Justin Timberlake-backed 901 Tequila made a huge splash back in 2009. So huge in fact that Sauza — one of the biggest names in the business — bought the brand in 2014.
Promptly renamed “Sauza 901” and semi-repackaged (same bottle, new label), Sauza 901 is a different product that’s made in Sauza’s own distillery.
JT is still involved with Sauza 901, but now the tequila is being positioned as a slightly higher-end alternative to Sauza’s mixtos and less expensive 100% agave brands like Hornitos. Rather than $48 a bottle for the original 901, Sauza 901 costs a mere 30 bucks. It may go without saying that Sauza 901 is going to be a different experience.
The new Sauza 901 is not a bad tequila. I’d have no qualms about whipping up a margarita with this spirit, or even sipping on it straight for a bit as I’ve been doing to write this review. But as blancos go, it isn’t going to set the world on fire. The nose is rubbery and hot with more industrial alcohol notes. Has triple distillation instead of the usual double distillation method removed too much of the character from the spirit?
The palate is heavy on the vegetal agave notes, though notes of lemon and some ripe banana bubble up from beneath. The finish is a bit oily and punchy with fuel-like notes, but that intense, black pepper-meets-greenery character hits you hard and seems to last for days. A wisp of white sugar on the finish takes things in a weirdly unexpected direction, but I can’t say it wasn’t a welcome one after what comes before.
B- / $30 / 901.com
The arrival of a new extra anejo tequila is always cause for rejoicing, and Dulce Vida’s new bottling is no exception.
This tequila spends 5 1/2 years not in bourbon barrels but in a mix of former Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot barrels from Napa’s Rombauer winery. Crafted in the Jalisco Highlands, the tequila is fair-trade certified. The producer expects stock to last for the next two to three years.
The nose is classic, well-aged tequila — all caramel, butterscotch, and Mexican chocolate notes. On the palate, it’s a much bolder, racier tequila than many extra anejos tend to be. Here, the agave is surprisingly pushy, offering immediate spice and black pepper notes and backed up by lots of punchy salted caramel character. Notes of rhubarb and red berries emerge, given enough time. The finish melds the two major components — racy agave and sugary caramel sauce — together, ping-ponging back and forth between the sweet and the savory. The finish is long-lasting and engaging, an exotic but approachable XO tequila that marries its seemingly disparate components together in beautiful, harmonious fashion.
A / $160 / dulcevidaspirits.com
This new brand of mezcal hails from San Juan del Rio in Oaxaca. It’s a blanco made in a decidedly traditional style. To wit:
This traditional mezcal is made from Espadín agave plants grown on the hills surrounding San Juan del Rio, which are harvested at their optimum maturity by Jimadores, and roasted for 5 days in conical stone ovens over sustainable Holm Oak logs. Next, the agave hearts are ground on a horse drawn Egyptian mill, which creates an extract that naturally ferments in open pine containers for up to 13 days. Finally, the liquid is slowly distilled twice in copper pot stills, a process which removes impurities, refines the character of the mezcal, and produces a soft, smooth flavor with a slightly smoked, citric aroma.
Amaras (“you will love”) is a bit more smoked than that description would indicate, but it does indeed have a citrusy, barbecue-like aroma that pushes right along as the palate gets a grip. Notes of pineapple, honeycomb, and melon make for some interesting appetizers before the smoky body really begins to dig in. It isn’t overbearing or particularly harsh, but it does offer a sizable amount of campfire flavors. Notes of Mexican chocolate build on the finish if you give it time, adding a layer of complexity to an otherwise fairly straightforward but extremely well-made mezcal.
82 proof. Reviewed: Lot #1 (2014), bottle 147/3300.
A- / $50 / mezcalamores.com
I’ve said before that Cuervo’s top-shelf bottling, Reserva de la Familia, doesn’t vary much from year to year.
This year, at least the packaging is changing. Reserva de la Famila is now officially an Extra Anejo, not just an Anejo. The label has been significantly reorganized, keeping the same overall design motif but placing Reserva de la Familia front and center while shuffling Jose Cuervo off to the corner. Of course, the wooden box has also been updated in keeping with this tequila’s annual tradition. This year’s was designed by artist Carlos Aguirre, one of the foremost figures in Mexican contemporary art.
