Off the Vine: Margaritas worth their salt

February 20, 2013 

What do George Washington and the Margarita have in common besides the fact that they are both No. 1s, with Washington being our first president and the Margarita sitting as the No. 1 selling cocktail in the United States? The answer is that Feb. 22 is Washington's birthday and it is also National Margarita Day. Oh, and on that date, at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, you can buy one of their award winning Margaritas in exchange for a picture of George Washington -- provided the picture is on a U.S. dollar bill!

So what is in a typical Margarita? The answer is quite simple -- tequila, lime juice or a limeade-style concentrate, and an orange-flavored liqueur such as triple sec, or if you want to go a little more high end, Cointreau. But, don't forget to salt the rim of the glass. This is one of those drinks that you can have frozen or shaken and served over ice. The orange-flavored liqueur adds sweetness to the drink without taking away the bitterness of the tequila or saltiness from the rim.

There are many different claims as to who invented this wonderful, refreshing drink. One of the more interesting stories gives credit to a wealthy Dallas socialite named Margaret "Margarita" Sames who, along with her husband, loved to entertain large groups in their vacation home in Acapulco, Mexico. As the story goes, Margarita's favorite liquor was tequila and she also liked Cointreau so she decided to make up a new drink that her guests could enjoy poolside. After several attempts she perfected a drink that became known as "Margarita's

drink" at her parties that included movies stars such as Lana Turner and John Wayne and hotelier Nick Hilton.

One of the best things about this cocktail is that unlike wine, a Margarita is very easy to pair with any type of food. If you ask the always jovial proprietor of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar what pairs best with his Margarita, John Horne will say, "grouper sandwich, of course." But I would prefer to pair it with their escargot and bowl of his lobster bisque.

What is unique about a Margarita is that there are so many different variations in how different establishments make them, and almost all achieve the same result. Margarita Sames was so fond of Cointreau in her drink that she known to proclaim that "A Margarita without Cointreau is not worth its salt!" To me it always comes back to the salt and no one says it better than Jimmy Buffet when he belts out "Wastin' away again in Margaritaville, Searching for my lost shaker of salt."

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at

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