Jan 14, 201012:00 AM
All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans
Symmetry y Equilibrio
Real tequila comes from the state of Jalisco in Central Mexico and in its production uses only one plant, the blue agave.
The beverage world is a wonderfully balanced place. What happens in spot on the map is reflected in another.
Take wine. The pinot noir grape has since before the time of Caesar found a home in Burgundy, the French region where agriculture is the prime consideration. The same grape does very well in New World venues such as the Russian River, Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Barbara, all in California, as well as in Oregon and in the Central Otago Valley of New Zealand.
Same goes for cabernet sauvignon. This grape has achieved greatness in the Medoc region, just north of the port city of Bordeaux. And cabernet has settled down to respectability in Napa Valley, Australia, South Africa and now even in Italy.
But what about those proprietary beverages, the ones that have a unique processing and also come from a particular place? Even though champagne methods of production have been copied in many other places, there is nothing quite as elegant or complicated on the palate as the real deal.
Then there’s port. Yes, a lot of areas around the globe “do the deal.” But the stuff that comes from the upper regions of Portugal’s Douro River and passes through the town of Oporto always sets the standard.
Cognacs are practically unique. No one really tries to duplicate what comes out of the Cognac region of France using the ugni blanc grape in a double-distillation process that twice concentrates on the “heart” of the vapors.
Yet there is a spirit that can present similar experiences to cognac, delivering pleasurable and even complicated and layered aspects and whose raw ingredient is infinitely scarcer than an annual harvest of grapes –– tequila.
This national drink of Mexico truly identifies that country in the way that scotch is identified with … well, you know. Tequila has been made since the time of the Spanish Conquistadors in the highlands of Central Mexico.
The raw agricultural product for tequila is from an indigenous plant in the region, the agave, which, for you Jeopardy! fans, is a lily, not a cactus. Also, while we are on this topic of correcting misinformation, tequila is technically considered a mescal, which is a group of distilled spirits that are made in just about every Mexican state –– but not all.
Tequila comes from the state of Jalisco in Central Mexico, around the towns of Tequila (what a coincidence) and Arandas, and in its production uses only one plant, the blue agave.
Just in case you have ever visited the state of Quintana Roo, where the Mayan Riviera and Cancun are located and toured a “tequila” factory –– no, you didn’t. You probably visited a mescal factory; tequila can only be made in Jalisco, a considerable distance from the glitzy resorts, the beaches and the bar scene of that tourist area.
To further the parallel nature of cognac and tequila, the official designations of tequila are built pretty much along the lines of the quality levels of cognac and are also defined and overseen by the government and other bureaucratic bodies.
Blanco (white) or Plata (silver) are the types we see the most, and this level of spirit is considered unaged because the liquid spends less than 60 days in the manufacturing process and cannot by law spend more than 30 days in large oak barrels.
Joven (young) or Oro (gold) are about the same as Plata but with the addition of coloring and/or flavoring ingredients, the most common of which is caramel. These are denoted as “mixto,” which tells you that the tequila is mixed with other ingredients to soften the rawness of the new product.
“Reposado” means “rested” or “aged.” Not quite aged as in the sense of cognac, but the liquor is allowed to settle down from two months up to a year. The taste of Reposado is somewhat more complex, and because of the oak influence, not such product additions as caramel, the color is darker, more intense.
By the way, some cognacs also add caramel to deepen color, bouquet and taste.
Then there’s Añejo, now sometimes called “extra aged.” The aging is done in government-sealed oak barrels which are considerably smaller than the very large Reposado barrels. Añejo sits a minimum of one year in the barrel and can stay as long as eight or 10 years. The current thought is that a period of four to five years is ideal. The barrels usually are previously used bourbon or whisky barrels. New barrels are rarely used because these bring too much oak quality to the tequila.
This last term is relatively new, Extra Añejo. This level of tequila has been left to mature for a minimum of three years in barrel. Introduced in 2006, these tequilas are still relatively rare on the shelves, but producers anticipated the designation becoming official, so you may find this spirit at your favorite retailer, assuming you have an appreciation and a pocketbook for older tequilas.
There are a number of unofficial designations, which are usually attempts by distillers to separate their product from others. These label references can be Reserva de Casa, Reserva de la Familia, Gran Reposado and Blanco Suave.
Although not official (and you should begin looking for one of the five official designations first on the label), these additional descriptors may guide you to a premium product in which the manufacturer has shown care and pride.
Alcohol levels (proofs) in tequilas are set by the governing body and are generally about the same as other spirits, such as scotch, vodka, gin and bourbon. Generally tequilas in the U.S., a prime market for the spirit, are at 40 percent (80 proof), while those consumed in Mexico are a bit lower at 38 percent (about 75 proof).
Tequila is allowed to be as high as 45 percent alcohol (90 proof), but that level is very rarely seen today. The minimum alcohol percentage in order to still qualify as tequila is 35 percent (70 proof).
There are several tequilas that you have probably tried. Here are a few other brands that are worthy of your attention but maybe too special for your margarita:
Aged 18 months, a rarity among super-premiums, and cultivated from 10-year-old blue agave, this tequila exhibits sweet citrus on the palate, then vanilla, and finally the pure agave taste.
Partida Extra Añejo
Chosen from only best blue agave, this exceptionally clean, pure agave taste will tell you what all the fuss is about. Less than 15,000 bottles manufactured.
Don Julio Reposado
100 percent blue Weber agave, rested in charred oak bourbon barrels for up to 11 months. Light and sweet on the nose, balanced.
Dos Lunas Reposado
Geared to those who appreciate the finer scotches or bourbons, this heavily aged tequila uses American oak barrels previously used in Kentucky. Quite delicate on the nose and the palate, with tastes of mild earth, wood and vanilla.
El Conde Azul
Relatively new to our market, the packaging alone is a dramatic reason for purchase, with a glass blue agave plant literally exploding in the bottle, which was designed by an Italian team. The Blanco is excellent for many folks, with a full agave flavor that would mix well in cocktails, nicely standing up to sugar and citrus. The Reposado is aged eight months, with the Azul receiving three years of aging. Both of these quality levels should be appreciated like a fine cognac –– on their own.
BULLETIN, and it’s not good news for tequila-lovers:
According to Reuters News Agency, Mexican farmers are setting fire to fields of blue agave and resowing the land with corn. Soaring demand for ethanol from the U.S. is behind the switch.
Mexican officials are predicting 25 percent to 35 percent less blue agave production this year, with more shortages coming.
Although this will drive up the cost of tequila, there really is no easy way to go back to blue agave production, as the maturing of the plant takes a minimum of eight years. Corn production takes place every year.