THE latest group of tequilas can look in the mirror and see the reflection of a good Cognac. Having spent time in French oak barrels, they desire to be poured from crystal decanters into snifters.
Unlike the two tequila types that control the market — the popular, margarita-friendly Silver, and the temporarily aged Reposado (rested) tequilas — these new tequilas must be aged at least three years in oak, longer than regular Aañejo (aged) tequilas. They surface a deep golden color, with rich, honeyed, sometimes smoky flavors that are more typical of brandy or Scotch. The often strongly vegetal quality that distinguishes good tequila may have taken a powder.
Though some of these top-of-the-line tequilas are not new to the market, they now be eligible for the designation Extra Añejo, or extra-aged, which was accepted by Mexico’s National Committee on Standardization about a year ago. (Flavored tequilas were also approved.) Until then, Añejo tequilas needed at least a year in oak, and those aged three years or more had no special distinction.
Now with the market for high-end spirits on the rise, producers convinced the government that longer-aged tequilas, often priced at $100 or more a bottle, needed to be set apart!
Among the first of the tequilas labeled Extra Añejo to reach us in US was Gran Centenario Leyenda, aged about four years in French oak, and sold in a bottle similar to that of Rémy Martin XO Cognac. Another great tequila in the market , Chinaco Negro and Partida Elegante, two new extra añejos, hold the Extra Anejo label.
The Extra Añejo designation will also appear on new shipments of Sauza Tres Generaciones (costing about $60), 1800 Colección (about $2,000, in a special bottle), Cuervo Reserva de la Familia ($130) and other labels.
Sales of super-premium tequilas, those costing $40 a bottle or more, have increased more than 20 percent this year. So it’s no wonder that producers in Mexico are aiming for the luxury market.
But not all of our tequila lover customers applaud this expansion! Customers state that they like tequila for its essential fresh, bright floral character. Extra aging produces flavors that are more roasted and nutty and don’t taste like agave. These aged tequilas are strictly luxury items.
Like all fine tequilas, those given extra aging are made from 100 percent blue agave, the big succulent with spiked leaves that grows in central Mexico. The round, fleshy core of the plant, or piña, is cooked and crushed, and the resulting juice, or agua miel (honey water), is fermented and then distilled to make tequila.
The unaged spirit, diluted with water to bring the alcohol content down to about 40 percent, is silver or Blanco (white), with a citrusy, herbaceous perfume and peppery intensity that can sometimes be harsh.
Tequila that is aged from two months to a year becomes Reposado, which is likely to be softer and more nuanced than silver. Aged or Añejo tequila is kept in oak, often in bourbon barrels, for a year or more and becomes mellower still, taking on overtones of buttered toast and caramel, and losing more of the vegetal agave character along the way.
Until fairly recently, tequila aficionados considered aging for more than three years to be a waste of time since it essentially tended to mute the character of the spirit.
We tasted a dozen extra añejos, aged from three to seven years, at Mel and Rose. More than half of them, including the Sauza Tres Generaciones, were in tequila denial.
But the 1800 Colección was sweetly vegetal and very rich with an elegant aftertaste; the Chinaco Emperador ($320 to $400) had a lingering herbal flavor, with whiffs of smoke, mint, citrus and caramel; the Herradura Selección Suprema ($250 to $350) was exceptionally smooth with tequila aromas and floral, herbal complexity; the Milagro Select Barrel Reserve (about $100) was smoky with a sweet fruitiness and a lingering finish; and the Clase Azul Ultra Tequila(about $1700) showed tequila character in the aftertaste.
We have the best sources for Extra Añejos in Los Angeles Shops.
With an eye to the high-end market, many of the Extra Añejos come in elaborate decanter-style bottles nestled in fancy boxes, often numbered to indicate limited production.
.It’s evident in the packaging that some of these are not intended for tequila drinkers and they’re not meant for drinking in a margarita but to be collected and sipped in a snifter!
Extra Anejo Tequilas available at Mel and Rose
• JOSE CUERVO ANIVERSARIO 250
• PARTIDA ELEGANTE TEQUILA
• KAH DAY OF THE DEAD EXTRA ANEJO
• CLASE AZUL ULTRA TEQUILA
• ASOMBROSO ANEJO TEQUILA