Friday, May 20, 2011

Denton Fest

Prior to 1982, the only puro tequilas that were readily available in the United States were, Herradura and Sauza Hornitos.  But Robert Denton and Marilyn Smith changed all that, and in turn, are very much responsible for the world wide popularity of tequila today. 

After spending a several years in the liquor industry working for a few brands, including Ketel One, they decided to branch out on their own. While Robert was on the business side of the entire operation, it was Marilyn that was on the creative side.  After tasting Caliente tequila, Marilyn knew that this was their next project.  They flew down to Tamaulipas and developed a personal and business relationship with the Gonzalez family, and started importing Caliente and Chinaco tequilas.  Both brands came from the same distillery (Tequilera la Gonzaleña NOM 1127) and were crafted by master distiller German Gonzalez.  Chinaco was available as a reposado, añejo, and a 4 year añejo, (and later on a muy añejo) while the Caliente only came as a blanco.

While promoting the Chinaco line at the trade shows and at any bar that they happened to be in, Bob and Marilyn were also the first to use the brandy snifter for sipping tequila.  While common place now, back then that was HUGE! Tequila was always served in a shot glass, and nothing more.  Hanging out at a bar during a trade show in Chicago in the mid 80’s, they met one of the executives from Sauza tequila, and Marilyn proudly showed off her brandy snifter filled with Chinaco añejo to him.  Needless to say, a few months later they saw a Sazua ad featuring, you guessed it, a brandy snifter.

In the late 80’s, Chincao stopped exporting to the US, so Robert and Marilyn went down to Gudalajara to find their next project.  Knowing that they wanted tequila that was made in very small batches, distilled in small copper stills, and had an añejo that was a minimum of 2 years old, they met a lot of people and tasted even more tequila.  It wasn’t until they got to meet the Camarena family and taste their product that they knew that they had found what they were looking for.  Long story short, Bob and Marilyn built a personal relationship with the entire Camarena family before any business decisions were made.  Once they decided to move forward on the project, a name had to be chosen, and the one they settled on was El Tesoro de Don Felipe.  The first shipments of El Tesoro came over in late 1989 or early 1990, and came in the following profiles; Silver (which was the first brand to use that term, and also caused an uproar with the governing body that oversaw the production of tequila at that time.  They then renamed it Plata but encountered the same situation), Reposado, Añejo, and Muy Añejo (and surprise, surprise, that term caused a problem too).   

While there was some love for El Tesoro, Bob and Marilyn reintroduced Chinaco in 1993 to the delight of many a tequila lovers!  Of which, many of those tequila fans were wine makers from California.  Knowing the grape gave them a better understanding of the agave and a huge appreciation for what the Gonzalez and Camarena family were crafting. In fact, many wine makers would celebrate the end of their harvest with Chinaco and El Tesoro!

While Robert and Marilyn are officially no longer involved with the importing and distribution of tequila (or any other liquor) these days, they still remain close friends with the Gonzalez and Camarena families. And for a lot of tequila lovers out there, the Chincao and El Tesoro that was imported by Robert and Marilyn, is considered to be some of finest tequila ever!  On February 27 2011, about 18 tequila aficionados came together at La Pinata in San Jose, CA to celebrate those tequilas and our very special guests, Robert and Marilyn, and properly named - Denton Fest

In order to attend Denton Fest, one needed to bring an unopened Denton Import bottle to share with the party.  And for the evenings drinking pleasure, we had the following tequilas (from left to right); Chinaco "teardrop" blanco, reposado, & añejo. Chinaco "green label" blanco, "red label" reposado, "green label" añejo, and 4 year añejo.  Caliente blanco, El Tesoro "artisan" silver, "white label" silver, reposado, añejo, "a very dark" añejo, and 2 different Paradisos - one bottle from the first batch, and one from the second, as well as a Chinaco 4 year añejo that was not in this picture..  Out of 16 bottles, I tasted 14, and was only able to get tasting notes on 12.  Even though I was only doing 1/2 oz pours, it was a little difficult to devote the proper time that a tequila like this needs when you've got 20 other great tequila people to talk to, and by the 6th glass, it was too difficult to keep focus.  In a nutshell, I'd say that 11 of the 12 I tasted were gloriously amazing!!!  Not only do I wish I could have spent days with each bottle, but I wish I could have bathed in them!!!

