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December 2008


WINE & SPIRITS

Tequila Fiesta
By Baroness Sheri de Borchgrave

NOT JUST THE LIFE OF THE PARTY, TEQUILA GETS SERIOUS WITH INTRIGUING NEW VARIETIES

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Tequila is the class clown of the spirits world, the troublemaker you ought to avoid but somehow keep coming back to. I've had many an outrageous night with agave distillates as my nocturnal companions. In Good Drinks for Bad Days, a ribald new bartending book devoted to pinpointing the right cocktail match for life's most miserable moments, tequila-based drinks are prescribed for such day-to-day setbacks as "striking out," "hooking up with the wrong person," or getting into a "big fight with your main squeeze."

Personally, I don't need a calamity to break out the tequila-particularly the good stuff. In fact, lately I've been sipping (not shooting fast with lime chasers) some delicious new high-end players. Tanteo, just out this month, is the first tequila brand featuring non-agave infusions. The brainchild of company CEO Jonathan Rojewski-who convinced Mexico's regulatory board to open the door for the first time to infused tequilas-it comes in delicious ultra-premium jalapeno, chocolate and tropical varieties.

I first tasted Tanteo, produced in the mountain town of Tequila, at a preview event in the Hamptons last summer. The jalapeno infusion, made with a combination of organic peppers and Weber blue agave, gives off a layered peppery heat. The chocolate infusion, made with raw cocoa, is earthy with only a subtle hint of sweetness, while Tanteo Tropical is a semi-sweet herbal tequila with lush notes of mango, pineapple and guanabana. Among the three, the jalapeno's low-key burn really won my heart.

Inocente, another newcomer, taps into my fetish for hyper-designed packaging. This ultra-premium silver tequila comes in an arresting hand-blown tall blue bottle, twisted a quarter turn as if warped by magic. Made from blue agave grown in the rich volcanic soil of the Jalisco highlands, this triple-distilled newcomer is certainly among the smoothest silvers on the market.

Further indulging my weakness for beautiful bottles, the new Corzo tequila comes encased in a literal work of art—a heavy, clear glass rectangle with an off-center cap that is the work of design star Fabien Baron (known for his collaborations with Prada, Armani, and Issey Miyake). Hidden behind a diminutive brown label, the contents are just as elegant as the package they come in. The silver is extra smooth, with hints of vanilla and citrus, while the aged reposado features a floral nose and honey notes.

In addition to these three, even more new tequilas have been coming out fast and furious of late. Cazadores Blanco, from Los Altos de Jalisco, the rugged mountain region that holds 90 percent of the world's agave plantations, is perfectly balanced with vivid flavors. This rich, round white tequila spends an extra long time in the fermentation process, during which it's bombarded by natural yeasts. Made from a three-generation family recipe, Cazadores earned my vote for tastiest silver tequila.

The last round on my recent tasting tour arrived from Siembra Azul (which translates as "Blue Harvest"), a small-batch artisanal producer from the Jalisco highlands. I sat down with the man behind the brand, Mexico-born David Suro-Pinera, who poured me a glass of his prized bianco. This entry-level white tequila is his favorite, he explained, because there is no aging to mask the flavors of the terroir. It was fruity with complex, citrusy notes.

Several years back, when he first had the idea to launch his own tequila brand, Suro-Pinero brought in a team of experts. Among them was the man who became his master distiller, Leopoldo Solis. Solis pipes Vivaldi and baroque sonatas into the fermentation room, he explained, "to stimulate the yeasts with happy melodic vibrations." The music seems to have worked its magic. His reposado, aged three months, features wonderful butterscotch, chocolate and toasted-nut flavors. Meanwhile, his anejo, aged for a year, is a smooth, suave sipping tequila. The yeasts must have been ecstatic.

As I sat with Suro-Pinero working my way through his line, the tequila started working its usual tricks. Before long the man behind the brand-having forgotten an interview was underway-began to regale me with the many stories of his own X-rated tequila nights.

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