Category Archives: Tequila

Review: Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver Tequila

Some years ago, Jose Cuervo launched a tequila that was unique for its time: 100% agave, affordable, and available everywhere. For a nation that grew up on the cheap mixto that is Cuervo Gold, this was something else.

But Cuervo Tradicional was available only as a reposado. No blanco, no anejo. Just the middle, lightly aged version. Who knew why?

Now Cuervo is back to remedy at least part of the oversight with Cuervo Tradicional Silver.

The style should need no introduction: This is an unaged tequila, clear as a bell.

As a blanco, Cuervo Tradicional is very mild and easygoing. Agave is muted, as is pretty much everything else. This is a blanco tequila with little bite and no real character to it: A touch of honey, vanilla, and lemon, with a mild agave lacing throughout it all.

It’s a tequila that’s about as harmless as they come. In other words, about the opposite of Cuervo Gold.

B / $20 / cuervo.com

jose cuervo tradicional silver Review: Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver Tequila

Review: Lunazul Anejo Tequila

Lunazul: “When the night calls.” Hmmm.

From rather cheesy beginnings come this workmanlike product, designed to bring 100% agave, anejo-class tequila (aged 18 months in oak) to the masses, with a $22 price tag.

That kind of pricing is completely unheard of in the work of 100% agave anejo tequilas, and Lunazul is proof that maybe it isn’t wholly doable. I’m not saying producer Heaven Hill — best known as a bourbon outfit — is cutting corners, but this tequila just doesn’t measure up to its pricier competition.

It’s all about the body. While I expect anejo to be a smooth, vanilla-infused, whiskey-like experience, Lunazul is muddy. The nose evokes a younger tequila, with green agave notes overwhelming the spirit. The body is similar, with a hard, vegetal edge and a pungent agave body. You’ll find tantalizingly sweet vanilla notes only hinted at, which is frustrating. The finish is overly herbal and hard. It doesn’t have that rotgut burn, mind you, but it has a rocky edge that makes it unthrilling.

I love the idea of an affordable 100% agave tequila — that’s what Cuervo Tradicional was made for — but Lunazul just doesn’t quite cut it.

80 proof.

C+ / $22 / lunazultequila.com

lunazul anejo tequila Review: Lunazul Anejo Tequila

Review: Senior Rio Tequila

This tequila brand got its start only two years ago. Distribution is now crawling its way across the U.S. (now including California, Oregon, Arizona, and Tennessee). We got our hands on samples of each of the distillery’s three expressions. All are, of course, 100% blue agave and 80 proof.

Senor Rio Blanco Tequila – Unaged and clear as a bell. Huge agave nose. On the tongue, peppermint, more agave pepper, and a finish that suggests jalapeno and spice. Not a lot of secondary nuance, just authentic agave character. A solid, big, and flavorful tequila, but with a moderate, even thin body. Prepare yourself accordingly. B+ / $45

Senor Rio Reposado Tequila – Aged 6 months. Immediately more intriguing, but still a ton of agave on the nose and the palate. Some caramel and vanilla notes tantalize you on the tip of your tongue, but they are overwhelmed in short order by that rich agave. Bigger, fuller body here, with a long, spicy finish. B+ / $65

Senor Rio Anejo Tequila – Aged over a year. Senior Rio comes into its own with this anejo, a full, balanced, and delicious sipping tequila with a deep and big blend of caramel notes and agave. Surprisingly light in color, it’s much sweeter than the reposado, silky and lush. The agave still makes its presence known, but here everything works pretty well together. A- / $75

senorrio.com

Drinking Tequila with Casa Dragones’ Bertha Gonzalez Nieves

Casa Dragones is almost certainly a tequila brand you have never tried or likely even seen. That’s a sad thing, because it is one of the best silver tequilas on earth.

