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Feature Fri Apr 23 2010
One tequila, two tequila, three tequila...okay, well you know the rest! We've all had those evenings that started out with a shot or two of tequila and ended up with you walking in the middle of street barefoot with your address written in your arm (or is that just me?). I digress. Tequila has a reputation: mix-it-up in a 'rita or shoot down with lime and salt, and wild nights (and serious hangovers) result. But lately, tequila makers are trying to shed the college rave image, and turn tequila drinking into sophisticated experience. Isn't it kind of hard to imagine sipping a reposado in a flute while enjoying an aged Gouda cheese? Well, start imagining it. In the past month, I've been to two very different tequila tasting for three different makers - Partida, Ocho, and Corzo. All three are 100% blue agave tequila (yes, this makes a big difference!)
The first tasting was a combined affair between Partida and Ocho at the Palomar Hotel. These two tequilas paired up to conduct a tasting in the hopes to show what the affects terroir can have on a product -- terroir literally means "land," but the implication when using the word in respect to tequila production is the environment of the blue agave, the growing conditions which include soil, climate, and human interaction. By Mexican law, 100% blue agave tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco (located in central-western Mexico). The land of Jalisco is rich in volcanic soil, making it a highly desirable place to grow the blue agave. Due to the dormant volcano and mountainous region, blue agave can be produced either at a high altitude (referred to as highlands) or in a lower altitude, referred to as the lowlands (or the valley). Partida is a lowlands (valley) tequila and Ocho is a highlands tequila. As in winemaking, tequila producers took the terroir seriously. Valley tequilas are said to have a more earthy and aggressive taste, and highlands tequila are more floral and softer (again, did you ever think tequila would be described to you as floral?) The pairing of Ocho and Partida showed how the same blue agave plants, production process, and aging can taste wildly different just because of the effects of the terroir.
I'll admit when I first sat down I had two thoughts:
1) Eight flutes of tequila? I should write my address on my arm now, and;
2) This looks like a wine tasting.
The events were conducted similar to a wine tasting. We started with the blanco tequilas, worked our way up to a reposado, and then onto the añejo. The difference between the three types of tequila is basically the aging process; blanco isn't aged, reposado is aged under a year, and añejo is over a year. Fun fact: one year of aging in Mexico is similar to fifteen years in Scotland (starting to understand what the affects of terroir can have?)
The second tasting was a combined effort by Corzo tequila and Vosges Haut-Chocolat. Instead of tasting lowlands and highlands tequila side-by-side, Vosges chocolates were paired with Corzo tequila (and cheese!). This tasting was less clinical and more about the experience of tequila with foods. Vosges' setup was elegant and sleek.
Each of the three types of tequila - blanco, reposado, and añejo - were served with a cheese and two pieces of chocolate. A cracker was served alongside to help cleanse the palate between samples. Sort-of shocking confession: I don't really like chocolate. It's true. I've always been a fan of vanilla or almond flavor, and chocolate I can take it or leave. So I was worried about chocolate overload, because Vosges doesn't just do your standard dark and milk chocolate--theirs is a bacon-flavored, tea-infused, curry-dusted, and coffee bean-grade kind of chocolate. I personally wasn't wild about most of the chocolates but I enjoyed its combination with tequila. I particularly loved the "Funk & Disco" Truffle--which contained banana pudding and vanilla--and paired with a lightly aged reposado, it was perfect. I wrote down "groovy" with several stars in my notebook -- and FYI, this gem is part of Vosges' "Groovy" collection.
I really, really, loved the combination of cheese and tequila. We had a Gouda cheese with cumin and aged cheddar. I could eat these cheeses by the brick.
This tasting really opened my eyes to not necessary the production of tequila (another fun fact: the Corzo rep said they play classical music during their fermentation process - Google the Mozart Effect to learn more). Tequila can actually be more than just a shot (or in a margarita) - it can be enjoyed, slowly, by itself or with food.
I learned a trick at the Corzo tasting that will help you sip tequila without getting that awful burning sensation when the alcohol evaporates off your lips and tongue. Exhale, not inhale, when tasting the tequila--this action is unlike wine, where flavor and nuance is more pronounced when mixed with oxygen (slurp your wine, don't drink it!). If you'd want to learn more about tequila production, Partida has an interesting web series called Tequila Education that will tell you all you need to know.
I don't think you need a lesson in Tequila 101 to start appreciating it beyond shots and 'ritas, but starting off just substituting tequila for whatever liquor is currently in your favorite cocktail is an eye-opener. You can find great recipes for tequila cocktails on any of the brands websites, but I'll leave you with one of the cocktails sampled at the Corzo tasting.
WHITE SAND COCKTAIL
1 1/2 oz Corzo Silver (or blanco tequila of preference)
1 1/2 oz White Grape Juice
3/4 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liquor
3/4 oz Sweet and Sour
Combine, stir, and serve over the rocks.
Enjoy and happy sipping!
Corzo tasting photo credits: Erika Dufour