I have to say that it has been an epic battle of the tequilas so far. At this point, the judges have the cards scored evenly as we head into Round 3 of our Tequila Battle Royale!
Don’t worry, if you missed either of the first two rounds, you can replay the highlights by clicking on the following links:
So today we have Round 3 of our tequila battle and this time we move up a “weight class” to taste Añejos, tequilas that have been aged in white oak casks for more than one year, but less than three years.
But first, for a little between rounds entertainment, here’s some information about terroir and the differing tequila-producing regions. Like wine, and to a degree, whisky, the concept of Terroir plays a significant role in the production and flavors of tequila and aficionados study its appellation of origin and debate about how factors like soil and weather affect the final product. So having some knowledge and understanding of the regional differences will assist you in your exploration and enjoyment of these high-quality sipping tequilas!
Terroir: Mexico’s Tequila Regions
Jalisco Lowlands: Most of the agave used in tequila is grown in the state of Jalisco, in or around the city of Tequila and a few others like Amatitán. Lowlands agave are usually drier, rounder and, due to the volcanic soil in this region, have a more herbaceous fragrance and flavor resulting in tequila that has a spicier and earthy quality with more citrus notes as found in the finish of Herradura Reposado, or the small batch Casa Dragones Joven.
Jalisco Highlands: Because this region gets less rain than the lowlands, and because the solid red clay soil makes the agave roots work harder to get down to water, the plant gathers a lot of minerals. Highlands agave also tend to grow larger in size, mature more slowly, and are sweeter in aroma and taste producing sweeter, fruity tequila; richer in natural sugars like Avión Reposado, with its fruit notes of pear and peach.
Tamaulipas and Guanajuato: A small amount of agave is grown in the states bordering Jalisco, like Guanajuato, where you’ll find similar conditions. From there, Corralejo Reposado is a standout, with ripe agave, a bright honey finish and mint notes. Tamaulipas is closer to the Gulf of Mexico, which can affect the aging process and impart a salty, sea quality to the agave. The result can be tropical and spicy, as in the butterscotch nose and banana-peel heat of Chinaco Reposado.
The Tequilas: Part III – Añejos
Now, back to the good stuff! For our third flight, once again we tasted tequilas from Tequila Fortaleza, Herencia Mexicana, and Roca Patron (left to right). You can see immediately that these tequilas have gained significant color from the cask influence.
Fortaleza Añejo, 40% abv (Left)
Color: Pale yellow, slightly golden
Nose: The nose on this one shows the commonality with the other Fortalezas we’ve tried tonight, but bolder, with more “oomph” and excitement. There is still a big sweet baked agave note – damp earth, clay, but now there is so much more. More cask-influenced notes, like the vanilla, soft spices. Citrus, soft herbal notes, a touch of mint, olive brine, and something slightly “bready”.
Palate: A creamy vanilla arrival, then a big hit of lemon juice, some sweet fruits – pear juice (agave juice?) soft spices – perhaps a touch of cinnamon, some white pepper.
Finish: Fresh agave, lemon juice, warm vanilla, and just a touch of the white pepper at the tail-end.
Herencia Mexicana Añejo, 40% abv (Middle)
Color: Very pale yellow, slightly darker than the Fortaleza.
Nose: BIG vanilla arrival, softer notes of baked agave, damp earth, ripe fruits, delicately herbal, slightly vegetal, with just a splash of citrus juices, and just a trace of smoke – likely barrel char coming through.
Palate: A very delicate arrival, this one is softer, subtler. There is an underlying vegetal/earthy aspect that connects this one to the previous Herencias. Some lemon-lime citric tartness, a rich, creamy vanilla, toffee, softly fruity – pear juice, very delicate spices, and that hint of smoke shows up here, too.
Finish: The finish on this one is moderate length, focused on vanilla, soft spices and a hint of oaky tannins.
Roca Patron Añejo, 44% abv (Right)
Color: Almost a chardonnay color
Nose: Very interesting! A much fruitier nose – I even get some strawberry. The cask influence is really starting to show up as I get stronger notes of baking spices – cinnamon, cardamom, white pepper. There is a beautiful caramel and vanilla sweetness. The agave notes are there, mineral and earthy, but they are not as “central” to the nose, now.
Palate: Vanilla-infused fruits, more spice, a hint of pepper. Sweet caramel. A hint of smoke or barrel char. This one aged for almost two years and it shows in the depth and breadth of flavors. Again, the higher abv in this one may play a big role in the impressions it makes. Yet, despite the higher abv, the alcohol is not readily evident,
Finish: Sweet, softly fruity,more of the agave earthiness, vanilla, spiced vanilla.
Okay, now we’re talking! Even though we are tasting tequilas with “shortish” maturation periods, especially compared to whiskies, and even some rums, the effect of the interaction with the casks is immediate, significant, and welcomed! The aromas in the glass and flavors on the palate are broader, more expansive, and there is a balance between the core agave notes and what the cask adds to the mix. For a whisky fan, the cask maturation of these tequilas begins to bring out the kind of complexity that is so appealing in quality whiskies! Yea!
Keeping to our boxing theme, I will call this round a split decision, but I will offer these rankings – just remember that the judge’s scorecards are very close.
Assessing this set of tequilas was more difficult as each offered a beautiful experience – especially from a whisky-drinker’s perspective – because the cask maturation, even as short as it is, makes a distinct and noticeable impact, bringing out more complexity and depth of flavors. If I have to decide, though, I give the nod to the Roca Patron because this one seems to have the broadest palate and richer, denser flavors. For me, with the Añejos, the Fortaleza runs a close second for the balance and wonderful mouthfeel it offers. The Herencia places third because the vegetal note is a tad too strong, although I really enjoyed the slightly smoky, barrel-char note. But on a different day, the Fortaleza and the Herencia could easily change places.