Casa Dragones is the proud bearer of a number of unique traits. It is the brainchild of Bob Pittman, a founder of the MTV network. It is a joven tequila — blanco in appearance but made up of both unaged and aged tequilas, then filtered to clear, giving it a substantial complexity. It is a lowland tequila, rare in an age where most tequila makers boast about their mountain agaves. It is column distilled, not pot distilled. It is made by the only female Maestra Taquilera ever to be certified in Mexico. Only 24,000 bottles will be produced this year, each at a cost of $275 per bottle.

Said Maestra, Bertha Gonzalez Nieves, explained all of this to me on a recent trip to San Francisco. A former cultural ambassador from Mexico to Japan and ten year veteran of Cuervo, Nieves doesn’t look like the typical Maestro Taquilero I meet with — usually grumpy old men who’d rather be back in the agave fields than on the road meeting with bloggers — but she understands tequila to a surprising depth. In between discussions about the origins of Casa Dragones (born at a New York City party where she and Pittman met) and who the Dragones actually were (left as an exercise for the reader), we enjoyed a fabulous shot of this unique “sipping tequila.”

The tequila is simply superb. Again, there is only one variety — and there will only ever be one — and the nose at first hints at nothing special. Lemon and orange peel mingle with what come across as somewhat boozy vodka notes. Breath deep and you get a sense of nuttiness, but little else. I wasn’t expecting a lot… and then I took a sip.

Casa Dragones slips across the tongue with beautiful citrus notes, building warmth as it segues into vanilla and cocoa notes, driven clearly by the extra anejo tequila that makes up the blend. It gets sweeter as you sip, showing coffee character and more of a dessert-like body, a surprise that makes you reconsider the crystal clear color of what you’re sipping. And yes, you’re sipping, not gulping. The finish is warm but has no bite, a smooth operator through and through. This tequila may indeed be a Johnny come lately, a stunt driven by a millionaire who wants a tequila to call his own — and a price tag to match — but damn if he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.

80 proof. Tasted bottle #655 of lot #3.

A+ / $275 / casadragones.com

bertha nieves of casa dragones Drinking Tequila with Casa Dragones Bertha Gonzalez Nieves

How a Blind Tequila Tasting Rocked My World

Recently I learned something that completely upended my worldview: It turns out I like Patron Tequila.

OK, this in itself is not a shocker. Patron is the top-selling tequila brand outside of Cuervo, so a lot of people obviously like it. But I just reviewed Patron a few months ago and gave it a B, declaring it “not bad, but there are many better blancos out there.”

That very phrase is now haunting me, because in a blind taste test of five super-premium tequilas, I picked Patron as my favorite.

The occasion was an event sponsored by PaQui, a new brand which I also reviewed last year, and put on by the American Distilling Institute. Five tasters were present. PaQui management was not. The event was run completely fairly: No meddling from anyone. The five brands were known in advance, but not which glass held which tequila. I even tasted the spirits in a random order.

After an hour of sniffing, swilling, and spitting, we all had our grades set and ready. Here’s the tricky part: The event used a 100-point scale. 25 maximum points each were available for nose, palate, finish, and balance. This isn’t remotely close to how I review spirits (because this scale invariably ends with grades for everything in the 90s), but I tried to play by the rules the best I could and felt my ratings represented a fair ranking of which was best and which was worst.

When everything shook out and the bottles were revealed, here’s how it looked. I’m including the letter grade I would have given the spirit had I had to choose one at the time (because as I noted, I don’t think the numeric scores are totally representative of my overall feelings). For my “official,” original ratings you’ll need to poke around on the site.

Spirit / My Grade / My Spot “Letter Grade” / Overall Group Rank

Patron / 87 / A / 2nd place (tie)
Avion / 79 / A- / 1st place
Paqui / 74 / A- / 2nd place(tie)
Partida / 67 / C / 4th place
Don Julio / 64 / C / 5th place

Even though my scores were largely in line with the averages of the group, there are a lot of shocks to the system here. I have gushed about Avion in the past, and found it a really nice tequila at the event, but maybe a touch too powerful against the rest of the crowd. And Partida and Don Julio are brands I have recommended heartily in the past. The group was unanimous that the Partida tasted of meat or bacon — to the point where I wondered if there was a problem with the bottle. I’m at a total loss to understand what was up with the Don Julio. Here, everything was off to the point where I feel I need to look at it again with fresh eyes — and tongue. I ultimately scored two of the five about the same as before, one significantly higher, and two significantly lower.

