Tequila, up until the last few years, was best known for being the quickest route to the floor for members of our great nation’s fraternities and sororities. It's only recently that the spirit has gotten the respect that it deserves, not surprisingly coinciding with Mexico's relatively new laws concerning the way tequila must be made in order to qualify as tequila.
Since February 22nd is National Margarita Day -- America's celebration of the most common delivery device for cheap tequila known to man – now would seem to be the perfect time to defy convention and throw back a glass or two of the finest tequilas mankind has to offer.
Of course, tequila hasn't become quite as rarefied as good whiskey or champagne. Instead, the price of most of the ultra-premium bottles represents an irresponsible splurge rather than a year's salary. These bottles stand apart from what most think of as tequila, being aged for two years or more in oak barrels and taking on qualities similar to scotch or bourbon. These are smooth, buttery, complex experiences that don't have much business being mixed into a Margarita. The aging process brings out caramel and butterscotch overtones, layered with rich spice and a warmth that's tough to beat as we try to crawl out of what seems like a never-ending winter.
If you see any of these bottles sitting on the shelf in your local liquor store, there are certainly far worse ways to spend a few hundred bucks.
Jose Cuervo Reserva de Familia – A familiar sight to anyone who ever threw back a shot in college, Jose Cuervo has put out a yearly limited edition bottling for a few years now and the 2010 edition was one of the best yet. At $100, it's not cheap, but it's one of the best values in the roundup. Oak-aging is good for Jose, bringing out mellow caramel sweetness and a light spice from the wood. There's a slight minty and herbal agave aftertaste, but it adds complexity rather than calling for lime and a saltshaker. Plus, the bottle comes in a sweet box that features art from Pablo Vargas Lugo that'd look awesome on a shelf in the liquor cabinet.
Gran Centanario Leyenda Extra Anejo Tequila – Extra Anejo is a new designation for tequila reserved for those bottles that have been aged a minimum of three years. Gran Centanario was supposedly the first of these tequilas to hit the market. At $223 for a bottle, it ain't a bargain, but it's every bit as good as a fine Scotch. A deep caramel brown in the glass, it's smooth and sweet, hitting hard up front with citrus and cinnamon spice that gives way to the rich floral mint of agave. Every flavor note comes through crystal clear and the taste lingers a long time. Not quite as long as the pain in your wallet after picking up a bottle, but long enough to make it worthwhile.
Herradura Seleccion Suprema – Tasty doesn't even begin to describe this tequila. Seleccion Suprema is another Extra Anejo, this one reportedly aged for more than four years. The years have been kind to it too. Truly the cougar of the group, it's a gorgeous tequila made from 10 year old agave plants – which is when they supposedly reach the height of their flavor. It translates into a silky smooth mix, with vanilla and caramel featured prominently and the agave morphing from what's usually a heavy mint undercurrent into a combination of rose and a creamy ginger taste. At about $250, it's sophisticated, but still amply capable of seducing college-aged males with a taste for the finer things in life.
Don Julio Real – One of the best looking bottles in the bunch, and you pay for all that sexy glass. Fortunately, your $370 scores you not only a trophy for your home bar, but also a pretty tasty liquor. Perfectly balanced between citrus and oak, with only a hint of minty agave to remind you it's tequila and not a rare bottle of whiskey, Don Julio hits the mark nicely, though it can be a tough swallow if you're not a fan of oak.
Jose Cuervo 250 Aniversario – Falling easily under the heading of conspicuous consumption, this ultra-rare bottle went for $2,250 when it was released and the price went on up from there. Consisting of a blend of 5, 10, 15 and 20 year barrel-aged tequilas -- not to mention a batch of blanco tequilas that had been sitting in the Cuervo cellars for a century that was then barrel-aged for three years -- the mix was tossed into sherry barrels for another 10 months. Clearly, a lot of love was invested in this spirit. It comes complete with a hand-blown decanter and a custom box that look absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, few will ever crack the bottle open to partake of the precious elixir inside. They don't know what they're missing – the unique process to make this tequila resulted in something unlike virtually anything on the market. There's chocolate, sherry, cherry, citrus, and complex spices there aren't even words for that linger for days. So go make friends with Mark Zuckerburg or Sean Parker and see if they might treat you to an early birthday present.