A few days ago, I’m at my desk, looking over my calendar and trying to plan out the posts that will air for the rest of this month and in February, and I’m temporarily at a loss for an idea for today’s Saturday Spirits. Right when I was about to flip through my archive of tasting notes for something to cover, I glanced up at one of my bookshelves and found my inspiration. Sitting in a neat little row were three miniature bottles of Don Julio tequila, one Blanco, one Reposado, and one Añejo. There it was, the embodiment of today’s post, a flight of tequilas by the same producer, covering the three major styles.
Don Julio is largely responsible for the popularity of tequila as a high class sipping beverage. Prior to its release the majority of tequila was a simple, unpolished drink that was meant to be enjoyed casually at the end of the day, but it was little more. Don Julio believed that the agave plant had more to offer than what was being made at the time, and so he began experimenting with new growing, processing, and aging techniques to create a more refined product.
Tequila, for those who do not know, is a distilled beverage made from the agave plant. True tequila is only produced in a few select regions surrounding the town of Tequila in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. All other agave based beverages made throughout the country are technically mezcals, which have different production standards and methods. The drink has origins predating the Spanish colonization of Mexico, in an agave beverage that was fermented but not distilled. The Spanish took that drink and finished it through distillation and the tequila and mezcal that we know today were born.
Tequila, like most alcoholic beverages, has two separate identities. The first, and unfortunately often better known, is the cheap, uninspired party drink that is usually best covered up with lime and salt or sugary drink mixes. The second, which thankfully is becoming more popular as consumer tastes are evolving, is the artisanally made, complex and delicious sipping beverage commonly called “premium” tequila. Don Julio is largely responsible for the latter. By controlling every step of the production process, from the growing and harvesting of the agave to the production, aging, bottling, and packaging, Don Julio was able to experiment with new techniques and ensure quality every step of the way.
The Don Julio line now consists of five premium tequilas, each made to exacting quality standards in an effort to produce the finest tequila possible. The three that we will be talking about today are Don Julio’s Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo. Don Julio 1942 and Real are the two remaining bottlings in the line, and coming in at about $120 a bottle for 1942 and upwards of $370 a bottle of Real, they represent an ultra-premium style that will have to be featured on another day.
Spirit #1: Don Julio Blanco Tequila
Blanco is the youngest, most pure expression of tequila possible. It is generally, as is the case for Don Julio’s Blanco, bottled immediately after the distillation process, although some producers may age it for no more than only a few months in neutral storage containers that do not impart flavor. As a result, this tequila is the lightest, most agave flavored variety.
Pale and silvery in appearance, this tequila has the look of clear, melted sugar in the glass. There is a distinct blue agave aroma that is immediately detectable on the nose, edged by intense tones of flowers and stone. There is something about the aroma of this spirit that makes me think of a white rose growing out of the sand by the beach. It’s attractively floral, with a faint hint of citrus, tea leaves, and just a touch of jasmine, all supported by a firm mineral water edge that stabilizes the whole aroma.
The palate opens with light hints of black pepper and citrus tones, showing a firm, floral agave base. Curiously there is a faint smokiness that almost resembles the influence of oak, despite there not being any, caused solely by the intensity of the agave flavors. This is a delicately sweet tasting tequila, with a lush flavor profile that is both clean and interestingly complex. A very smooth and enjoyable Blanco that I would recommend serving on its own, very slightly chilled.
Worth Trying. 88 points.
Spirit #2: Don Julio Reposado Tequila
Reposado is a wonderfully balanced style of tequila that combines some of the natural agave flavors of Blanco and some of the oak influence of Añejo together in a harmonious middle ground between the two. To achieve this balance the tequila is typically aged just under a year in oak barrels, eight months in American white oak barrels in the case of Don Julio.
This tequila shows a very soft, golden straw color in the glass. The aroma shows an impressive balance of sweet herbal notes, kitchen spices, floral tones, and just a touch of smoke. Tones of rosewood and honey show initially, giving way to amaretto and butterscotch delicately enrobing subtle mixed fruit and floral tones.
A firm grip of oak cask shows initially on the palate, with smooth honey and vanilla cream moving into soft tones of kitchen spice. A bit of smoke surrounds a core of agave, which gives way to subtle tones of rosebush and exotic spices. This is a subtle, well balanced, and smooth tequila with nicely integrated flavors of wood that do not overpower the purity of the agave flavors. I’d serve this on its own in a snifter, preferably room temperature, although it would be nice lightly chilled as well.
Worth Trying. 89 points.
Spirit #3: Don Julio Añejo Tequila
Añejo is the longest aged of the three varieties. An extensive aging in oak, usually sometime between one and three years, contributes to massive amounts of wood influenced flavors in the finished product. Most of the clean, fruity agave flavors of Blanco and Reposado are gone, and a much more caramelly, almost brandy or whiskey like flavor has taken their place. Within this category is also something called an Extra Añejo, which like Don Julio’s Real, is aged even longer. Don Julio’s Añejo is aged for 18 months in American white oak barrels.
This Tequila shows an attractive light golden amber color in the glass. The aroma is defined by a nice balance between spice and oak flavors. An intense spiciness shows initially on the nose, with notes of cinnamon and dates playing off vanilla bean and brown sugar tones. A very subtle, almost preserved aroma of fruity, floral agave shows at the core of the aroma’s oaky structure.
The palate opens sweet and vanilla toned, with notes of oak and honey which balance off of subtle notes of bread and spices. Custard, honeyed almonds, and peach pit combine with very faint floral tones and a rustic assortment of wood and leather tones. This is an interestingly complex, very well integrated and smooth Tequila that would be great served at room temperature in a snifter.
Worth Trying. 90 points.
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What’s your favorite style and brand of premium tequila?