‘Feeling’ tequila is an important part of the premium tasting experience hosted by Mexico’s oldest Tequila house, Jose Cuervo. Established in 1795, Jose Cuervo is home to experts in ‘everything tequila,’ they now hold premium tasting seminars throughout Mexico.
Having refined this iconic Mexican spirit for centuries, they say you need all of your senses to experience tequila, and you need to ‘feel’ it to fully appreciate its complexity. Beau, our tequila expert hosting the Tequila Tasting Seminar at Discover Mexico on Cozumel Island off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, explains, “This is essential because when you pour a little into the palm of your hands and rub them together, the alcohol evaporates and you are left with the smooth oaky aromas and complexity of the aged tequila itself, a glimpse into the heart of true tequila.”
Bring your hands up to your face and inhale deeply; let the tequila’s mellow smoothness surprise you. The subtleties of tequila blossom disperses any misconceptions you may have had in the past. This is definitely the perfect way to start.
Tequila and Chocolate: A Match Made in Heaven
Just like a wine sommelier, Beau has expertise that provides the perfect scents and pairings for each type of tequila. A tasting educates you on the differences between top-shelf premium-grade tequila and mediocre ones, and alongside the best pairings, the tasting may just ignite a new love affair as each of your senses awaken.
He advises that scoring a peel of lime with your fingernail, breaking open a fragrant cinnamon stick, or sniffing a cracked coffee bean all compliment different aged tequilas.
The deep-seated aroma and silky taste of Añejo (Spanish for aged) tequila paired with the smooth, mellow sweetness of dark (70-80 percent cacao) traditionally hand-made Mayan dark chocolate is one combination you will want to try when visiting Mexico. It triggers the pleasure centre of your brain and shows why millions of Mexicans love this combination.
“This is how you drink tequila like a Mexican,” Beau smiles.
The 5 senses of tequila tasting
Watch the tequila swirl in your glass. Observe as the top crown of liquid begins to run back down when you cease. This is the first step in identifying a great tequila. It has two stages—tears and legs. The legs are long streaks you see running back down while the tears are smaller droplets clinging near the crown. These tell viscosity, age, and smoothness. The longer they stay, the more in-depth, mellow, and smooth the tequila.
You need to inhale three different times to get the maximum effect. First, place your nose inside the glass and inhale. Strong, this is likely to ‘burn’ a little. Second, place your nose at the top inside of the glass and sniff. This provides a mellower smell that activates your taste. Finally, place your nose on the outside of the glass as if you are about to take a sip. Inhale. This intensifies your olfactory senses and picks up subtle oak aromas of the wooden barrels housing the tequila during the aging process.
Before tasting, eat some wheat crackers and take a sip of water to cleanse your palate and get it ready for the first sip of tequila. The first taste has to be just right—not too much, or it will burn. Not too little, or you won’t get the complete taste. Then, gently swirl the tequila around your mouth, savouring it for five seconds. Once you swallow, exhale through your mouth. This takes away the strong alcohol and eradicates the ‘burn.’ This step is particularly helpful with the crisp, clean, young, newly distilled taste of Blanco tequila.
Like a professional, you’ll want to ‘feel’ a good tequila. Place a small amount in the palm of your hand and rub your hands together. Evaporating quickly, it leaves behind the pleasantly surprising aromas of its oil, adding to the complexity of the components of the oak barrel it is aged in.
To complete the experience, as is customary in Mexico, toast.
Raise your glass and exclaim, “Salud” (Spanish for ‘health’) before sipping and toasting to good health, good company and great tequila.
The Three Tequilas
Blanco (white), Reposado (rested), and Eñejo (aged) are the three tequila categories. Just like wine, tequilas intensify and soften with age. Flavours deepen and provide a mellower, smoother taste the longer they are in the barrel.
Newly distilled, aged up to two months, Blanco is the youngest tequila. Clear in colour, it yields a clean, sharp and crisp taste of newly distilled alcohol. It is best mixed in cocktails, not drunk alone.
Swirled in the glass, tears and legs disappear quickly leaving long streaks. This is the tequila that people often claim ‘burns.’ Being blanco is a newly distilled alcohol and is being consumed as a shot are the reasons for the burn. Mixing blanco into cocktails blends and enhances other flavours. Scored lime peel compliments this tequila when held in your mouth.
Aged from two months to one year, this tequila is smoother without the ‘burn.’ A gorgeous golden amber colour, it’s more complex and takes on some of the oaky flavours of the barrel.
When swirled, reposado tends to cling to the glass longer and forms more distinct tears. The tears stay near the crown as long, thick legs take their time descending. Distinctly mellower in taste, this tequila has lost that ‘burn’ and leaves a pleasant warmth. Breaking open a cinnamon stick enhances the taste of this tequila.
Usually aged one to three years in barrel, this is the smoothest tequila. Deep honey amber in colour, añejo is easily recognizable in the bottle. Distinct amongst tequilas, it spends the longest time in the barrel which provides the mellowest taste of all. There is a silkiness when held in the mouth, and paired with dark chocolate, there are few things more divine. When swirled it forms a distinct crown. Tears will remain for quite some time before slowing descending, following the thick legs that cling to the side of the glass.
The Bottom Line
Aging past three years is not needed according to Beau. Unlike other spirits, further aging does not increase smoothness or taste complexity. Although, premium tequila ranges like 1800 are aged substantially longer. Reposado is aged 8-12 years with Añejo spending closer to 12 years in barrels. They may spend up to 14 months in French Oak barrels, adding a hint of vanilla and butterscotch. Luxury Extra-Aged tequilas are only produced during excellent years of production.
What to look for when buying a high-quality tequila
Not all tequilas are created equal. High-quality premium tequilas are from the Tequila region of Mexico. Agave and blue agave plants are grown far and wide throughout Mexico, but these plants do not produce the high sugar content required for high-end tequila. Their resulting alcohol is called Mezcal.
When you first pick up a bottle you need to see that it has three things.
First, the word tequila must appear on the label, meaning it’s from the Tequila region of Mexico and is pure.
This region is most suitable in climate, altitude and rainfall for the optimum production of higher sugar levels needed to make premium tequila.
“Every Tequila is a Mezcal, but not every Mezcal is a Tequila!”
Second, 100% Agave or 100% Blue Agave must be on the label. This guarantees its production from the finest agave and produces the highest purity levels.
Finally, a barcode square on the side or back of the bottle symbolizes that the tequila passed inspections, the company paid taxes on it, the Mexican government and has approved and stamped it. As Mexico’s most iconic export, tequila is heavily regulated.
Then the only thing left to do is to raise your glass and drink to health, happiness, and great tequila.