¡Salud! to Tequila

Here, how to throw a sexy tasting party

Until recently, 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 a couple of years ago, I visited Reposado 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 waitress patiently explained that the menu was comprised of different types and brands of tequilas.

“All of this is tequila?” I asked, flipping through the pages. “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, tequila expert 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.

It turns out tequila is a highly regulated, Mexico-only spirit with a denomination 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 eight 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 flavour, 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,” Repo-sado is aged in wooden barrels (usually American or French oak) or storage tanks from two 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 one to three 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 three years that has followed the storage rules of añejo. Leaning toward 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, Katherine. 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 Katherine fell in love with the spirit.

“There was a hurricane that left us stranded in a half-demolished hotel. 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, be inspired to open your doors and host a sultry tequila-tasting party.

You will be serving each guest a “flight,” the term used to describe tasting samples generally composed of three ½ to one-ounce pours. You can choose to do a vertical flight, which means different categories of tequilas – blanco, reposado and añejo, say – all of the same brand; or a horizontal flight – 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 at right) to bring out the spirit’s agave flavour, whereas añejo is co-sipped with a piece of dark chocolate pairing their similar cocoa and caramel notes. Food-wise, go 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. Decor-wise, nothing about a piñata is sexy, so resist the urge to head to your nearest party store. 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.

¡Salud!

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 small-bowled wine glasses or
brandy snifters per guest

– 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 (download PDF from www.everything zoomer.com/tag/tasting-party)

– Pitcher of sangrita if serving blanco, reposado (see recipe)

– 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 guests can use their nose, a big part of a tasting.

– Keep it simple: a white tablecloth, perhaps with Mexican runners at each end, and snacks in simple earthenware and baskets.

– Create a playlist of authentic Mexican artists – Carlos Santana, who was born in tequila-producing Jalisco.

– 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 6 steps to tasting, previous page), giving them time to jot down notes on their scorecards after each step.

– After each tequila tasting, give everyone a chance to compare notes.

6 Steps to Tasting

See Tilt glass away and hold it 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 flavour 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 flavour notes and mouth-feel.

Score Jot down

your thoughts. Compare notes.

Sangrita Roja

(recipes courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, Mexico)

3 tsp
Maggie seasoning sauce

3 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1-½ to 3 tsp

Tabasco sauce (to taste)

⅔ cup
fresh squeezed lime juice

¾ cup
fresh squeezed orange juice

½ cup grenadine

4 cups tomato juice

Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Chill until serving.

ZoomerApril-4765HR

Salsa Pico de Gallo

Make 3 servings

2 cups chopped tomatoes

1 cup chopped white onion

½ chopped Serrano chili

2 tsp chopped cilantro

Lime juice

Salt

In large bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, chili and cilantro. Season with lime juice and salt to taste. Chill. Serve with tortilla chips.

Zoomer Magazine, April 2015