Once the Liquor of Machismo and Margaritas, Tequila has Gone Decidedly Upscale
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Herradura Gold (Reposado)--Herradura claims to use no caramel color in its tequilas. This richly flavored tequila is scented with exotic pineapple and other tropical fruit aromas and is zesty and a bit hot on the palate.
Jose Cuervo Tradicional--Almost colorless, this tequila is assertive and herbaceous with rich, smooth flavors. Drink it chilled and neat, advises Cuervo's Juan Domingo Beckmann. Don't confuse this small-production, 100 percent agave bottling with Cuervo Especial, also known as Cuervo Gold, the best-selling tequila in the United States.
Sauza Hornitos--Sauza's only 100 percent agave tequila, this bottling has long enjoyed a cult following. It has a pleasantly sweet bouquet with scents of lemon and herbs and is brisk and full-bodied on the palate.
Centinela Añejo--A lighter style añejo, this vanilla- and ginger-scented tequila has clean, forthright flavors. According to its importer, Centinela tequilas contain no artificial colors, sweeteners, caramel or other flavoring agents.
Centinela Añejo 3 Años--Pale straw in color, Centinela's three year old is nutmeggy, rich and suave on the palate.
Dos Reales Añejo--This tequila is produced by Cuervo SA at its La Rojeña distillery in Tequila. It is gold in color with a caramel and oak-scented bouquet and is very smooth but not terribly complex on the palate. Dos Reales is not labeled 100 percent agave.
El Tesoro de Don Felipe Añejo--This pale straw-colored spirit offers complex aromas mingling lemon, rosemary and pineapple. On the palate it has a hint of sweetness and lemony, brisk flavors.
Herradura Añejo--The color of a 10-year-old Chardonnay--unusually dark for a tequila with no caramel color--this 100 percent agave tequila is like brandy and very appealing, with toffee scents and mellow oak-aged flavors.
La Reserva de la Familia de Jose Cuervo--In September, Cuervo will introduce this blend of 100 percent agave añejo commemorating the 200th anniversary of the founding of the distilling company. A limited edition of 1.75 liter bottles, cradled in wooden boxes and featuring a label painted by Mexican artist Joel Rendòn, will be sold for $150, although company officials note that only 1,900 of these are being made. La Reserva de la Familia will also be available in a production of 3,500 750ml. bottles, at about $60 a bottle.
Patrón Añejo--Straw-colored, this aged tequila offers smoky agave scents overlaid with wood. On the palate it is lemony, rich, clean and very easy to drink.
Porfidio Añejo--This two-year-old añejo is a very pale straw color; it has a delicate aroma of wood and nutmeg and is spicy and a bit hot on the palate.
Porfidio Añejo Extra--Bottled in a gray, hand-painted Mexican ceramic crock, this tequila is a blend of añejos aged up to six years. The bouquet is mushroomy and earthy, yet the flavor is very smooth.
Porfidio Single Barrel Añejo (cactus bottle)--This wins the hard-fought tequila packaging wars with an eye-catching hand-blown bottle that contains a single green Royal Palm glass cactus, complete with red blooms, inside. (The purist in me chides Porfidio's importer, Tequila Imports Inc., for obfuscating tequila's agave origins with the cactus in the bottle, but there's no denying that the package is dynamite.) The tequila in the bottle is almost beside the point, but actually it's quite an intriguing drink, Chardonnay-colored, with exotic scents of pineapple, smoke, oak and herbs. On the palate it is extremely smooth and a bit sweet.
Sauza Conmemorativo--Earthy, mushroomy flavors dominate the bouquet of this añejo, which is not labeled 100 percent agave. Conmemorativo's pale straw color is entirely natural, according to the distiller, with no caramel color added. This añejo is produced at the Sauza distillery in the town of Tequila.
Sauza Tres Generaciones--Pale straw color, this sipping tequila offers complex aromas, mingling mossy-herbal and tropical fruit notes. On the palate it is brisk but smooth. Like Conmemorativo, Tres is not labeled 100 percent agave.
Not Categorized by Age
Cuervo 1800--Packaged in a distinctive decanter, this tequila has the golden color of a dry amontillado sherry. Wood and spicy scents of ginger dominate the bouquet. The label declares 1800 to be a "marriage of añejo and other fine tequilas"; in other words, it cannot be termed añejo. Nor is it 100 percent agave tequila. Nevertheless, 1800 has a style entirely unto itself and is a very popular brand in the United States, particularly in high-end Margaritas.
* All tequilas are labeled as 100 percent agave unless otherwise noted.