So what did I learn?

First, as I’ve tried to harp on repeatedly, all reviews are subjective — and they can vary not just from person to person but from day to day. What did I eat before this review and those earlier ones? What time of day was it? What was my mood? Even novices know that some days you want wine and some you want beer. On a “beer day” wine just isn’t going to taste right.

More importantly, in a competitive setting — where multiple spirits are put side by side — things get really complicated. Tasting in a vacuum tends to elevate most ratings, I’ve found: Even a glass of cheap wine tastes OK when there is no other choice on the table, just like a hot dog tastes great when you haven’t eaten all day. But put that cheap wine next to something really good and it reveals its true character. I picked up far more nuance in this event from these tequilas than I normally might because there was more variety to compare.

Ultimately I can’t realistically change the way I do reviews — blind tasting or competitively tasting everything would be impossible — but I am going to make more of an effort to try spirits against other ones. I already do this to some extent, but now it’s going to be more of a priority.

Review: Manana Tequila

Mañana, of course, means tomorrow in Spanish. Maybe the name foreshadows a simple reality that you should wait to buy the stuff. (You certainly won’t miss those brightly colored bottles, though, each featuring a tiny metal sculpture of a man in a hammock, which swings back and forth inside a recessed portion of each bottle. Nutty!)

Manana Blanco Tequila – A straightforward silver tequila, unrested and simple. Very strong agave character, with a pungent nose and a crisp bite. Unmistakeably tequila, this is not a subtle, easygoing spirit but rather a tequila that announces itself and doesn’t let up. That’s not a bad thing, really, but a lack of complexity and some greenness in the finish make it somewhat less interesting for more than one shot. B / $45

Manana Reposado Tequila – The barest bit of yellow color on this tequila seems indicative of its youth, but Manana’s reposado spends a full eight months in barrels. Strangely, it’s not enough to have much impact. Agave is again the centerpiece here, though it is tempered a bit by some caramel notes and, surprisingly, bright lemon character. The finish is long and herbal. I like the balance here a touch more than the blanco, but the light body makes it less of a thrill than one might like. B+ / $55

Manana Anejo Tequila – Manana’s anejo jumps to two full years in cask, but judging from the extremely light color, I thought perhaps some kind of mistake had been made. Once again, this doesn’t quite get the job done. Now the lemon and citrus notes take the forefront, followed by creme brulee and caramel, and finishing off with agave again. Balance is way off, and the finish is unremarkable for an anejo with this pedigree. B- / $65

tequilamanana.com

manana tequila Review: Manana Tequila

Review: El Gran Jubileo Tequila

This tequila brand has been available in Mexico and in limited distribution at that. Now it has arrived on U.S. shores, you can try it too. All expressions are 100% agave of course and are 80 proof.

El Gran Jubileo Blanco – For those who like a lot of agave, but not so much bite, this is the blanco for you. Triple distilled, it is not a tequila with a lot of nuance, but one that speaks to the purity of the plant from which it came. Hunt in the body and you may turn up some light vanilla and lemon notes, but in the end it’s that agave that just pours over you. B+ / $30

El Gran Jubileo Reposado – Aged for 10 months in new American oak (not ex-Bourbon) barrels, Jubileo’s Reposado ventures close to anejo territory. The nose is heavy with wood, replacing the agave that you find with the Blanco. The body is sharp and woody, then it fades into big vanilla notes. A touch of agave reminds you you’re drinking tequila, and after it mellows out a bit with some time open to the air, a pretty good one at that. A- / $35

