Wednesday, 9 February 2011 | Tags: ,

We do love a good margarita. And when it comes to tequila, there's much more to choose from than those throat-burning shooter brands. In fact, good tequila should be sipped over ice. Here's what we've learned about this authentic Mexican libation.

The Basics

  • Tequila is named for the central Mexican town of Tequila, Jalisco, where it originated and is still produced today. (If you go to Puerto Vallarta (also in Jalisco) or nearby, look for tequila tasting excursions for a look at the process and a sample of some of the wonderful flavours available in the area.)

  • Tequila is made by fermenting and distilling the sweet sap of the blue agave plant, a member of the lily family.

  • The blue agave is harvested, trimmed, and cooked before its juices are extracted and fermented with the addition of yeast.

  • Clear to light golden brown in color, the flavours of tequila range from fresh and fruity, to earthy and rich depending on its age.

  • The production of tequila is closely guarded by a Mexican Denomination of Origin law.

  • Only distilled spirits made from blue agave plants in specifically designated areas may be classified as true tequila.

  • Tequila does not depend on a seasonal harvest, since the agave is harvested year round.

  • With few exceptions, tequilas are blended (and may contain tequila from older or younger barrels), rather than being single-barrel products.

The different grades of tequila include:

  • Blanco (also known as White, Silver, or Plata) is clear in colour, un-aged (less than 30 days old), bottled soon after distillation. It has a crisp, dry, smooth taste with fresh and fruity overtones.

  • Reposado, meaning “rested”, is aged in barrels for 2 to 12 months, which gives this tequila a slightly tan colour and more mellow flavour and aroma. Reposado tequilas are the best-selling tequilas in Mexico.

  • Añejo (pronounced ah-nYAY-oh), means “old”. This tequila is aged in oak barrels for at least one year, which gives it a golden-amber colour and a soft, smooth, complex flavour. Añejo tequilas are considered the best variety for sipping.

  • Extra Añejo has been aged for 3 years or longer. Reserva have been aged five to 10 years. Añejos in this category have a smooth, elegant, complex flavour that is often compared to fine cognac.

  • Gold or Joven Abocado are like Blanco tequilas, aged just 1-2 months in oak barrels. The difference is that gold tequila is fortified with additional flavours and colours, which give it a golden hue and make the taste seem less harsh than blanco tequila. Gold tequilas are popular in the United States as the taste is less intense than 100% blue agave tequilas.

  • Fruit or nut flavored tequilas contain the same amount of alcohol as original tequila, but for many, taste less harsh. United States is the main export market for flavored tequilas and many are bottled in the United States. A walnut cream tequila is delicious over a simple vanilla ice cream.

Shopping Tips

  • The key to buying tequila is to know how you’re going to be using it. Spend a bit more on an añejo for an enjoyable sipping tequila. For shots or mixed drinks, spend less and choose a blanco or silver.

  • For authentic, Mexican-made tequila, look for “100% pure”, “100% agave”, or “100% blue agave” on the label. In Spanish, the words to look for are “Cien por ciento de agave azul”.

  • If the label just says “tequila”, it’s most certainly a mixto, not a pure tequila. Mixto is bottled outside of Mexico (usually in the USA) and has lots of other sugars in it, which is what often gives you a headache!

  • Another way to make sure you’re getting the real thing is to look for “Hecho en Mexico” on the label, which means made in Mexico. Also, look for “NOM”, “CRT” and a 4-digit number, which means the tequila was certified by the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) and identifies the distillery.

  • Don’t be fooled by words like “natural” and “estate bottled’ on the label. These terms have no official meaning. Other terms like “100% natural”, “100% Mexican”, “100% aged” or other similar terms are actually prohibited by the CRT.

  • Choosing a bottle that’s less than 100% agave isn’t all bad. Just understand what you’re buying.

  • If you suffer from hangovers, buy a 100% agave tequila, which won’t affect you like other high-sugar alcohols will.


For a cookbook review of Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill, we needed to find a tequila for our Cactus Pear Margaritas, so we took to the streets for a taste test. We tested:

  • Patron Silver (100% pure blue agave tequila): $84.99 / 750 ml
  • José Cuervo Gold (a blended mixto): $30.99 / 750 ml
  • Cazadores Reposado (aged, 100% pure agave): $37.99 / 750 ml
  • Don Julio 1942 Añejo (aged, 100% pure agave): $149.99 / 750 ml

Taste Test

We asked 100 patrons of Earl’s Restaurant in Vancouver to try our 4 tequilas. Comments include:

  • Patron Silver: Smooth

  • Cuervo Gold: Less of a bite at the end, tasty

  • Cazadores Reposado: Harsh around the edges

  • Don Julio 1942 Añejo: Mmm, vanilla


In the end, the most expensive sipping tequila,  Don Julio 1942 Añejo, got 46% of the vote, and was also our favourite. Since we were making mixed drinks, we decided to use Don Julio 1942 Añejo, which was the next most popular, with 27% of the vote.


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