Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Some Fancy Dancy Tequilas

Tequilas are arriving with a little something extra these days. Perhaps it's the ongoing influence of vodka, but flavoring and infusions are the words of the day south of the border.

This is due mainly to a 2006 ruling from the Tequila Regulatory Council of Mexico that allowed flavored tequilas (except pure agave tequila). There appears to have been a delayed reaction, because only lately have the bottles of tequila that pass through my mail slot been sporting a flavor.

I am naturally skeptical of such contrived beverages. But one such, the Gran Centenario Tequila Rosangel, won me over. It is infused with Hibiscus flowers, that twee favorite flora of the cocktail world. After that, it is aged in port barrels for two months. The result has a lovely pale rose color. I took my sample bottle over to a tequila aficionado friend of mine, and we agreed: the stuff wasn't bad. Quite good, actually. It had a full, meaty nose, sporting agave, guava and yeast. The taste was light and floral, fragrant and feminine. An elegant drink.

My friend termed it a sipping tequila, unsuitable for mixing because of its marked flavor profile and delicate nature. I wasn't so sure. I took the rest home and made a Margarita. It was lovely.

Then, we have the Tanteo group. There are Tropical, Chocolate and Jalapeno flavored tequilas. Ai-yi-yi. Apart from the whole idea of this line-up being a bit louche, let's try to be objective and give these guys a fair shake.

The Tropical has a full, buttery candy quality on the nose. No real specific tropical fruits—more like a fruit basket. More identifiable fruit flavors come through as it passes very smoothly, very pleasantly, down the gullet. Banana, pear, guava, starfruit, (coconut?). Pretty OK. I would would call it a mixing tequila, with a future in certain summer cocktails created by judicious (read: not vulgarly inclined) mixologists.

Now, we have the Chocolate. Quite frankly, all chocolate flavor liquors make me shudder. The very idea is rather trashy, in my book. You can't school people to be responsible with their drinking if you make the booze taste like candy. Still: on the nose you get more of the bitter cocoa aspect of chocolate, rather than the milky sweetness. The latter comes through more in the palate, along with plenty of vanilla, and a hint of dusty bitterness at the start. I know many will love this, but it's not my cup of hot chocolate.

For last, I saved the Jalapeno, because I do love those little peppers, and because the marriage of Tequila and hot peppers makes sense, in culinary terms. (I also think there's a great future in spicy cocktails, based on a few I've tasted in the past year.) The smell of the Jalapenos is just there on the nose, not overwhelming, but enough to tingle your nostrils if you hold your beak in the glass too long. Going down, it's much more pronounced, the heat building gradually over the seconds. It's a judicious grading of pepper to liquor. It doesn't set your mouth on fire, but there's no mistaking the dominant flavor of this drink. Yet, the flavor is a bit one-dimensional. It could have a place in some yet-to-be-invented drinks, but it doesn't do much as just a sipper.

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