The nose has the unmistakable Tequila tang, but with so much more. And once it arrives in the mouth this tasty dram has none of the earmarks of the lick-the-salt-bite-the-lime Tequilas you might remember from an errant foray into the spirit on spring break. Caramel, truffles, orange peel, black pepper and earthy bread dough dance on the palate. This is the first issue of Casa Noble's Colección del Fundador. Called Alta Belleza, it is an organic spirit, triple-distilled, aged in French oak for five years and given a six-month finish in Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon casks. It also has an unfamiliar price: $1,200.
Since the advent of the extra añejo category (aged more than three years), Mexico's national quaff has taken on a new character of connoisseurship more in line with the swizzle-sniff-and-sip set than for boisterous session drinking. And, of course, the new high-end suggests many opportunities for pleasant cigar pairings. But if you gravitated to Tequila for low price points, you'll be disappointed. The $100 barrier has long since been blown by. Increasingly available, Patrón Piedra settles in at $400 and whispers of butterscotch, hot peppers, tobacco and cinnamon. Tears of Llorona ($350) combines Scotch, Sherry and brandy maturation to tease out notes of cocoa, caramel, vanilla, cherry and grape. Three-fifty is a popular tab in the extra añejo crowd, shared by: Don Julio Real, which melds lemon with chocolate and caramel; the creamy, flowers of Casa Herradura (the first in the category); the crisp but chocolaty Don Julio and the woody, spicy and sweet Partida Elegante.
Not to worry though. There's room to move south on the price scale and still find the exquisite. Avion's Reserva 44 ($150) is another caramel explosion that also manages the spices of Mexico, as well as evergreen, mint and cocoa. The high-end expression from the most familiar name in Tequila—Jose Cuervo—is Reserva de la Familia ($150, you can pay four figures for designer bottles, however). It brings complexity to the brand, with pimento, flowers, brandy and vanilla. You can also join the extra añejo movement for a—dare we say?—measly $100 with Espolòn. It's a breathy, floral, fruity drink, with honey, tobacco and a touch of cotton candy.
But high-tariff Tequila doesn't always come in shades of brown. Casa Dragones Joven ($275) melds new-make spirit (joven means young) with extra añejo and is filtered for texture and to remove color. The result is silky smooth and full of vanilla and rosy flowers. Let's put it this way: you won't be reaching for the salt shaker.