No longer is tequila the rotgut white lightnin’ once renowned (in this country) for being cheap, quick, and lethal — not when a product such as Chinaco Negro can hit the shelves at $230 a bottle. The Negro is one of a new category of tequilas recently recognized by the Mexican government’s Consejo Regulador del Tequila as extra añejo, meaning it must spend at least three years in oak barrels before release. As much as Omniboire would have liked to test drive these Testarossa tequilas, for this blind tasting we settled instead on the more readily available and (relatively) cheaper reposados, which must age in barrels at least two, but no more than 12, months. But we were lucky to have German Gonzalez, Chinaco’s owner and distiller, on our tasting panel.
Given that tequila has been produced in Mexico since the Spaniards introduced Arabian distillation techniques, Chinaco, located in south-central Tamaulipas and named for the legendary mounted troupers, is a relatively young company. Founded by Gonzalez’s father in the 1930s, it was nevertheless the first to export super-premium, 100-percent blue agave tequila to the U.S nearly 25 years ago, and in so doing surely paved the way for the dizzying array of luxury bottlings now available. The soft-spoken Gonzalez talked briefly about tequila production before our panel sat down to swirl, sniff, and taste at Pesca in the Watermark Hotel & Spa. Pesca bartender Jeret Peña, playing on both a natural enthusiasm and his expertise at dispensing tequilas from one of the city’s best selections, acted as host and guest curator. We were joined by Roland Treviño of Los Barrios and Hacienda de los Barrios (whose bar also boasts more than 30 tequilas), Watermark staffer and tequila aficionada Mona Martinez, and Omni/Watermark food and beverage purchasing director Andrew Magallanez.
Reposados are prized by many as the perfect tequila category — smoother than the adolescent silvers that are bottled straight from the still, yet less oak-influenced than the añejos, which can occasionally mask the earthy, spicy, and floral qualities that make this “daughter of the sun” part of Mexico’s cultural heritage. There was no masking of aromas or flavors in Peña’s carefully researched selection of six, and each exhibited distinctive and unique characteristics. Starting at the upper end of the age limit, Casa Noble spends 364 days in the barrel, giving it what Magallanez called “an almost creamy” mouthfeel. Treviño detected fruited, honey-like notes, while Gonzalez termed it “friendly” — though with a short finish.
Fruitiness was also detected in the Don Eduardo, aged for 6 months in old barrels. Both Magallanez and Treviño found it “strong,” and Gonzalez praised its smooth, long finish. Don Julio, in a simple, handsome bottle with a wooden stopper, is said to have a high sugar content, and sure enough Treviño found it “light and sweet — but with a bite at the end.” Eight months in white-oak barrels also gives it vanilla and caramel flavors, noted by both Megallanez and Martinez, while Peña suggested cinnamon.
At first glance, Corazon’s long-necked bottle may make it look like many of the elaborately packaged, high-end tequilas, but this new distillery, founded in 1998, produced the highest scorer of the tasting. “I found a lot of agave — more than most,” offered Gonzalez , a comment we interpreted as high praise. “Vegetal” was this taster’s opinion — which I now know to read as the real thing. A “smoky, ashy” taste was suggested by Peña, and a good, lingering finish distinguished it from most others.
Gonzalez evaluated the finish of Guanajuato-produced Corralejo as “Not friendly.” Packaged in a busy blue bottle (said to represent “healing”) this tequila inspired the most commentary. Martinez was the most vocal, calling it “soft and mild, not overpowering … it speaks to women. Most women will make a face when taking a shot, but not with this one” she attested, so of course we asked her prove it with another of the glasses. Sure enough.
Gonzalez revealed himself to be a partisan of the new Riedel glassware developed especially for tequila. “Snifters are the enemy of tequila,” he declared, due to the small opening that tends to concentrate the hotter aspects of its aromas. The Riedels, on the other hand, are slender in the manner of a short Champagne flute, and are only slightly tapered. The round bottom tends to aerate the elixir when it’s poured in, he says, and the glass’s molecular composition is such that it doesn’t influence the temperature of the drink — which brings up another point. Your taster admitted to keeping his tequilas in the freezer. If you’re new to it, you might chill a silver down four degrees or so, Gonzalez says; otherwise, it’s room temperature all the way.
For this tasting, we did taste neat at room temperature. Pesca provided their house-made sangrita for sampling afterwards, however, and Gonzalez confirmed that taking short shots of it along with tequila is “religious” in Mexico. Peña makes his from tomato juice, orange juice, Cholula hot sauce, and grenadine; start with a majority of tomato and go from there. The bottled stuff from Viuda de Sanchez is the best packaged product according to both Gonzalez and yours truly. •
(Note that all of the above, plus a reposado sotol from Chihuahua that didn’t quite make the cut, can be found at Rainbow Spirits on N. St. Mary’s, where David Carranza seems to know his stuff, and most are available at Saglimbeni Fine Wine. Saglimbeni can also order the Riedel tequila tasting glassware at $39.99 for a four-pack. Prices below are an average between Rainbow and Saglimbeni.)
14/20 Corazon Reposado, $49.50
Agave nose with petroleum and pepper
13.5/20 Don Julio Reposado, $54.00
Vanilla and mineral notes with hot finish
13.375/20 Corralejo Reposado, $43.00
Perfumed, fruity nose, lingering finish
13.125/20 Casa Noble Reposado, $55.00
Faint white pepper and light smoke with “friendly” finish
13/20 Don Eduardo Reposado, $50.00
Floral nose with light, fruity body