Last weekend our North Texas Spirits Society group held a South of the Border tasting to explore some tremendous tequilas. Chris “The Liquorhound” and “No Nickname” Pete served as hosts because they are far and away the group’s foremost tequila experts. Despite the high-pressure to deliver on the grand expectations that had been set, Chris and Pete delivered in spades…..or better, in sombreros!
The menu that Chris and Pete devised was set up to provide insight into the traditional flavorings and across the primary styles of tequilas. We explored the tequilas in four flights, by “style”, starting with the “youngest” Blancos, moving on to the Reposados, then the Añejos, and finally the Extra Añejos. And then! after the flights we topped off the evening by tasting a couple of incredible surprises that really drove home how much more there is to tequila than shots and upside down margaritas!
Today’s post is Part I of a quick series of flighted tastings of these tequilas, so let’s get started with a little background and then the first set of tasting notes!
What is Tequila?
Tequila is the national drink of Mexico and, as such, it is heavily regulated by Mexican law to ensure the integrity of the beverage. By law, tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and limited municipalities inthe states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Also, tequila can only be made from Weber Blue Agave grown and produced in the appellation of origin.
Blue Agave plants are cultivated on plantations and take about 8-10 years to fully mature. When the mature Agave plants are ready for harvesting, the Agave harvester, known as the “Jimador,” manually removes the piña, which is extracted from the core of the Agave plant exactly as it has been done for centuries.
Each piña weighs between 65 and 135 pounds and it takes about 17 pounds of Agave to produce one liter of 100% Agave Tequila.After harvesting, the piña hearts are split open and steamed in large pressure cookers. The resulting liquids flow into large steel vats for fermentation, where the process takes from 12 hours to several days, depending on several different factors including the amount of water and sugar in the piñas, the type of yeast used and the ambient temperature. When fermentation is complete, the liquid then undergoes a double distillation process. When the second distillation is complete, a potent high-proof Tequila emerges.
In order to be called Tequila, the product must start with at least 51% Agave, with the balance of 49% being made of other sugars, but if there is less than 100% Agave, it is designated as Mixto. This “inferior” product is less regulated, can have additives after the distillation process, and can be manipulated and bottled outside of the appellation of origin.
The Tequilas – Part I
Flight #1 – Blancos: Each of the first three flights consisted of three distinct tequilas from Tequila Fortaleza, Herencia Mexicana, and Roca Patron (left to right) – each flight served in the same order.
The first flight was Blancos, or Silver (also known as Plata). Blanco is the traditional Tequila that started it all and it has the true bouquet and flavor of the Blue Agave. Clear and transparent, fresh from the still Tequila is called Blanco (white or silver) and “unaged”, Blancos bottled immediately after the distillation process.
Fortaleza Blanco, 40% abv (Left)
Tequila Fortaleza is a Central Lowlands tequila, double distilled, and bottled at 40% abv. Tequila Fortaleza is the American label for Tequila Los Abuelos, due to a Rum with the name “Abuelos” already being distributed in the USA.
Nose: quite a bold nose, fills the glass with aromas of baked, sweet agave, soft citrus notes, with a bit herbal spice.
Palate: Soft and oily arrival, quite sweet, earthy, maybe a hint of vanilla. Clean, fresh.
Finish: sweet and softly earthy with delicate herbal note. Good length.
Herencia Mexicana Blanco, 40% abv (Middle)
Herencia Mexicana is a small, traditional distillery in the Highlands area of Los Altos de Jalisco that first started producing tequila in 1892. The distillery produces approximately 3,000 liters per day.
Nose: Strong note of fresh agave juice, slightly sour, earthy, warm clay, very vegetal.
Palate: delicate, oily, with hints of vanilla and raw agave.
Finish: Shortish, mostly the vegetal aspect that comes through.
Roca Patron Silver, 45% abv (Right)
Patron Spirits, producers of Roca Patron tequila, is another Highlands distillery that uses the traditional method of a tahona wheel, a giant two-ton stone wheel, to crush the cooked agave. to give their tequila an “earthy” taste, both the juice and the agave fiber are placed together into wooden fermentation vats for 72 hours, and then distilled in small-capacity copper pot stills.
Nose: mostly the earthiness shows through (earthy is a common note that I find, in case you didn’t pick up on that!) clay, soft, just a hint of the higher abv shows up with a touch of alcohol. A dash of lemon juice.
Palate: Creamy on the palate, hints of cinnamon, the lemon juice comes through, a nice sweetness from the agave.
Finish: Moderate length, sweet-citric and softly spiced.
All three of these Blancos were good examples of the style, and are definitely high-quality “sipping” tequilas – vastly different from the likes of the usual bar tequilas that go into margaritas. Each of the offered tequilas presented good body, a solid structure, and unique flavor profiles.
As a comparative review, I have to say that I preferred the Roca Patron. For me, the Patron had the best balance, had the richest mouthfeel, and seemed to combine the best of the aromas and flavors of the two others. Some of this may be a result of the slightly higher abv which offered better vibrancy to the flavors. The Fortaleza was a close second in this flight for its balanced sweet and earthy flavors. For me, the Herencia Blanco was a bit mono-dimensional; it just became too vegetal and lacked some off-setting sweetness or spice notes to bring some balance or nuance, but which may be part of the Lowland style.