El Gran Jubileo Extra Anejo – Whoa, no one told Jubileo it goes from Blanco to Reposado to Anejo, not Extra Anejo? This monster spends five years in those white oak barrels, giving it a deep amber hue. The nose is quite mild and mellow. The body is gorgeous, sweet and silky, the wood giving the tequila loads of vanilla and light chocolate character. Nougat and nuts give this a huge dessert feel. Drink it with your flan. A massive bargain. A / $65

elgranjubileo.com

Jubileo Group White Review: El Gran Jubileo Tequila

Review: Excellia Tequila

This new tequila brand comes from 100 percent blue agave grown in the highlands of Jalisco — and then comes a twist: All the tequilas are aged in Sauternes and 20-year-old Cognac casks, a big twist vs. the usual old Bourbon barrels in which most tequila is aged. The results are, in at least one case, exemplary.

Excellia Blanco Tequila – A misleading and cryptic tequila: Not bottled straight from the still but rested for a couple of weeks in wood. Good decision. The nose is bright agave, but the body is shockingly sweet and mellow. Lemon, vanilla, and custard notes. Smooth and creamy, with a little agave bite at the end. I’m impressed! A / $50

Excellia Reposado Tequila – Spends nine months in oak. Big wood notes here, but it’s tempered by some of the sweeter, citrus notes. Wood dominates here in a way that isn’t perfectly in balance. B+ / $60

Excellia Anejo Tequila – 18 months in oak. Powerful wood character here, with dark honey and vanilla notes and, surprisingly, more agave bite than either the blanco or the reposado. The finish is lasting and dessert-like, with chocolate and a bunch of cinnamon. Not the most nuanced anejo, but worthwhile.  A- / $70

excelliatequila.com

excellia tequila Review: Excellia Tequila

Review: Don Elias Tequila Extra Anejo

It’s hard to find an extra anejo tequila that isn’t any good, and Don Elias proves that you can make a really solid one — even if you don’t charge an arm and a leg.

At just $75 a bottle, Don Elias Extra Anejo is the least expensive Extra I’ve ever tried, and yet the quality is right up there with pricier brands.

The mild agave on the nose lets you know you’re drinking tequila, but the body is lush, sweet, and full of whiskey flavors. The mind-meld with the agave nose is enticing: Don Elias has an earthy and herbal edge, balanced with sweet flavors of honey, caramel, and vanilla. Some extra anejos can go a bit too far, drowning out the agave altogether, but Don Elias keeps those barrel flavors in check.

What Don Elias lacks in complexity and depth it makes up for in simple enjoyment. At this price, it’s hard not to be taken in.

By the way, that bottle stopper is not actually a shot glass: It’s permanently filled halfway with a tequila-like liquid, lending the decanter an intriguing optical effect. 80 proof, 100 percent agave.

A- / $75 / tequiladonelias.com

don elias extra anejo tequila Review: Don Elias Tequila Extra Anejo

Review: Distinguido Tequila

Tequila Distinguido (“distinguished”) is a relatively new tequila brand (stop me if you’ve heard that one before), now available largely in Texas and Illinois. As it rolls out further, we had the opportunity to sample the three traditional expressions. All are 100% agave, of course.

Distinguido Silver Tequila – One of the more lemon/lime-focused tequilas I’ve experienced. Needs time to open up in the glass, otherwise its citrus notes are overpowering. Given this time, Distinguido’s blanco proves sophisticated and intriguing, with caramel, chocolate, and lingering lemon/lime character in the body, all laced with a moderate amount of agave character. Blancos rarely have this much nuance in them, but Distinguido is impressively complex. A- / $45

Distinguido Reposado Tequila – Aged at least two months and up to six months in old Bourbon barrels. Very pale yellow color. Similar in character to the Silver, really, but with the caramel notes a bit more pronounced. Feels a bit hotter, really, and ultimately I think the blanco has a little more balance to it. Still quite good, though. B+ / $50

