Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Types of Agave Spirits Produced in Mexico

While each agave spirit has it's own name and Denomination of Origin, mezcal is still the general term used by many producers and consumers throught Mexico for any agave spirit.  But for technical purposes,  I have outlined the what is produced in each Mexican state.

-There are 5 states that can produce Tequila; Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas
-99% of all tequilas come from Jalisco and only the Blue Agave can be used.

-7 states that can produce Mezcal; Oaxaca, Durango, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Guanajato, and Tamaulipas.
-30 different types of agave can be used in the production of Mezcal.

-the only state that produces Sikua is Michoacan
-Siku is what the native Indians used to call the maguey.  The Union of Mezcaleros of Michoacan sought inclusion in the Denomination of Origin for Mezcal for over 2 ½ years, but were denied so they decided to get their own Denomination of Origin, and called it Sikua.

-the only state to produce Bacanora is Sonora
-only the Agave Pacifica is used in the production of bacanora.

-3 states that can produce Sotol; Chihuahua, Durango, and Coahuila
-made from Dasylirion Wheeleri (also know as the Desert Spoon or, in Spanish sotol)* the plant is related to the agave within the Scientific classification  “Order” of Asparagales

-Racilla is produced in the mountains above Puerto Vallarta,  Jalisco and is not controlled by a Denomination of Origin.
-Agave is used in the production of Raicilla, not the root of the agave as many have thought.

-Destilado de Agave can be produced anywhere with any type of agave, and does not have a Denomination of Origin.

1. Jalisco - Tequila and Racilla
2. Nayarit - Tequila
3. Guanajuato - Tequila and Mezcal
4. Michoacan - Tequila and Sikua
5. Tamaulipas - Tequila and Mezcal
6. Oaxaca - Mezcal
7. Durango - Mezcal and Sotol
8. Guererro - Mezcal
9. San Luis Potosi - Mezcal
10. Zacatecas- Mezcal
11. Sonora - Bacanora
12. Chihuahua - Sotol
13. Coahuila - Sotol 

Terroir for Tequila?

Terroir (French pronunciation:  [tair-wha]Spanishterruño, pago) was originally a French term in wine,coffee and tea used to denote the special characteristics that geography bestowed upon them. It is a group of agricultural sites in same region which share the same soil, weather conditions and farming techniques, which each contribute to the unique qualities of the crop. It can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place" which is embodied in certain qualities, and the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the manufacture of the product.
*from wikipedia

Just like wine and whiskies there is indeed a terroir for tequila.

-About an hour to the north west of Guadalajara there is the town of Tequila.  This is known as La Valle de Tequila, or the Valley.  This area also includes the towns of El Arenal and Amatitan.  In the Lowlands the elevation is around 4,000 feet, the soil is volcanic, and the average temperature is 75 degrees.

-2 hours east and just north of Guadalajara is known as Los Altos, or the Highlands.  The main towns in this area are Arandas, Jesus Maria, Atotonilco, and Tepetitlan.  Here the elevation is around 6,750 feet, the soil is red clay, and the agave mature at a slower rate than in La Valley.  The average temperature is 64 degrees, with much cooler nights, and typically Los Altos has more rainfall than the Lowlands.

So with all that being said, these are the elements of terroir you may find when tasting tequila….

Common dominant traits of tequilas from La Valle de Tequila (the Valley) are;

Dominant traits of tequilas from Los Altos (the Highlands) are;
-typically sweeter than those of the Lowlands

Felino Mezcal Reposado

Tasted December 2009

As I am getting ready to taste Felino Mezcal for the first time, I get more curious about it. I expect it to be more like tequila than traditional mezcal due to 3 factors—the blue agave used, the use of modern autoclaves and the lack of agave fibers in the fermentation process. What I am really looking forward to is finding the flavor of the land that the agave comes from, also known as "terroir". I know with this tasting that my palate will be experiencing something new from the state of Zacatecas. 

Using a Riedel I swirl the straw-colored nectar to reveal its slow thin legs and a texture that seems a bit thin as well. Holding the glass about 16 inches away from me I am able to notice a scent that is rather new and this makes the anticipation of tasting this mezcal even greater. Wow! The nose is wild…something new that seems slightly chemically—but not in a bad way…then it opens up into "green" herbal mist with almost no alcohol that is noticeable. The second smell reveals layers of earth—black pepper, spice and dust with herbs and citrus on top. The layers in the nose are really nice—I look forward to tasting an unaged version of Felino. While I know the oak has mellowed this mezcal, it has not overtaken it.

