Today is National Tequila Day. I know how I'll be celebrating.
When my editor suggested I might want to weigh in with a Top 20 list to commemorate the date, at first I thought, "Hmmm, there's no way I could name 20 tequilas that I've tried, liked, and made a note of." But guess what? I've been more dedicated to this tequila-tasting habit over the years than I thought.
So here it is. I've chosen a mix of mostly low- to medium-priced tequilas, with a few pricier but worthwhile alternatives thrown in.
To my mind, there are three ways of drinking Mexico's magic elixir: sipping it, shooting it or mixing it, preferably in a world-class margarita. Unless otherwise noted, the less expensive tequilas, usually blancos and golds, are in the mixing rather than sipping category, although that's a matter of debate in our house. Some of us like our tequila to disappear in a mixed drink, others like to detect its tangy vegetal signature in a 'rita or other cocktail.
I'm not into the hyper-expensive sippers that some makers like to market with a lot of pizzazz. There are plenty of good mid-priced sipping tequilas on the market, and I've included some here.
Last thing: You might notice that a certain super-popular name is not on the list. It's no oversight. The flashy agave juice in the fat, squat bottle that has dominated the American market in the last few years -- you know who you are -- is overpriced and bland, IMHO. There are so many wonderful alternatives out there.
Prices are approximate, based on the best I could find online. Most brands listed here are widely available at big wine and spirits stores.
1800 Reposado: In the nose you might catch vanilla, pepper, butterscotch and toasted coconut; some even notice candied fruit. Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, Calif.: "It is exceptionally smooth, rounded, with a soft agave taste-first sweet, then dry, with a long complex finish." ($21)
1921 Tequila Reposado: Intense on the nose, yet complex and full of character. Agave mixes with tropical fruit, a little oak and other exotic elements. Then you're hit with gutsy, burnt-toast oak and a trace of pepper. Only downfall: the finish is a bit hot for me, though nicely caramel-y. ($40)
4 Copas Reposado Tequila: Here's what I detect: Honeyed nose with traces of oak and oranges. That citrus quality carries into the flavor, along with spiciness. The Hi-Time folks detect hints of cinnamon, clove and light white pepper. Suave, smooth finish. ($35)
Asom Broso La Rosa Reposado: We love this one partly because the bottle is such a conversation-starter (especially if you're of a certain mindset) and the company is locally owned; also because of its beautiful rosy hue. It's aged eleven months in French Oak barrels previously used for Bordeaux wine, hence the color. We drink this one in a brandy glass, usually neat. It's got an abundance of great elements in the nose that can best be enjoyed by swirling generously and sniffing. Final surprise: the delicate touch of vanilla at the end. ($50)
Cazadores Reposado: We've heard this one was named after a popular restaurant in Mexico City (sadly, now gone, as we discovered during a recent trip there). It's pale yellow in color, with a scent of smoky caramel and hints of fruit, pepper, agave, and perhaps violets (I'm not good at floral scents). Finishes long but sweet and fairly smooth. ($23)
Chinaco Reposado: Hi-Time: "Very intense and complex, this pretty pale yellow-colored tequila's aroma is dominated by white pepper and agave; yet layers of smoke and touches of fruit and caramel have their say as well." I find it sharply but pleasantly earthy, with a lot of caramel and a trace of fruit and smoke. ($40)
Corazon Anejo: A smooth tequila that's pleasant for sipping: vanilla, almond and spices predominate. Finish is delicate and slightly sweet, and it lingers. A sophisticated sipper and a bargain at this price. ($25)
Don Julio Anejo: This one nabbed a double gold at the San Francisco Spirits Competition and gets 91 points from the Wine Enthusiast. Smoky, strong taste of agave, full and rounded. A big-boy tequila. ($50)
Gran Centenario Gran Anejo: We fell in love with this one during a recent trip to Mexico City, where it's very popular in the Zona Rosa and Polanco bars. The Beverage Tasting Institute gives it 94 points. BevMo: "Gran Centenario Anejo is a tequila of unparalleled smoothness and quality. It is distilled from carefully selected 10-year-old blue agave plants and aged in new oak barrels." ($28)
Herradura Anejo: Golden in color, this tequila comes on strong and sharp, with pronounced vegetal qualities. Hi-Time: "The nose is filled with moderate earthy aromas, slightly spicy, fruity, floral with loads of oaky, caramelized aromas and a heavy, prominent ripe apple aroma. Medium body and smooth, full but not sweet." ($42)
El Jimador Anejo: This one strikes me as very bourbon-ish. Quite brown in color, it's got an intense, almost game-y agave flavor along with sweetness, earthiness, and huge oakiness. Hot finish. ($26)
El Tesoro Reposado: Prized by many tequila lovers because it is made with traditional methods. The flavor profile is complex, with a lot of spiciness, but mellowed by the oak very nicely. ($43)
Milagro Reposado: Fruit and floral notes on the nose; also loam, vanilla, pepper-y spice and a touch of smoke. Bitterness vies with sweetness on the finish -- interesting and surprisingly complex for a tequila of this price. ($22)
Partida Anejo: It's aged in American oak one-pass Jack Daniels barrels, which really amps up the intensity of the flavor and turns it a deep brown-gold in hue. Rich, fruity, spicy, even chocolate-y. Wow, a meal in a shot glass. ($44)
Peligroso Silver: You know what those "peligroso" signs mean on the Mexican highways, right? This tequila lives up to its dangerous name. It's 84 proof, so give it a large measure of respect. Hi-Time has some wild tasting notes: "The aromas begin with pungent oxidized citrus zest, stewed yams and earth. Building on the aromas, the palate shows spice, agave, orange zest and drying minerals. The finish follows along in the same manner with some creamy white pepper and lemon-grass to wake everything back up." I wish I were that creative. ($38)
Sauza Commemorativo: The go-to tequila in our house for rocks/salt margaritas of quality. Well balanced, nicely oaky and vegetal. No one element overpowers another. ($40)
Sauza Hornitos Anejo: Wine Enthusiast give this one 93 points. Vanilla, lightly toasted wood, slightly bitter chocolate. Smooth and lingering on the tongue. Excellent value. ($23)
Sauza Hornitos Plata: Since it's not aged, this isn't a tequila of great complexity, but I like the bright purity of its flavor profile: clean, natural, zesty, floral, a bit herbal. Some get cloves and almonds. Not me. ($20)
Tequila Abandonado Silver: We love the shapely hand-made bottle. It's one of the most complex-tasting tequilas we know. Hi-Time: "On the nose we find oleander, cardamom, Salvia elegans and lemon or orange blossom water. Opulent and supple on the palate, Abandonado is filled with rich flavors of agave, vanilla bean, Anjou pear pulp and white tea; also hinting at white cake batter or light meringue. These tastes are very clean with amazing balance. The finish layers softly displaying rice milk, slow baked agave, and harmonious spice- it is rarefied elegance." ($30)
Tres Generaciones Reposado: Rested uniquely in double treated American Oak barrels for three months, Sauza Tres Generaciones Reposado has a spicy, sweet flavor with a peppery finish. ($21)