Distinguido Anejo Tequila – Aged from one to three years in old Bourbon barrels, but still surprisingly light in color. Again, the caramel notes are deeper, and here they provide more sweetness, dessert-like notes that are tinged with green agave character. Not terribly different from the Reposado, but slightly better and, if forced to choose between them, I’d go Anejo given the modest price increase. A- / $55

tequiladistinguido.com

distinguido tequila anejo Review: Distinguido Tequila

Drinkhacker’s 2010 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Another holiday season is upon us here at Drinkhacker HQ, and again we take the opportunity to look back at the best — and most gift-worthy — spirits the year had to offer. Don’t settle for giving your boss a bottle of Crown Royal again (not that we don’t like Crown Royal). Step lively and go long. Here are some gift-giving  ideas based on 2010′s brightest stars.

Also check out our 2009 and 2008 holiday guide.

Bourbon – George T. Stagg Antique Collection 2010 Edition ($65) – Always a favorite with bourbon fanatics, the incredibly alcohol-heavy Stagg is as good this year as its ever been. If you can’t find it (which is likely), we also highly recommend the new releases of Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve ($40), Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2010 ($50), and Four Roses 2010 Single Barrel Bourbon ($75 or so).

bruichladdich cuvee E 16 years old dyquem1 259x300 Drinkhacker’s 2010 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasScotch – Bruichladdich 16 Years Old First Growth Series: Cuvee E Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes Finish ($105) – Failing a windfall that lets you nab a bottle of the new Highland Park 1968 ($4,000), this whisky is one of the best crowd-pleasers we tried all year. For more of a splurge — and an even more impressive statement, the bargain-priced (for its age) Glenfarclas 40 Year Old ($400) is outstanding.

GinBerkshire Mountain Distillers Greylock Gin ($30) – More of a hard-sell, but now you can prove to your dad that Americans can make gin just as good as the Brits. The unique Citadelle ($35) is always a hit, too, and this year’s version is wonderful.

Vodka – Rokk – 13 bucks a bottle, and just as good as anything else out there… though maybe not for a gift for anyone over 25 years old. Instead, Vision ($25) may be somewhat more impressive. Hangar One Kaffir Lime ($35) isn’t new, but it’s one of the best flavored vodkas on the market and will be cherished.

Rum – DonQ Gran Anejo ($70) – Rebranded and bottled in upscale style, it looks like a fancier gift than it is. Pampero Aniversario Ron Anejo ($34), though not new on the market, is equally decadent and a bit of a bargain. Also check out Botran Reserva ($24) or Dos Maderas rums ($32-$43) if you can find them.

camus borderies xo cognac 243x300 Drinkhacker’s 2010 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBrandy – Camus XO Borderies ($140)- A single-estate cognac that tastes far richer than its price would indicate. Brand new on the U.S. market, so your giftee will probably never have had it. Of course, if you can afford Emperor’s Giorgio G ($535)…

TequilaTequila Avion Anejo ($55)- It’s been an amazing year for tequila, and while we loved Peligroso Reposado ($50), Espolon Reposado ($25), Riazul Blanco ($45), Arta Silver ($45), and Dulce Vida Anejo ($55), we have to give the edge to Avion’s amazing anejo for our top pick.

Liqueur – Voyant Chai Cream Liqueur ($22) – In a world of iced tea-flavored vodkas, how about something a little more exotic? An authentic tasting chai tea liqueur that inspires India… or at least an Indian restaurant. Also unique and gift-worthy: Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur ($35).

Need another custom gift idea? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Review: Peligroso Tequila Reposado

This new tequila brand has arrived with no fanfare, but damn if it doesn’t deserve some.

Peligroso (Spanish for “dangerous”) is a Highlands tequila, 100% blue agave, aged in old whiskey barrels and bottle at an unusual 84 proof (hence the “42″ on the label). The results, at least with this reposado (the only expression reviewed here) are astounding.

Smooth vanilla and caramel notes dominate, though the color is a light gold. Agave bite hits you a couple of seconds in and stretches long into the finish, but it’s balanced, not harsh. Secondary notes include some light citrus character, chocolate, and black pepper. It all comes together with a lush, juicy, and silky body that is a shockingly easy sipper.