As I let the first taste sit on my lips it is very mellow like water then it starts to do a tingly "Happy Dance." A small bit dripped onto my tongue and shined like a beam of sunshine on this dark, rainy, cloudy day. With my first sip the taste delivered what my nose had noticed in spades—tons of dry earth with a long finish. This is in no way tequila and for sure the most "mellow" mezcal I have ever had. While I swirl the thinly textured mezcal around my mouth, the layer of citrus reveals itself as grapefruit—sweet but tart. On my third taste I discover a bit of banana. I thought I noticed the banana in the nose initially, but I was not sure if it was really there. This mezcal is a very interesting specimen as each tasting technique I use, reveals a new layer to its complexity. As of right now, I would say that this is a great mezcal for tequila drinkers to try that like an earthy profile, but have found traditional mezcals to be too much for their tastes.

One of my favorite aspects in tasting a product is the finish—I love a long finish that takes you on a journey and Felino does just that. The other quality I look for is a distinctive taste profile and I have yet to taste any other agave product like this mezcal. If you are looking for something mellow, earthy and new, Felino Mezcal is it. 

Pueblo Viejo Orgullo Añejo - Blind Tasting Review

Pueblo Viejo is produced at the family owned Tequila San Matias (NOM 1103) in the city of Tepatitlan, located in the Highland region of Jalisco.  As their website states "We've developed different tequilas for our clients, from daring women to experienced consumers."  Starting at $20 for the blanco and all the way up to $250 for the Rey Sol, San Matias produces very tasty tequilas for every palate and price point.  And yes, the same production methods are used to make the blanco, just as how the Rey Sol stars with, the only difference is the aging.

In August of 2007, I was sent a blind sample of an añejo.  Not until I wrote down my tasting notes, was I informed that the tequila in question was Pueblo Viejo Orgullo Añejo.  While their website says that this tequila is aged for 2 years in American oak barrels, I have been told - and believe - that it is actually aged in the same French oak barrels that was used for their Rey Sol

The color is a deep gold, but not too dark. The legs are quick and thin. The nose while a bit warm, has nice elements of caramel, citrus, light oak, and something sweet that I can not identify at this time. As I let the first sip sit in my mouth the 1st thing I notice is the oak, a thin texture, a nice sweetness, but not much agave (at least it is not artificially sweet!). While the finish does last a while, and there is a zesty sweetness to the tequila, I feel like I am making out with an oak tree. (Ok, ok... Gotta remember I am a blanco lover, but I am learning and willing to experience the oak world beyond the more agave-esque añejos.). It is not as oaky as JCRF, and it is definitely not a cheap añejo. I’d put the price point around $120. It is a high quality añejo that I would totally recommend for the oak-heads and those new to the world of tequila that come from a whisky/cognac background. If I had to guess, I’d say it was aged for 3+ years in French oak barrels. Now, as I get to the last drop, I am finding it to be more interesting, and I wish I had more! The nose now smells like the barrel rooms at the distilleries. And that, is something that I totally miss and love! 

For a list price of $45, this añejo is one of the best buys on the market and it is one that I I highly recommend!


Monday, November 15, 2010

Meloza Tequila Tasting Notes

NOM 1466

I tasted all four styles of this brand rather quickly (I only had about 5 minutes to spend on each one) one evening in the summer of 2010.  Using  a champagne flute (since I'd left my Riedel at home)...

-Blanco; slammin citrus on the nose, with a bit of mint, touch of earth and black pepper.  Taste is soft but has a nice boldness, with green raw agave, a bit of sweet anise and other herbs.  the finish starts off slightly bitter then turns citrusy.

-repo; nose has honey and pepper. taste is very herbal green, black pepper.  standard mexican repo but slightly more interesting. long flat finish w/ bitter dryness.

-anejo; not much on the nose??? taste has heavy gobs of caramel.  long finish with tingling pulses.

-extra anejo; nose has lots of caramelized honey with slight bit of blk pepper and smells like a barrel room.  taste has even more caramel and has the most interesting finish of the 4 styles as id does lift up and gradually shift thru several textures -- creamy, warm, then dry with flavors from intense pepper and ends with the where it all started; the warm, sweet yet bitter taste you can only find in the fermentation vat.  

Across the board, I found this brand to be a good and tasty tequila, especially for the price.

Gran Centenario Añejo (Gold Label) Tasting Notes

Gran Centenario añejo has been released in 3 different packagings, and can easily be identified by the wrap around label near the bottom of the bottle and the wrapper around the cork.  The first release was gold in color, the second was green, the third (and current) release is blue.   A common perception within the tequila community is that when a producer changes their packaging, it usually indicates that there was also a change to their production, and Gran Centenario is no exception.  Produced at the Cuervo owned Los Camichines (NOM 1122), this distillery started using a modern and very "efficient" way of extracting the sugars from the agave with a difusor sometime in the late 90's or early 2000's (at some point I'll get an exact date).  Instead of the traditional method of cooking the agaves then using shredders to extract the juices, a difusor shreds the agave raw and uses high pressured, hot water to extract the sugars.  Some producers say that there is no difference in the quality of a tequila made with a difusor, but the proof is in the tequila...

