'Tis the season when booze meets billboards all over town and flossy liquor images fill the pages of consumer magazines. This year tequila is making a more concerted appearance, with ads for premium-priced brands especially apparent. A new brand in the increasingly crowded field seems to be making its pitch based on price — higher, not lower. Casa Dragones is elaborately packaged in a Tiffany-blue box, with each bottle numbered and dated… and it retails for $279 at Twin Liquors — where you have to ask. The price wasn't noted on the shelf when I checked.
Miraculously, the Current obtained a bottle. So we decided to put together a what's-it-worth-to-you tasting of tequilas from three out of the five categories of the spirit: blanco or silver; joven or gold; reposado; añejo, and extra-añejo (there was no reposado or añejo in the hunt). This was based on what was at hand, what could be begged and, when there was no other alternative, actually bought. Agreeing to participate in this grab-bag exercise were two of the town's foremost tequila aficionados, Robert Millican of Drew's American Grill (he actually has a certificate from the Academia Mexicana del Tequila) and Jeret Peña of the Esquire Tavern, along with myself and the Current's Calendar Editor Bryan Rindfuss. They tasted blind. I did not. We all used Reidel's tequila flutes and chased our room-temperature sips with a classic sangrita (see recipe on the online version of this story).
The fun began with a baseline silver from Herradura, whose advertising reads, "You can't have great style without great taste." It's packaged in a classy but simple bottle, which may be the "style" part, and comments on the nose ran from peppery and lightly vegetal to honeyed, smoky, and hints of citrus. Observations on the palate were equally wide-ranging, but all agreed that it was light, fresh, and clean, especially after an initial hotness dissipated and some mint and other herbal notes appeared. "It's a lovely little girl," commented Millican. We all thought about $35 was a reasonable price, and that turns out to be very close to what it sells for.
Silver number two was a pony of a different color altogether (a pony being the traditional tequila shooting glass, FYI). Since blancos are bottled straight from the still with no aging in oak, we have to look to other factors to explain why Sauza's Tres Generaciones Plata evoked dark cacao, dates, and vanilla, according to Peña. Highland versus lowland sources for the agave, roasting in pits versus steaming in vats, double versus triple distillation… all can be factors. Though most tequilas are double-distilled, this Sauza gets the triple treatment. If this can sometimes lead to diminished aromatics, such was not the case here. Millican found pineapple and banana in addition to cocoa, and detected a baked agave quality in the taste… all within a light body, however. Rindfuss said it reminded him of sake. Maybe because it seemed more complex, we pegged this one at around $45. It's actually closer to $37.
Extra añejo is a new category, one that requires aging for at least three years in oak vessels no larger than 600 liters. Our next bottle was the pioneer in this field, choosing to go the unusual route of entering the U.S. market first with an extra, only to come out later with a silver. TequilaMe's añejo elicited both praise and a little concern. "It's hard to imagine this as an extra-añejo," remarked Peña, who expected more wood influence. But then he went on to describe a "cloud of sweet vanilla wrapped in a floral bouquet." Millican also found flowers, and added spice, fruit, and citrus to the mix, calling it a "soccer mom" tequila. (Its advertising is a little more Desperate Housewives, however.) Voluptuous and multilayered were my thoughts. We agreed that we would pay around $55 to $60 for this one, but in fact the price is scheduled to drop to $45 retail.
I hadn't anticipated tasting the TequilaMe Ultra Silver, but it was available, and no DNA test was required to be convinced of common parentage. "Flowers, dried fruit, and agave nectar," said Millican, adding "complex" to the palate descriptors. "Perfumy, honey, dates, and whipped cream," claimed Peña. "Snappier, yeastier than the añejo, but with lemon curd and pastry cream" was my contribution. Our take on price? $35-$40. It's due to drop to $25.
At last, the bottle that launched a thousand sips — or at least several dozen. Casa Dragones is a unique product in that it's a joven (basically meaning an unaged silver with some flavor or color added — in this case a suspicion of extra-añejo) that's priced as a full super añejo, and, oh yes, it has been touted by Martha Stewart. By any stretch of the imagination is it worth the asking price? "It has a pleasant light sweetness with apricots [on the nose]," said Peña. On the palate, he found it "complex, a sharp floral aspect, rose… and a long finish. You would really have to appreciate tequila in order to understand what they are doing,"
Millican also found lavender, citrus, and orange blossom, and called it "sexy and creamy" with a long, "floralicious" finish. "It doesn't feel like it's been messed with," he concluded. "Soft and mysterious," thought Rindfuss. I found it unusually (and admirably) sophisticated in nearly every way, agreeing with the sexy-creamy in spades, and only missed a little of the peppery love bite of a good silver. Sadly for the producer, none of us could imagine paying more than $100 for it. But for the special one-percenter on your list — someone who either thinks he doesn't like tequila or is really into it — it's perfect.