Published September 13, 2012
While you never need an excuse to drink good tequila, nationwide celebrations planned for this weekend to mark Mexico's Independence Day will surely provide a nice backdrop.
But choosing the right tequila sometimes first means overcoming some stigmas associated with the drink.
Tequila conjures up images of frat parties, hard-to-swallow shots preceded by salt and followed by lime, Pee-Wee Herman dancing in big shoes, tequila sunrises, body shots, trips to Tijuana and perhaps even eating the worm at the bottom of the bottle. (That last one is actually tequila's cousin mezcal.)
But the Mexican spirit can actually be quite refined and complex. Mexico regulates the export very strictly, but a spirit only has to be 51 percent blue agave in order to earn the name. While cheaper tequilas stop at the minimum, all of the following are 100 per cent blue agave tequilas. Even if you veer off our suggestions, we recommend sticking with the 100 per cent premium tequilas, as opposed to the mixtos. Aren't you worth it?
Raise a glass and sip our top 10 tequilas. No mixers required.
AsomBroso 11 Year Anejo
While tequila aficionados may be familiar with the categories reposado (aged at least two months) and añejo (aged at least a year), the extra-añejo label applied to tequilas aged more than three years wasn't established until 2006. At that time, this tequila was already mellowing in oak barrels, so someone at AsomBroso was definitely looking ahead. Distilled according to time-honored practices using organically grown 100 per cent blue agave, AsomBroso 11 Year Añejo is then patiently aged in French oak barrels, imparting the tequila with a unique bouquet of aromas and a smooth, warm mouthfeel. Since the agave plants harvested were ten years old, and it sat for an unheard-of eleven years, this expensivo spirit took more than two decades to make, and displays the kind of elegance and refinement that can only come with age. Wondering about the shape of the hand-made bottle? It was inspired by an eighteenth-century crystal decanter discovered in an English castle by founder Ricardo Gamarra, and is replete with intricate millefiori glass "flowers."
We realize that not everybody can spend hundreds of dollars on a bottle of tequila no matter how wonderful it is, so we wanted to include a reasonably priced un-aged tequila on our list. This one lived up to the hype. Featured prominently on HBO's "Entourage," Tequila Avión may not come with the models, movie stars and mansions that populate pack leader Vinny Chase's life; however, sometimes a smooth, top-shelf spirit is company enough. Such is the case with this crisp and clean silver tequila hailing from the rolling hills of Jalisco, Mexico. Crafted from brick-oven-roasted blue agave and rigorously refined through Avión's ultra-slow filtration process, the resulting spirit offers a complex, well-balanced flavor profile that can be enjoyed neat or with a mixer.
Oprah Winfrey worked her marketing magic on books, but can she apply the same mojo to tequila? The talk show queen has raved about Casa Dragones, a joven style tequila from San Miguel de Allende that combines an extra-añejo aged for five years in new charred American white oak barrels with un-aged tequila. The mix is then filtered through a bed of charcoal to remove its color. The 80-proof clear liquid is put in an individually numbered crystal bottle decorated by hand with representations of pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and an agave plant, then sealed. The award-winning packaging even comes with a matching decanter top that can be used after popping the synthetic cork, which we suggest you do inmediatamente. Enjoy vanilla and citrus on the nose. The first playful sip presents pepper on the palate, but no alcohol burn on this exceptionally smooth spirit. The next offers a delicate sweetness to the tip of the tongue, a burst of fruit mid-palate and a satisfyingly viscous mouthfeel. Besides Mexico and the U.K., this rare treat is sold in just fourteen U.S. states, and only 32,000 bottles were made in the first two years of production.
Don Julio Real
Founded by Don Julio Gonzalez in 1942, Mexico's most popular premium tequila has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the highlands of Jalisco. Don Julio Real, the brand's extra-añejo offering, is the result of decades of hard work in the pursuit of the perfect tequila. Made using handpicked seven- to ten-year-old blue agave, the tequila is then aged in American white oak barrels for three to five years, where it acquires its signature vanilla flavors and subtle, oaky finish. The decanter-style bottle comes adorned with silver agave leaves, paying tribute to Jalisco's favorite flora.