The Gran Centenario añejo (Gold Label) tasted is a pre-difusor tequila.  

Reviewed December 2010 from a freshly opened bottle.

Bottling stamp (lot number):
Mexican bottling @ 38% alcohol

 Tasted from a red wine glass, this tequila is golden orange in color with thin slow legs. It is very mellow  and it does not have any alcohol or barrel burn on the nose but has plenty of vanilla and citrus tones. A relativly thin mouth feel, the taste starts off very woody that turns citrusy and spicy with vanilla and bitter dark chocolate overtones. A very long finish that finally reveals its earthy agave origins. This is a very tasty tequila, so if you can find a bottle - get it!

Rating; Very Good

photo courtesy of tequila.net 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A note about lot numbers and my tasting notes

Just as wine has vintages, each batch of tequila has a lot (lote in spanish) number. Depending on the amount of tequila produced and sold by each brand, lots can be similar, or vary greatly in taste, texture and intensity. Some lot numbers are hand written while others are machine stamped. In each of my tastings, I will notate the lot numbers when possible. Besides lot numbers, I will include the NOM number, which is a specific number given to a distillery by the Mexican government that (usually...more on that later) indicates where the tequila was produced.  Also, some of my tasting notes will be in depth, and some will be quick and to the point. This isn't a reflection of my thoughts of the brand, but rather my mood, time and attention allowed during the tasting. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

“Freedom of Choice!”

Living in California, I get to have the greatest selection of tequila in the United States!  And since I live so close to Tijuana, I can walk across the border and have an even better selection!  Yes, living here in SoCal is a beautiful thing.  But, I know I am very lucky and fortunate luck to not live in an Alcohol Beverage Controled state!  To have someone tell me or you that only brands X, Y, and Z are available is way beyond not cool.  It borders on being communist. If I can choose what jeans I want to wear, I can choose what brand of spirit I want to drink! Just because a certain brand doesn’t have the cash to grease your greedy pockets, does not give you the right to pick the brands that I can choose from.  And then to say that it is illegal to have someone ship spirits into said ABC state?  We are in the 21st century, not the 19th.  Prohibition is dead, the internet rules and your laws are as old and useless as a 8 track tape player!

And since I am on this subject, border states can kiss my ass too!  Saying I’m only allowed one liter of tequila from across the border every 30 days?  It’s tequila - not guns, not drugs.  If you want your want your tax money, I’ll give you your whopping $1.65 for each bottle.  In fact, I’ll make it an even $2!  Just let me fill out the paper work before I get in line and we’re all good.  And yes, it is that easy!

Mercado del Mar in Rosarito, Baja

This is Blas, he is the owner of Mercado del Mar and a really good guy!

One day, I hope to be able to shop at his, and the many other killer liquor stores in Mexico with out being hassled by the out dated liquor laws of the United states of America!

“I don’t want to pay too much, I’ll just get a cheap bottle of tequila”.

A lot of time I hear that phrase when someone wants something for mixed drinks or shooters.  And while I understand not wanting to spend $50 on a bottle of tequila, especially if it’s not for sipping, there are lots of good, pure, 100% agave tequilas for less than $20.  A few brands that are currently on the market that make a good product for a great price are Espolon, Pueblo Viejo, 30-30, El Ultimo Agave, and Camarena.  If you can’t find them, ask your local liquor store, and if it’s not there, you can always check with HiTime Wines or Shoppers Vineyard (and sometimes these guys have really great deals on some really good tequilas!!!).  The other thing about getting “cheap” mixto tequila - which is NOT real tequila! It is basically a blend of tequila and rum, and we all know that we are not supposed to mix our liquors! Brands such as Jose Cuervo Especial, Sauza, Montezuma, and the such are the ones that you may end up paying for it later that night or the next day praying to the porcelain god and or laying in bed with a gnarly hangover.  You will pay for your tequila one way or another-either physically or thru the wallet.  Me?  I’d rather have a lighter wallet than hangover.  Besides, the 100% agave tequila will taste a lot better than that bottle of mixto Gold.


Often, people will ask me, “What is the smoothest tequila”.  And for that, I say, there is no correct answer.  The reason for that is, we all have different ideas and expectations for what “smooth” is.   Some people may say that smooth is anything that doesn’t feel like your throat is being ripped out.  Others may say that smooth, should have a soft feel and texture with a simple finish. How a tequila, mezcal, sotol, etc reacts with your palate has a lot to do with other factors such as previous experiences with spirits (or lack there of), the weather,  what you have eaten or drank, or just your mood.  These are many of the factors change from day to day.  One of the biggest misconceptions about agave spirits is that the longer it is aged, the better or “smoother” is.  Well, for some people, that can be true.  But the amazing thing about an agave distillate, is that there is so much flavor, depth, and complexity to what comes fresh from the stills, that the aging process doesn’t necessarily make it better, just different.

