Tequila is the basis for a lot of late-night stories that don’t end well, and that’s sad. The spirit is delicious and interesting, but it labors under the misconception that it needs to be taken as a chilled shot with salt and lime.
With the desire to right some wrongs, and with so much good tequila out there, we decided to call on Courtenay Greenleaf, the Tequila Librarian for La Biblioteca at Zengo NYC.
We told her we knew some basics when we met. To be called tequila, it must be made from 100% Weber Blue Agave (one of a couple dozen varieties), or it is considered a mixto, which itself must have at least 51% agave. It must be made in the Mexican state of Jalisco around the city of Tequila (natch), or in portions of four nearby states. Read more about the tequila region here.
There are basically three categories for bottling:
Blanco (white), cannot be aged more than two months and is very often bottled right away;
Reposado (rested), aged at least 2 months and up to a year;
Añejo (aged), aged at least a year and up to three.
“Tequila makers then have choices,” says Greenleaf. “Agave from the Highlands lends a citrus note that valley floor piñas, the heart of the plant harvested to make tequila, counter with earthiness.” She also mentions that producers are finding options within the written rules of wood aging to add layers to their final products.
Courtenay Greenleaf’s Flight of Tequila
Greenleaf built us a flight with tequilas that “may not be the most traditional,” she says, “but right now I think they show where tequila is as a spirit.”
Siete Leguas Blanco
“First,” she says, “I would have you taste the blanco from Siete Leguas.” This distillery, named after the Seven Horses of Pancho Villa, “was the original source for what has become Patron,” says Greenleaf. “When Patron wanted to expand production, the family here said they couldn’t. So Patron grew in other ways, and this place stayed small.” With all highlands-grown agave giving it, says Greenleaf, “sweeter nuances and a citrus note with a subtle minerality,” this tequila is a “wonderfully balanced blanco.”
Casa Noble Reposado
For the reposado, she suggests Casa Noble. “This one is definitely not traditional,” she says, mentioning that they are, “triple distilled while most tequilas are double, certified organic, and kosher.” Using lowlands fruit, “they age to 364 days in new French oak barrels, really pushing the envelope.” One day more and they’d have to call it an añejo. The time and care,” says Greenleaf, “give it a ton of layers, with vanilla up front with subtle caramel and white chocolate.”
To round out our trio with an añejo, she suggests Riazul, a tequila made from all highlands agave grown on land originally given to the current owner’s great-great grandmother in 1810. Aged more than two years in used cognac barrels, which Greenleaf says “are heavily charred to release the oils and flavors from the wood imparting a nose and palate full of maple and pie spice with a heavier viscosity.” She suggests that “people who might be timid of tequila will appreciate this small production from a young producer,” even though this distiller’s “newer visions don’t always sit well with traditionalists.”
Well, we’re not traditionalists, we’re just looking to drink and enjoy, and learn a little, so thank you very much.
If you want to continue on this journey, and find yourself in NYC, go see Courtenay at La Biblioteca, inside Zengo NYC at 40th Street and 3rd Avenue.