nutty tones.

Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia ($90)—dark amber with figs and nutmeg; drinks like a cognac.

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  1. Sonia’s avatar

    Oh my…no tequila for me…LOL…under the table real quick


  2. Fred Harwood’s avatar

    Research it. You got my parenthetical question right. No hurry. I’m pretty much a gin and vodka m, er, person.

  3. david’s avatar

    Sonia, you only get hammered if you drink BAD tequila (like Cuervo gold). If it is 100% agave and has been distilled at least 3 times (to get rid of impurities), you could drink shots all night and be just fine.

  4. Fred Harwood’s avatar

    Should Sonia drink shots all night, I hope to be a witness.

    Three-times distilled for sure makes a difference in any spirit. The resting, fine, but I’m too often hasty.

    Thanks for the tequila primer. I’ll give it a shot!

  5. Drink Recipes with Jöhnny Dîablø’s avatar

    This is a really concise but informative article on what the different distinctions between the tequilas are. Agree with you that Cuervo is nasty; that’s only what I used to drink when I was young and didn’t care what I drank to get plowed. I think there are a lot more varieties on the market now, and that helps a lot. I want to try Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo one of these times. My budget is definitely not in the $60-90 dollar range, but we drink a lot of the Milagro Silver at my house. That seems to be a good compromise between quality and price, and I’ve never woke up feeling like death yet from it.

  6. Jee Lee’s avatar

    I would like to use this picture for my presentation. Please let me know if that would be okay. Thank you!

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