I recently attended an informal margarita tasting at Tres Agaves restaurant in San Francisco. I've sampled some great aged tequila in the past, but usually pass on margaritas unless the place is known for being top-notch - too often, the "margarita mix" is just an overly sweet, syrupy mess that is a recipe for a splitting headache the next day.
Tres Agaves, on the other hand, is known far and wide for their tequila selection as well as their margaritas (check out their reviews on Yelp, for example), so it seemed like a perfect choice to sample some of their top-end selections with companions who know and understand this often-misunderstood liquor.
We started with the "Favoritos de los Empleados" (staff picks), a flight of mid-high end tequilas, designed to provide a sense of how far the same liquor can range depending on how long it is aged and in what sort of barrel. The flight consisted of three tequilas, ranging in body from lightest to fullest:
- El Tesoro Platinum
- Casa Noble Single Barrel Reposado
- El Jimador Añejo
The El Tesoro Platinum is from the Highlands, and was crystal clear and very smooth. It didn't have a ton of body compared to the other two, but that is not its role. This one would be perfect as a light aperitif on a hot day or as a restorative after a hard day of work, but might not stand up well as a mixer.
The Casa Noble was a real eye-opener as a change from the Tesoro. It is from the Lowlands, but it is aged in French white oak for the maximum of 364 days that is allowed for a Reposado ("rested") tequila. The combination works very well, both on the nose and in the mouthfeel. Our tasting group tasted a honey-floral flavor in it, akin to a lavender crème brûlée, and sensed that a margarita employing this tequila might taste like an unsweetened key lime pie filling for a buttery pastry. That may not sound like something you'd want to drink (or the best filled pastry treat), but add a salt-rimmed glass and you will likely have a very nice margarita on your hands.
The Casa Noble reminded me in passing of a scotch without the peat (focusing on the aging and the wood notes), and was my favorite of the flight. The rest of the group preferred the next one in the flight; either way, discussing the merits of the Casa Noble gave us a chance to admire its beautiful handmade cobalt blue glass bottle a bit longer as a result ...
By contrast, the El Jimador Añejo was a much fuller-bodied tequila. Also from the Lowlands, it owes much of its richer mouthfeel to the fact that it is aged for a minimum of 12 months in new American oak barrels, and it shows. I got notes of cinnamon and stronger wood than the Casa Noble on the nose; that said, its rich flavor should be savored and not hidden under a mix or lime juice. If you were to use it in a margarita, however, we imagined that it would produce a flavor like the deep-fried lemons (yum!) that are served with fried calamari plates to balance the mix of flavors. Overall, this was a delightful sipping tequila and the group's favorite.
At the end of the flight and interested in stretching our palate further, we got into a discussion with the barman as to which tequila would do a good job in pushing the envelope as an adventurous mixer. Our intuition proved correct and we selected a post-flight set of the "Pancho Villa" margaritas with salt. This margarita uses the Siete Leguas Reposado tequila, whose full body was given room to flourish when mixed with Tres Agaves's austere and clean margarita mix, which practically bursts from the glass with an abundance of freshly-squeezed lime.
Closing out the tasting, we were fortunate enough to be offered a taste of Tequila Chamucos (the devil). This tequila's box alone is enough to justify a taste, and definitely check out their great website as well which features nice animation and a selection of groovy tunes. The Chamucos is aged in white oak barrels for seven months; while this sampling was clean and fresh, our barman indicated that the quality from bottle to bottle is quite inconsistent so caveat emptor.
As for food, we paired the tequila flight with a smattering of starter plates: albondigas in a tomato and cotija cheese sauce; a jicama salad composed of orange sections, cabbage and red onion and seasoned with chili powder; tuna ceviche; and a grilled chorizo verde. It was quite refreshing to see a menu of specialized, regional Mexican cuisine; the chorizo for example is a speciality of the area of Toluca and was a real treat, with a lighter and more nuanced flavor than the more common red chorizo owing to the fact it is made with chile poblano and cilantro (providing both color and taste).
Overall, it was a great tasting and a wonderful initiation as to how complex aged, well-made tequila can be. There's lots more to delve into, so I'll definitely be back to Tres Agaves to explore their expansive list of flights and tequilas by the glass - check it out if you are in the neighborhood.