Based on this reposado, I’m already salivating over what the anejo must be like.

A / $50 / peligrosotequila.com

peligroso tequila Review: Peligroso Tequila Reposado

Review: 100 Anos Tequila

“Wow, this tequila is 100 years old?”

At least three visitors to Drinkhacker HQ have made this joke(?) upon seeing these bottles of 100 Anos tequila sitting in wait of a review. And the response is, well, no.

100 Anos is a new brand in the Sauza line — 100% agave tequila that’s very reasonably priced. Intended as competitors to Cuervo Tradicional and Espolon, both expressions can be found for less than $20 a bottle. Both are 80 proof.

Note that a non-100% agave version of 100 Anos is said to be available as well. If you’re buying, look for bottles that are clearly labeled with the “100% Agave” notice.

100 Anos Blanco Tequila – Crystal clear tequila, but particularly hard-edged. Let it open up in the glass for a bit and some of the bite mellows out, giving way to some light lemon notes but lots of agave and a big, charcoal-infused finish. Better than a mixto, but far from fantastic. B- / $19

100 Anos Reposado Tequila – No information on length of aging is provided, but the color is dark — caramel color added, I suspect. Hot. Some actual caramel flavor notes add character atop the body of the blanco, but it’s just not done in a balanced way. Compared to other reposados, this is simplistic and lacking nuance, and still too hard in the finish for easy drinking neat. C+ / $19

no website


Review: Aha Toro Tequila

This Highlands tequila brand — a sister of the much-admired Amigo bf4e — is 100% agave, 80 proof, and comes in strikingly eye-catching bottles. We sampled all three expressions of this heftily agave-infused tequila. Opinions follow.

Aha Toro Blanco Tequila – Peppery and herbal, with huge agave notes and a finish that hints at petrol. A real tequila, with no punches pulled. Touches of fruit in the finish — bananas with cream — but not much can stand up to that agave enormity. Maybe too much of it here. B+ / $35

Aha Toro Reposado Tequila – Aged somewhere between two months and a year, this reposado cuts the bit of the blanco a bit, but not as much as you’d think. Top notes are more muted, with caramel and vanilla at play on this much more buttery-bodied tequila, and these sweet characteristics are heavy on the initial rush on the palate, as well. But you can’t suppress Aha Toro’s spicy agave notes, which come back in force for the finish. Better balance here. A- / $40

Aha Toro Anejo Tequila – Aged over a year. The anejo has a lot in common with the reposado, just with the caramel notes amped up. Less bite here, it’s a sweet and silky tequila sugar bomb with some hints of cocoa. Heat is there on the finish, a bit like a Mexican hot chocolate. Good, but a bit removed from the tequila world, it’s so overwhelmed with sweetness. B+ / $50

ahatoro.com

Review: Amigo bf4e Tequila Reposado

You’re not crazy. Someone really did put “best friends forever” in the name of their tequila.

That someone is Amigo, and the best friends in question are this bottle of tequila and you.

But let’s put the name aside and see where we get. 100% agave, with no chemical additives, Amigo bf4e comes only in a reposado expression, aged two months in oak and bottled at 80 proof.

On first rush, it’s a hot tequila, but give it a little time in the glass. Soon you’ll find it opens up pretty nicely, exhibiting buttery and sweet vanilla notes along with a nicely balanced agave character on the palate. The finish doesn’t go for bite, but instead goes back to the sweet, with caramelized sugar, flan, and a little burnt orange. A tiny touch of bitterness in the denouement, but that doesn’t ruin a quite impressive experience.

For this price, this is an amazing tequila. I’d love to see what Amigo could do with an anejo. In limited distribution on the west coast.

A- / $30 / drinkamigo.com

Amigo bf4e tequila reposado Review: Amigo bf4e Tequila Reposado

Review: Cazadores Reposado Tequila

A common tequila where 100% agave quality is desired but money is tight, Cazadores is a solid choice among budget tequilas, though it’s hardly anything out of the ordinary.