Before I recommend a brand or style (blanco, reposado, or añejo), I will first ask them what other spirits they like to drink, as well as what tequilas they’ve had that they liked and do not like.
If the person prefers whiskey, cognac, aged rum, and /or red wine, I will recommend an añejo or maybe a reposado.  If the person likes vodka, white rum, gin or sauvignon blanc I will suggest a blanco.

Now, within the aged products, the type of barrel used and how long it aged for, is a HUGE factor in determining its flavors, texture, and “smoothness“.  While some people love the vanilla, caramel, and nutty elements in a product that has been aged in a new American oak barrel, the person next to them ,might notice only the heat that comes from the charring of the barrel and feel like their mouth has been set on fire.  One person likes it and the other doesn’t think that it is “smooth“, but it’s the same product.  So really it does come down to personal preference and what you like.  But, what you like now, may not be the same 2 years from now.

I was at a tequila party recently and had 3 people (2 guys, 1 girl) taste Milagro reposado and Milagro Select Barrel reposado - blind.  I chose these 2 tequilas because they both have the same production process the only difference is that the regular reposado is aged in used American whiskey barrels and the Barrel Select is aged in used French oak barrels.  While 2 people liked the Barrel select more, and thought it was “smoother“, the other preferred the regular reposado.  Myself?  Well, the Barrel Select has light and sweet elements, while the regular reposado is a bit bigger and a touch earthier.  So for me, I preferred the taste when I blended them together as they seemed to develop more depth and complexity.

In my next rants and raves, we'll be  "Going Beyond Smooth"

7 Leguas distillery Tour

In 1999 I tasted a blanco tequila made by 7 Leguas, and it was amazing!  It was fresh, crisp, sweet, and earthy, and it changed my life.

7 Leguas was founded in 1952 by Ignacio Gonzalez Vargas in the town of Atotonilco, Jalisco.  Currently Ignacio's son, Juan Fernando runs the company and takes great pride in continuing the tradition and passion his family has for making tequila.  Not only does 7 Leguas make a tasty traditional tequila that is crafted with artisan methods, but they are really great and hospitable people.  I have had the chance to tour their distillery and to visit with Juan Fernando and his crew 3 times, and it is always a day to remember!


 7 Leguas Master Distiller, Arturo Valle-Salcedo and ownder Juan Fernando Gonzalez de Anda  

The Ovens

Copper stills

On our visit in 2008, not only did we taste the entire flight, but we also got to taste some special 6 year añejo that is not on the market.

But what was really special -- memories of a lifetime special -- was when Juan Fernando left the room for a bit and came back with this 3.5L bottle of blanco that was in storage since his dad distilled in back in the early -mid 1970's.  It was the most amazing tequila that I have ever tasted!  

Needless to say, I was honored to get the last pour, and the very last drop from  that bottle!



During the 2008 tour we had the privilege to sign one of their barrels that was around 6 years of age. When we came back a year later in 2009, they surprised us by tapping into that barrel.  The 2 bottles on the right are watered down to 40%, while the beaker on the right is cask strength.  This stuff was mighty good!

Fresh from the "old skool" still @ 55% -- beyond awesome!


Arturo, myself, Juan Fernando, and a gifted bottle of some tasty 7L añejo!



It's 2010, and we're glad to be back!  L-R; blanco (fresh from the still @ 55%), blanco, reposado, añejo, D'Antaño.  7 Leguas does not rechar their used American whiskey barrels, so all of their products are pretty light in color for how long they are aged for.

for those who were on the 2008 tour, we were asked to come back to the barrel room and watch Arturo tap "our" barrel again!

Almost a full year went by from the first time we tasted it to the next, and what a year it was! Aged for around 8 years, it went from really good to AMAZING!!!!  We had it at cask strength, which was 64% (128 proof), and it was to die for!!!  It starts off as chocolate and mint, then more honey and cherry notes show as it opens up, and of course there was plenty of agave to go around!  The texture starts creamy then finishes dry.  It tastes as good as it looks -- Just beautiful! 

Many special thanks to everyone at 7 Leguas; your hospitality, passion, and tequila are just amazing!!!

Go big, or go home...


Until I finally get figure out what to do with my website (building it isn't so easy for me, and as my domain name can easily be confused with a brand name) I am doing this blog for now. I hope you enjoy what I have to offer.  Gracias y Salud!