Gran Patron Burdeos
That doesn't look like a tequila! Named after the vintage Bordeaux barrels in which it is racked, this luxurious añejo tequila is triple-distilled and aged for a minimum of twelve months in order to achieve its smooth, full-bodied taste and rich, dark amber hue. Packaged in an elegant crystal bottle nestled inside a suede-lined black walnut box, Gran Patrón Burdeos is an excellent gift for that agave aficionado in your life; however, we can't say we blame you if you choose to keep this top-notch tequila all to yourself.
Jose Cuervo 250 Aniversario
On November 2, 1758, Don José Antonio de Cuervo procured a parcel of land on which to plant blue agave, and the rest, as they say, is margarita-soaked history. 250 years later, the Don's namesake spirits company commemorated the occasion with Jose Cuervo 250 Aniversario, an ultra-premium extra-añejo tequila crafted from agave sourced solely from Cuervo's original plot. A blend of the finest aged tequilas from the family's private reserves, 250 Aniversario offers notes of butterscotch and vanilla tempered with a hint of pepper. The bottle, inspired by the original glass container used by Don Jose Cuervo to ship his wares over two centuries ago, comes numbered and packaged in a handsome oak box.
Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia
First released in 1995 to celebrate the distillery's 200th anniversary, Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia is crafted according to a Cuervo family recipe handed down over ten generations. The extra-añejo tequila is made using only the piña, or flavorful inner portion, of hand-selected ten-year-old blue agave plants. Aged for an average of three years, the final blend includes tequila from reserves aged over 30 years for a vibrant yet mellow spirit that combines flavors of botanicals, agave, vanilla and Cognac. Befitting a tequila of this quality, the packaging is equally as unique, with each bottle handcrafted, numbered, dated and sealed in wax. Each year, the tequila's collectible box is graced with the artwork of a different Mexican artist.
As the namesake beverage and brainchild of Juan-Domingo "Dobel" Beckmann, the sixth-generation leader of the Jose Cuervo company, Maestro Dobel offers the type of sipping experience that only a true tequila dynasty can deliver. Using blue agave sourced from single estates in the volcanic lowlands of Jalisco, Maestro Dobel is a hand-blended mixture of reposado, añejo and extra-añejo tequilas, double-distilled and filtered for clarity. The resulting tequila is a balanced combination of limestone minerality and citrus with a delicate, sweet finish.
Mix aged tequila with un-aged and it becomes young (joven) according to the tequila gods. A blend of triple-distilled silver tequila and Milagro's barrel-aged stock, Unico is an agave-forward tequila that is playful on the tongue, yet offers a long, smooth finish. All of the agave used is estate-grown in the Jalisco highlands, and the vegetal beverage is packaged in a slender, striking bottle that showcases its crystal-clear appearance. Given the labor-intensive process that goes into making this carefully crafted spirit, only 1,200 individually numbered bottles have been released.
Don Julio 1942
In 1942, seventeen-year-old Julio Gonzalez Estrada started making tequila and founded his distillery, La Primavera (The Springtime), in Jalisco. Originally released in celebration of the 60th anniversary of Don Julio Tequila, this meticulously crafted small-batch añejo is produced according to the same principles that started the teen's venture down the road to success. Made using mature, handpicked blue agave that is slow-roasted for 70 hours in traditional brick ovens and aged for a minimum of two-and-a-half years in American white oak barrels, this elegant tequila is a great product for añejo rookies. Besides rich aromas of caramel and toffee, it offers a rich palate of flavors most people enjoy --- maple, vanilla, molasses, brown sugar --- while still retaining the expression of agave. We raise a glass in memory of Don Julio Gonzalez Estrada, who died in 2012, but his tequila legacy lives on.
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