Cazadores Reposado is a pungent tequila, with intense agave notes. The two months of aging (in new oak barrels) give it a just a light color, and it does add a touch of caramel to give the tequila more balance. But on the whole this is a fairly prototypical reposado, brilliantly agave in tone with strong herbal notes but, it must be said, lots of bite and a rough finish.

Worth a shot for that pitcher of margaritas.

B / $27 / cazadores.com

cazadores tequila Reposado Review: Cazadores Reposado Tequila

Review: Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila

Don’t go a-hunting for Olmeca Altos tomorrow. Until now this tequila has only been available outside of the U.S. — and in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, it’s a pretty popular brand. Try hard and you’ll be able to find it stateside — and cheap, too — but the search just might undo you.

A 100% agave tequila from Los Altos in the Jalisco highlands, Olmeca Altos uses a bit of an odd production process. I’ll let the company explain:

Olmeca Altos’ unrivalled brand uniqueness is further represented by its Tahona production process. Tahona, a 500-year-old process exclusive to the Olmeca brand, uses a giant volcanic millstone to crush the cooked Agave pinas and expose the juice and fibre from the plant. A part of the Tahona Liquid produced during this process is then added to Olmeca Altos’ fermentation and distillation process to enhance the sweet, citric taste and aroma.

So there you go.

You do indeed get that strong citrus taste — here more grapefruit than orange or lemon — and agave takes a bit of a back seat. The body is moderate. The finish has a fair amount of bite to it. It’s a bit of a departure from a standard blanco — almost a margarita in a bottle, it’s so fruity — but that makes Olmeca Altos perfectly suited as a mixer in any number of cocktails. I’m less enamored with it on its own, but for a mere $20 a bottle, my complaints are muted to be sure.

80 proof.

B+ / $20 / olmecatequila.com

Olmeca Plata tequila Review: Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila

Tasting Report: The Tasting Panel Double Gold Winners 2010

Of all the events I attend, The Tasting Panel Magazine’s get-together of its Double Gold Medal winners is the only one that mixes wine with spirits. Nowhere else do I expect to sample a Turkish rose next to peaty Scotch. Somehow it works, and while the selections here were all over the map, some standouts were to be had, including rich Pinot from Jazz Cellars and Sequana, a surprisingly good Pisco (the first time I’ve ever used that phrase) from Pisco “O,” and light, easygoing cachaca from Germana. Notes based on a brief tasting session follow.

Wine

2009 Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / $15 / B+ / mild, good for the money

2007 Lynmar Chardonnay Russian River Valley / $30 / B/ huge oak

2009 Kavaklidere Egeo Roze Aegean Turkey / $19 / B+ / tart, curious

2007 De Tierra Pinot Noir Silacci Vineyard Monterey / $32 / B / skunky

2008 Cru-Monterey Pinot Noir Appellation Series Santa Maria Valley / $35 / B- / too herbal, off

2008 Wrath Pinot Noir Quasi Mulla Monterey / $38 / B- / funky notes

2008 Sequana Pinot Noir Sarmento Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands / $32 / B

2008 Sequana Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch Green Valley / $40 / A-/ solid pinot, authentic

2009 Jazz Cellars Pinot Noir Lone Oak Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands / $45 / A-/ rich and intense

2006 Paradise View Malbec Sonoma Coast / $32 / A- / surprisingly good for Cal malbec, big herbal finish

2007 Cameron Hughes Cabernet Sauvignon Lot 172 Atlas Peak / $22 / B / hugely tannic

2007 Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles / $28 / B-

2007 Millarium Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley / $75 / A-/ rich, has aging potential

2007 Valley of the Moon Cabernet Bland, Cuvee de la Luna Sonoma County / $30 / B

2007 St Helena Road Winery-Maier Family Meritage Sonoma / $34 / B

2007 Niner Wine Estates Fog Catcher Paso Robles / $58 / B+ / rich blackberry notes

2006 J. Lohr Cuvee Pau, Paso Robles / $50 / B- / overdone

NV Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Sherry Solera 1847 Superior Selection / $18 / B+

