This story appeared in Zoomer Magazine March 2015 but hey, the content is still relevant and a tequila tasting party works any year, any time of year, so throw one today!
So you want to throw a sexy, sultry tasting party? Up until a few years ago, I wouldn’t have suggested tequila as the star - I’ve always thought of it as a nasty drink that brings back vague memories of my younger self perched on a bar stool with a group of gal pals, all of us licking our paws like naïve kittens before downing a shot and then shoving a lemon wedge in our mouths. But then, I visited Reposado Bar & Lounge on Toronto’s trendy Ossington strip for the first time. When I glanced at the menu, I didn’t recognize a single dish and was surprised when the server patiently explained that the menu was comprised of different types and brands of tequilas.
"All of this is tequila?" I asked. "Who knew?"
According to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), lots of people. Recent stats reveal that tequila’s share of the spirits market has risen in the province over the last five years with sales in 2012-2013 reaching $41.7 million, or 9.3 per cent over the previous year. Since 2008, tequila has been the top-selling spirit category by volume beating out even vodka. To find out why, I headed down to Mexico to hang out with a tequila sommelier.
Of the 52 acres that make up the Four Seasons Resort in Punta Mita, Alfredo Sanchez and I took up only a few square feet of space. Huddled together at the Aramara Bar one sultry evening, the 29-year-old native of Mexico City and man at the helm of the resort’s beverage program, gave me the low-down on his country’s national spirit. His dark eyes danced as he boasted about the more than 200 tequila labels his resort carries.
“Good tequila is to be sipped and savoured. Although it still suffers a bad reputation as a party shot leading to horrific hangovers, in recent years, it has gained the interest and respect of people who appreciate more traditional sipping spirits such as cognac and scotch.”
What’s driving the interest?
“People are looking for a new experience, but one that is organic, artisanal, and has heart and soul. Did you know that a single bottle of tequila could have passed through 60 hands in its production?”
“Tell me more,” I begged.
Tequila is a highly regulated, Mexico-only spirit with a domination of origin like cognac and champagne. To meet the approval of its governing body, the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), the spirit must be comprised solely of blue agave plants grown and harvested when they are 8 to 12 years old by jimadores in the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacan and Tamaulipas. Generally, tequilas produced in the highland regions (Patron, Don Julio) have a more floral, fruity flavor, whereas those from the valleys (Cuervo, Sauza) impart more spicy, earthy notes. Aging influences taste in terms of length of time stored, and the characteristics of the storage vessel. It also determines the four different categories of tequila.
· Blanco (Silver): The youngest of the four, Blanco is bottled directly after distillation or aged no more than 60 days in stainless steel tanks. Clear, generally vegetal and somewhat peppery with intense agave flavours.
· Reposado: Meaning “rested”, Reposado is aged in wooden barrels (usually American or French oak) or storage tanks from 2 to 11 months. Sometimes aged in barrels formerly used to store other spirits (whisky, bourbon, etc), where it picks up those flavours. Golden hue.
· Añejo: Meaning “old”, añejo must be aged from 1 to 3 years in wooden barrels not exceeding 600 litres in size. Spirit darkens to amber with less agave and alcohol flavours present. Rich, smooth finish often with caramel, cinnamon, and vanilla notes.
· Extra Añejo: Classification added in 2006 denoting tequila aged more than 3 years that has followed the storage rules of añejo. Leaning towards mahogany with taste so complex some sippers can’t distinguish it from other quality, aged spirits such as scotch.
Shortly after I returned from Mexico, I went back to Reposado to meet Sandy MacFadyen, who owns the establishment along with his wife, Catherine. Interestingly, Sandy too had once thought of tequila as a from-hammered-to-hungover drink responsible for a few terrible morning-afters back in the 80s. But then, while honeymooning in Mexico, he and Catherine fell in love with the spirit. “There was a hurricane which left us stranded in a half-demolished hotel on a 2-lane highway in the middle of nowhere. With not much to do, we decided to head to the bar. It was the first time we ever sipped good tequila.”
After many return visits to Mexico and much research, in 2007 the couple opened the doors to Reposado. Now is the time for you to open your doors and host a sexy, sultry tequila tasting party. You will be serving each guest a “flight”, the term used to describe tasting samples generally comprised of three ½ to 1-ounce pours. You can choose to do vertical flights which meansdifferent categories of tequilas -- blanco, reposado, and añejo, say -- all of the same brand; or horizontal flights – one type, añejo, for example -- but of different brands.
