Come-clean time: I study like a madman, just so I’ll feel like I know what I’m talking about when I pop off about something, in beer, wine, or spirits. And I’ve most of a lifetime spent in studying Whiskeys, Vodka, Gin, Rum…but not Tequila. Personal tastes absolutely DO enter in when we’re talking about dedication to a subject and, although I do love Tequila, it is solidly #5 on this list of five categories we’re doing in this series.
That said, as in all these categories – and in everything I write for this blog – my approach is that of an Average American drinker: does it taste good? I try hard not to get bogged down in the stylistic minutiae of beer, wine, and booze. If your Barleywine isn’t aged as long or in the right style barrels as the original Brit progenitors, I don’t care. Does It Taste Good? Will it represent a wise use of your money? Will you derive pleasure from drinking it? Those are my questions. For real, hard-core information about Tequila in all its forms, I’m going to refer you to the world’s premier Tequila website, SiembraAzul, and its rock-star contributor, Leopoldo Solis, universally recognized as the world’s greatest Tequila authority. It’s a resource I use constantly and it’s in English. Leopoldo is a real Tequila expert. I’m a guy who sips shots and talks baseball. It bears noting, here, that Tequila is undergoing a rather significant wave of Price Creep, these days. It’s become fashionable among young jet-setters, not only here but in Europe, and the market drives the price. It’s become difficult to find great !!! for little $$$, so this category is small and getting smaller. Sad, but, hey, that’s free enterprise and the irony of the term “Free Enterprise” being anything but free seems to be lost on almost everybody. NOTE: There were some samples I received for this Fall Round-Up that were clearly not in the category of “Value Spirits” and are not included here. Examples are the Diplomatico Rums and Casa Noble Tequilas, all of which will be given their own stand-alone reviews next week, as ALL were far too wonderful for me to simply omit. The guidelines given of this tasting were all the clear spirits – Gin, Tequila, Vodka and Rum (okay, they’re not all clear, all the time) coming in at $30-ish and Whiskeys that retail for under $40…ish. Some of the folks who submitted missed that, which was probably because I didn’t make it clear. In this whole tasting, there were exactly FIVE bottles that I just cannot review or recommend, a rather astoundingly small percentage, in my experience. So, here they are…the Best Tequila Bargains I’ve found in 2014…
The Tequilas: Cactus with NONE of the Thorns
EL JIMADOR TEQUILA BLANCO
Style: Blanco About $22 Rating: “Best Booze Buy“
El Jimador is named for the field hands who harvest the agave used in its production and it tastes as earthy and rustic – and fresh and crisp and natural as its name. The hallmark grassiness you expect from a fine Lowlamnds Tequila is here in spades, graced by lovely, uber-fresh citrus peel and pepper notes. It’s assertive enough to work as a sipper and lights up any drink you mix it in, stubbornly refusing to get lost under the volleys of fruit juices and other mixers. This is a beautiful little bottle of cactus-y goodness and the go-to Tequila for bartenders everywhere.
TEQUILA ESPOLÓN BLANCO
Style: Blanco About $23 Rating: “Exceptional“
Espolón is also 100% agave, from the Mexican Highlands, is the work of Master Distiller Cirilo Oropeza, a genuine legend in the world of Tequila, who coaxes out every molecule of the agave freshness, clear fruit flavors, mild spices, and white pepper that the cactus can supply. It’s wildly earthy, brilliantly recalling the rugged landscapes of its origins and delivers a glorious complexity, with grace notes of wildflowers, grilled fruits, and eucalyptus in the background. It’s wonderfully intense and immediate, taking over your palate instantly but finishing gracefully. This is my second favorite sipping Tequila and an absolutely howlin’ bargain.
TRES AGAVES TEQUILA BLANCO
Style: Blanco About $28 Rating: “Best Booze Buy“
Unlike many Blancos, which are barreled in oak because their makers think it’s necessary to add interest and value, Tres Agaves – a spin-off brand of the legendary restaurant of the same name – dispenses with the artifice and gets down to the core issue: 100% agave and how that tastes. Answer: pretty effin’ wonderful. Tres is BIG, a whoppin’ mouthful of fresh cactus pepper and exotic spices and cucumber-ish vegetal notes. It’s relentlessly crisp and refreshing and makes an absolutely stunning Margarita, melding with the fruitiness of the drink without getting lost. This is my choice for a warm-weather sipper: some ice, twist of lime, Tres Agaves, BOOM. Done. What more do you need?
PARTIDA TEQUILA BLANCO
Style: Blanco About $35 Rating: “Best Booze Buy“
This Partida actually did not qualify under my price guidelines but it absolutely does qualify in terms of the venerable concept of QPR – Quality to Price Ratio. Call it the jauntier “Bang For Buck“, if you like but it means the same: getting a lot more than you paid for. Partida Blanco is the precise opposite of the Tres Agaves: a Tequila all about grace and elegance and balance and the Wow Factor. It easily stacks up with Fortaleza and Herradura Silver and Gran Patron Platinum and the newer brands that are making splashes with Tequila Trendies. Chris Null, writing for drinkhacker.com, says this Partida is “…among the best Tequilas I’ve tasted” and I have to echo that sentiment, after experiencing the fresh, tangy, seamless pleasure of that mouthful of grassy, citrusy, peppery, complex nectar. The fact that it’s only $36 makes it a mind-boggling bargain and demands its inclusion here. So, should you pop for the extra $12 – $14 and buy the Partida over the Espolón, the Tres Agaves, or the El Jimador? It depends on what you want. If you’re after a great mixer, don’t. Partida will lay back a tad more than the others. But for sipping, my vote would be Yes and my $$$ would expand enough to choose this brilliant Blanco for the pure, old fashioned, hedonistic pleasure of it.
TAPATIO TEQUILA BLANCO
Style: Blanco About $30 Rating: “Exceptional“
For decades, Tapatio was a rumor, here. It wasn’t exported and the Mexicans seemed to be having a lot of fun with it and not sharing. Now, it’s here and…lucky us. Tapatio is a sort of “break the mold” Blanco. It shows aggressive notes of licorice, lemongrass, white pepper, burnt sugar, hay, vanilla, faint mintiness, and a lovely, almost smoky vegetal suggestion, like a tiny bite of grilled celery. At $30, it might appear that Tapatio, too, violates the price limits but this is actually a full 1 Liter bottle, so the comparative price with the others, all 750ML, is…$22.50, a terrific value and a steal for what’s in your glass. It mixes better than grain Vodka but retains enough Tequila character that you will, by Golly, know it’s there in your cocktails. Just a tremendous value!