Spirits

Rokk Vodka, Sweden / $NA / B+ / traditional, light sweetness

Pisco “O” Torontel, Ica, Peru / A- / $35 / intense lemon notes, a surprise

2009 Germana SOUL Cachaca, Brazil / A- / $29 / light and easy

Germana Tradicional Cachaca, Brazil / B+ / $34 / bolder, lightly aged

2009 Germana Heritage Cachaca, Brazil / B / $79 / even more aged, but unbalanced

Tequila Blu Reposado, Mexico / B / $38 / a tough rough

Tequila Cinco Blancos Anejo, Mexico / B- / $23 / rough attack, harsh

El Zacatecano Anejo Mescal, Mexico / B+ / $NA / almost no smoke – this is mescal?

Rum Vizcaya VXOP Solera Rum, Dominican Republic / B+ / $38 / overwhelming sweetness

Isle of Jura Single Malt Scotch, Prophecy, Scotland / B+ / $70 / massive peat bomb, big iodine notes

Pere Magloire Calvados VSOP, France / B- / $40 / tough and rough

Pere Magloire Calvados XO, France / B+ / $75 / huge apple character (as one would hope)

Comandon Cognac XO, France / B+ / $145 / tasty, but needs better balance, off finish

Review: Tequila Espolon

This tequila brand, from the Jalisco Highlands, has been absent from the U.S. market after several years of exile. Now repackaged in squat bottles with wild, “Dance of the Dead”-inspired imagery depicting Mexican history on the labels, these 100% agave tequilas are being offered in both blanco and reposado expressions. The company also lays claim to a longer agave roasting process and a longer distilling time than other tequila makers. Both are 80 proof.

Here are some thoughts on both expressions.

Espolon Blanco Tequila is hefty with agave character, peppery but with a smooth, silky body. The finish brings up more pepper and heat than I’d like. Little hints of vanilla in the body make this more complex than you’d expect at a price level like this. Not quite a knockout, but definitely worth a try. A- / $25

Espolon Reposado Tequila is aged six months, quite a bit of time amongst modern reposados which spend half that time in barrels if they’re lucky. Definitely a kissing cousin of the blanco, this expression is smoothed out, and has the agave knocked down a few pegs, letting vanilla and some caramel notes come to the surface. Nice, easy finish. An incredible bargain — it’s actually the same price as the blanco. A winner.  A / $25

tequilaespolon.com

tequila espolon Review: Tequila Espolon

Review: Patron Silver Tequila

For many, Patron is the gold standard of premium tequila. And indeed, Patron has done for the tequila market what Grey Goose did for vodka. Whether you like them or not, they have convinced the world that there were people out there who would pay for expensive versions of what many had previously assumed only came in two versions: Cheap and cheaper.

As a pioneer in mass market premium tequilas, Patron took the approach of using 100% agave, crafting a fancy bottle with a little ribbon around the neck and a real cork for a stopper, and charging a premium price for it all. It has worked: Patron is now one of the best-selling tequila brands in the world, and it’s expensive.

And yet, when you get down to it, Patron is honestly nothing special. The tequila offers a big, and somewhat nutty and woody nose (though the spirit is not rested in wood like some blancos), with pronounced agave notes. The woody character continues on the palate, but it’s overshadowed by a pretty heavy bite and burn, suggesting that Patron is a tequila for those that grew up on rotgut tequilas and have graduated, but still wouldn’t know what to do if they didn’t have to gasp for air after doing a shot (and let’s be real, no one sips Patron). The texture is full-bodied, but somewhat oily.

All said, this is not a bad tequila, but there are many better blancos out there, and at better prices that it’s silly to recommend it unless there’s absolutely nothing better on the shelf. 80 proof.

B / $38 / patrontequila.com

patron silver tequila Review: Patron Silver Tequila