Although traditionally, tequila is served in a tall, narrow shot glass called a caballito, many aficionados use glasses with mouths that taper from the bowls as it allows for proper aeration. Small-bowled wine glasses work as do small brandy snifters. In Mexico, blanco and reposado tequilas are chased with a non-alcoholic citrus beverage called sangrita (recipe below) to bring out the spirit’s agave flavour, whereas añejo is chased with a piece of dark chocolate pairing their similar cocoa and caramel notes. Food-wise, we’re going super easy with just a few appetizers -- a platter of the more exotic fruits, and Salsa Pico de Gallo with tortilla chips. This way, instead of spending the day in the kitchen, you can go out and treat yourself to something that, well, puts you in the mood. Décor-wise, nothing about a piñata is sexy so resist the urge to head to your nearest party store. Instead, keep it rustic and simple, lights dim, music low. Think down-and-dirty.
Keep in mind too that one of the sexiest things about tequila is its slow, sensorial tasting process. Let guests linger over each of the six steps: See-swirl-sniff-sip-swallow-and-score, the latter of which need not only refer to the scorecards.
What’s the difference between Mescal and Tequila?
Whereas tequila can only be made of blue agave plants in select states, mescal can be comprised of numerous types of agave from various regions. All tequilas are mescals, then, but all mescals are not tequilas!
What you’ll need:
· 3 bottles of tequila (look for CRT stamp-of-approval logo). To serve Vertical Flights choose a blanco, reposado and añejo of the same brand; to serve Horizontal Flights choose 3 different brands of one of the above types
· 3 mini wine glasses or brandy sifters per guest (Reidel makes a CRT-approved tequila glass; Pier One offers small glassware designed for tastings)
· 2 shot glasses per guest (for sangrita if serving blanco and reposado)
· Pieces of high-quality dark chocolate (if serving añejo)
· White table cloth (so tequila colour is easier to discern)
· 1 Scorecard/pen per guest (print off scorecards PDF on Zoomer site)
· Pitcher of sangrita if serving blanco, reposado (see recipe below)
· Water and tortilla chips (or plain crackers) for palate cleansing
Set Up and Ambience:
· Hold the party in a room free of strong aromas so guest’s can use their nose, a big part of a tasting
· Keep it simple: A white tablecloth, perhaps with Mexican runners placed horizontally at each end, and snacks served in simple earthenware and baskets will do the trick.
· Create a playlist of authentic Mexican artists -- Carlos Santana who was born in tequila-producing Jalisco
· A tequila bottle’s design attempts to capture its heritage so place bottles on the table and make them part of the conversation
· In front of each guest, line up 3 glasses and pour ½ -ounce to 1 ounce of each tequila into each glass, youngest to oldest, left to right.
· Line up two shot glasses of sangrita per guest, placed next to blanco and reposado, and a piece of chocolate next to añejo.
· Instruct guests to use water and/or tortilla chips to cleanse palate between tastings
· Take guests through the proper way to taste (see Taste Like a Pro sidebar/pdf on Zoomer site), giving them time to jot down notes on their scorecards after each step
· After each tequila tasting, give everyone a chance to compare notes before moving on to the next one
See: Tilt glass away from you and hold up to white background. Note clarity (if blanco), or luminosity and colour.
Swirl: Swirl to release aromas and allow you to check out viscosity. How are the legs? Runny or slow?
Sniff: Take a few little sniffs so as not to oversaturate your nose. Close your eyes so your brain can focus. Open your mouth a little to avoid nasal burn from alcohol. Identify various aromas.
Sip: Take a small sip and roll around on your tongue to hit the different flavor receptors. Take a bigger sip to see what you get. Note texture and flavours.
Swallow: Breathe with your mouth slightly open and swallow. Identify back-end flavor notes and mouth-feel.
Score: Jot down your thoughts. Compare notes.
T1 T2 T3
Clarity or Hue:
Detected flavours: (caramel, vanilla, oak,
tobacco, leather, chocolate, coffee, nuts,
citrus, various fruits, etc.)
Finish: (oily, silky, smooth, etc.)
Final flavor on palate:
Recipes (courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita)
3 teaspoons Maggie seasoning sauce
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
11/2 - 3 teaspoons spoons Tabasco sauce (to taste)
160 mL fresh squeezed limejuice
170 mL fresh squeezed orange juice
120 mL Grenadine
1 L tomato juice
salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Chill until serving.
Salsa Pico de Gallo
2 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped white onion
½ chopped Serrano chili
2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
Lime juice to taste
Salt to taste
Mix all the ingredients and seasoning with lime juice and salt to taste. Chill. Serve with tortilla chips.
Forget the lemons and limes and set out a tray of different types of fruits including oranges, pineapple, figs, star fruit, grapefruit and pomegranate. Offer a sprinkle of chili powder for guests seeking an extra kick!