Special thanks to Joe Horrigan for organizing this wonderful event, to Art Guzman from La Pinata in San Jose for hosting and providing us with some really tasty food (and the coffee is amazing too!), and to everybody who shared their special bottle.  But most importantly, a very special "thank you" to Robert and Marilyn for not just coming all the way from their home in Michigan, but for finding us these great tequilas, and for the stories they shared.  They are truly, a special couple, and I feel blessed to have spent some time with them.  Thank you!


Caliente (1982); This tequila has a crystal clear appearance with thin slow legs, and a nose that has earthy spicy notes that are vibrant, green of freshly cut herbs and brown sugar.  Nice creamy texture on entry that hits the very tip of tongue and awakens it. Nice warm finish with hints of cooked apple, brown sugar and cinnamon.

El Tesoro Artisan Silver (early 90’s); This tequila is crystal clear with legs that take their time gliding down the glass, and a nose that is very brown and earthy with a slight bit of fruit on top.  Not a lot of alcohol on the palate (due to the angels share) but it has some really nice caramelized banana notes and is loaded with cooked agave!

Chinaco 4 year (1982, this bottle was imported in the very first shipment and came from Bob and Marilyn’s personal collection); The color is a golden hue with thin slow legs, and has melted butter and caramel and baked agave in the nose.  The taste is of cooked agave, dripping caramelized bananas and a bit of earth. A most amazing finish and tequila!

Chinaco 4 year (date unknown); Sorry I was listening to Marilyn tell a great story. So with this I’d say it is a bit toasted nut and earth but more alcoholy than the original 4 year.  Still very tasty!

Chinaco Blanco (1993); Crystal clear, with a nose of fresh cut grass, brown sugar, and earth.  The flavor is very bright and vibrant and slightly sweet from brown sugar notes but has a relatively short finish. It is much drier than Caliente, but it sure is good.

Chinaco Repo (Red Label 1994); Light straw color in color, this tequila is very similar to Green Label blanco in taste but with a touch of butter and a much longer finish.

Chinaco Blanco (Tear Drop, mid 90’s); Very similar to Green label blanco in the nose but not as complex and a bit more alcohol.  This blanco has a lot more brown sugar and a longer finish than the GL blanco, and is much more like to Caliente.

Chinaco Repo (Tear Drop, mid 90’s); Light straw in color with a herbaceous nose.  This repo starts off nice with a slight bit of cantaloupe but turns slightly medicinal and the finish with a touch of bitterness.  I would almost have to say that this bottle was corked

Chinaco Añejo (Green Label 1996); This añejo has a sunny blonde glow, with a nose that has a lot of dry earth, herbs and caramel.  It has a really light, soft and creamy entry. Finish is long but but subtle. I can see why this was so popular during its time.

Chinaco Añejo (Tear Drop, A-series); Golden blonde in color, this añejo     has a nose that has a lot of freshly cut grass and herb.  The taste is filled with caramel and butter with a nice long finish that has herbal elements.

(on the left) El Tesoro Añejo (White Label “Negro”); This anejo is a dark golden brown, and has caramelized brown sugar on the nose, and the palate is loaded with cooked bananas, yet has a very dry texture.  It is much bigger in taste and texture than the “regular” ETWLA.

(on the right) El Tesoro Añejo (White Label) – Straw gold in appearance, this tequila has a big intense texture that pulls your palate apart but has lots of sweet cooked agave and banana notes that also has a slightly creamy texture and a soft long finish.  I really, really dug this añejo!

As a side note.  A lot of the corks were changed out because they broke while they were being opened.

more pics from that evening...

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  1. Khrys,
    Marilyn and I very humbly accept your wonderful accolades. If it had not been for the wonderful people in Mexco who made these wonderful products, it couldn't have happened. Marilyn spent painstaking time learning about barrels and the different taste that different barrels would give. Her El Tesoro Paradiso was a tribute to that knowledge. She brought in barels from distilleries worldwide. She brought inbarrels from Scotland, France and the USA. Each group producing a very different tast.

    We enjoyed the event immensely. And we finally had a chance all of you whom we had corresponded with over the years and never met. La Piñata was wonderful. Arturo, you have a really wonderful place. It was the perfect to meet.

    We look forward to seeing all of you when you visit Mexico. We a just outside of Guadalajara in Ajijic.

    Hasta la vista a todos. Mi casa es su casa.

  2. Muchas gracias Sr. Denton!

  3. Absolutely superb recount... I freaking loved it; made me feel as if i was there... sans the GREAT tequila... I might have missed it in your write up... how was the old-old school 4-yr Chinaco?

  4. thanks QS! that first release of the Chinaco 4 year añejo, was absolutely amazing!