Under the hood, it’s pretty much business as usual here — molten caramel, laced with spicy, racy agave notes, dominates — while underneath some light, fresh herbal character adds nuance. Think sage and rosemary, touched with black pepper. The finish offers ample vanilla extract notes, oak, and banana.
Pitting the 2014 Reserva against the 2012 and 2008 bottlings — all that I have on hand — shows off the series’ exceptional familia resemblance, as usual. Today, the 2012 is exhibiting a stronger cinnamon note on the nose while the 2008 offers a bit more fruit — apple and pear — but on the whole they remain extremely similar. Kudos for the consistency… I think?
80 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #08753, bottled 6/24/14.
A / $100 / cuervo.com
P. Diddy‘s not happy to be a major player in the world of vodka. Now he wants to rule tequila, too.
DeLeon is a new ultra-premium Highland tequila, 100% agave of course, designed to go toe to toe with Patron and other top-shelf tequila brands. Available in no fewer than six expressions — including Diamante, a joven expression, and Leona, a reserve anejo bottling that costs $825 — the most simplistic (and affordable) of the bunch is a blanco: DeLeon Platinum, which runs $60 and up. All the better to pay for the fancy, thick-glass bottle, metallic stopper, and talk of traditional clay ovens and such.
And hey, celebrity branding aside, it’s a pretty good tequila.
The nose is rich with peppery notes, but also hints at lemon custard, along with some vanilla-dusted creme brulee notes. It’s got the character of a classic blanco, but it also hints at austerity — despite the fact that this is a completely unaged and unrested tequila. The body continues the theme: Spicy agave, bright lemon juice — almost candied with a sweet edge — honey, and touches of menthol. It’s very mild, and extremely easy-drinking — the same qualities that make Patron so very popular.
DeLeon Platinum is a tequila that doesn’t exactly pump up the agave, but it doesn’t try to mask it, either. Rather, it takes the natural herbal character of blanco tequila, then tosses in some natural complementary flavors that add subtlety and complexity. The end product may be on the lighter side — so approach DeLeon with the appropriate attitude — but that may suit many tequila drinkers just fine.
A- / $60 / deleontequila.com
Tequila Espolon was relaunched in 2010 as one of the first of a wave of high-quality, 100% agave tequilas that were far less expensive than most any other 100% agave tequilas on the market. But there was a hole in the lineup: No anejo.
Now Espolon is back with an anejo expression, at long last. Intriguingly the anejo tequila is aged for at least a year in unused white oak barrels, then finished for two to three months in ex-bourbon barrels, specifically Wild Turkey barrels. (Typically, tequila and most other spirits are fully matured in bourbon casks.)
The nose is rich without being aggressive, with big caramel and vanilla notes that hit the nose right at the start. The body engages right away, pushing that silky sweetness into some woody notes with a slight, agave-driven, vegetal edge. The finish is long and complex, hitting some racy red pepper notes as it begins, then punching up butterscotch and more vanilla syrup before a slow fade that brings the agave back to the forefront. None of this is particularly surprising, but it’s all on point and just about perfect for an anejo, proving again that, pound for pound, Espolon is one of the best bargains in the tequila business.
A / $35 / tequilaespolon.com
I had never heard of Jenni Rivera before her face showed up on my doorstep. Literally. That’s Rivera mugging from the label of her eponymous tequila — perhaps the most glorious and arguably inappropriate vanity spirit bottling I’ve ever seen. (The only way this could be topped is to imagine a Kardashian vodka, with Kim’s face on the front and her butt on the back label…)
Rivera was a Mexican-American performing artist who died tragically in a plane crash in 2012. While she is said to have approved of this product and personally tasted it, I presume her estate is what is actually lending her visage to a 100% agave line of tequilas. The three standard expressions are available. We received only the reposado, which is aged for 6 months in oak barrels. Thoughts follow.
This is a capable, but a fairly gentle reposado. On the lighter side, color-wise, it offers an immediate nose of roasted agave, burnt marshmallow, and caramel. The body follows in lockstep. Sweet up front, with those marshmallow notes the strongest, it builds to some notes of charcoal, some pencil shavings, and a bit of raisin. The finish is clean, sweet, and with a final salute to agave on the very back end. It isn’t a groundbreaking tequila, but it’s a fully credible and capable one that works well either alone or in mixed drinks.
B+ / $46 / 3crownsimports.com