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.