Save Money: Stick With Reposados
There's an article on CHOW right now about añejo tequila being a "hoax". It's at http://www.chow.com/stories/11023
I think that's a poorly-chosen term, and the article itself fails to argue its point very convincingly. But I do agree with its central proposition - that long wood-aging, with a few exceptions, is not as suitable for tequila as for other drinks (not just whiskey, which the writer chose as his focus).
I think there are three issues at work:
1. agave is a delicate flavor, easily masked by too much rich woodyness
2. to my taste (and this is strictly personal taste), excessive woodyness clashes with the flavor of tequila, in a way that it does not with other drinks. Not incidentally, it's important to bear in mind that tequila was never intended for long aging in wood. With a few exceptions, that's a new trend responding directly to demand in foreign markets (and, likely, Mexican yuppies).
3. I'm not convinced that tequila makers are fully skillful in how they do the wood aging. With some improvement, perhaps #1 and #2 will be overcome.
This is all even truer of mezcal. Especially #3. The añejo mezcals I recently tried in Mexico (from makers who produce stunning reposados) ranged from artless to horrendous turpentiney nightmares. You get the feeling that wood aging is done grudgingly and skill-lessly. Reposado's nearly always the smart choice. Also the more affordable one!
Of course, this is absolutely and totally a question of taste. If you like añejo tequilas and mezcals, that's certainly fine by me!
I totally agree with point #2. That's why I prefer blancos.
I totally disagree with point #1. To me, the agave is one of the least delicate, most assertive, of all the spirits. In thinking about vodkas, delicate to the point of non-existent; gins; bourbons; Canadians; and brandies - these are all more delicate than the agave, especially the brisk, biting blancos.
I doubt you're right about point #3. The reposados and anejos that I've tried have all been very well made. But it gets back to your point #2, and frankly, to my opposition to your point #1: Because the greatness, the beauty, and the magnificence of the agave is in its assertive and brash taste, aging it away would be like buying a Ferrari, and then for some reason, inserting some device that makes the engine less powerful. It would be like going to a Led Zeppelin concert in an arena, and sitting in the plush, skybox and watching the concert from behind the plexiglass....
Maybe delicate was the wrong term. But as I try to think up a more apt one, I realize that my points 1 and 2 are identical, in the end. It comes down to this: Wood + agave = not so good, at least for now.
As for who's "right" on #3, the fact that you tried what you perceive to be well-made tequilas doesn't mean that I haven't tried lots of what I perceived to be poorly-aged tequilas (re: mezcals, I've NEVER had an añejo that didn't taste like a sad demise for a promising reposado). And in any case, the "well" part of the phrase "well-aged" is way too subjective for there to be a "right" or "wrong" answer. I try to avoid thinking in terms of "right" or "wrong" in aesthetic things like food or drink. At very least, it doesn't make for the most fruitful discussion.
The equation (which we seem to agree upon) of "Wood + agave = not so good" would certainly be affected by more innovative and/or skillful aging techniques. So I'll stick by my hope that #3 offers potential improvement!
I LOVED your Led Zeppelin analogy, btw! Can I steal that? :)
Isn't this the same issue for any aged spirit? There is always a point in which the wood will mask the flavor profile of the spirit. A bourbon that is aged too long tastes all of oak and not of corn and rye, same with a Scotch, and whiskey devotees will endlessly debate how old is too old or which bottles are over-oaked.
In addition, the article criticizes oak as foreign, but many whiskies are also not aged in barrels made of indigeonous woods. Most Scotch is aged in old Bourbon barrels form the US or French and Spanish sherry and wine casks.
That being said, I agree with the premise that some aged Tequila, like some aged whiskey, is lacking in character...Casa Noble would be one super-premium añejo that I find too smooth, but I've had other añejos that I find quite enjoyable. (I've never had an añejo mezcal, so I can't comment). And of course, I don't doubt that companies are using añejo to pump up profits, but that's nothing new.
Yes sir. There is a big difference between traditionally aged tequilas with a Mexican character, and the straight to US market brands that have emerged with tequilas rising popularity. Anejo has always been a great expression for tequila for a long time, it's only the new extra anejo category that has been added in recent years as top producers have entered into the luxury spirits market.
There are good and bad platas, reposados, and anejos.They are three great and different expressions of tequila.
But, there's nothing wrong with preferring one style over the other. I like all three, or five, if you include gold(Jarro Viejo and a lime is a beautiful thing), and extra-anejo(Grand Conquistador and Selecion Suprema are muy chido).
Point #3? Madre de dios! I can go on and on with the highlands, and lowlands anejos and resposados that come from excellent distillers, with great traditions, that make complex tequilas that will fry your mind. When an anejo loses the young agave flavor, it picks up other flavors unique to tequila, but the agave is still there my friends.
Herradura anejo is a benchmark tequila everyone should know.It's is delicious but still has that Mexican burn.Take a small sip into your palate and let the flavors release in your mouth.Enjoy it with a homemade sangria.
And mescal producers are so stubornly seeped in tradition that they won't even use the primitive coa to hack the spines off the damn agave.Their still using a machete. Doubt that they would use wood just to satisfy some guy in Reseda.
Jim, which anejos did you find lackluster and which mescals did you think were poorly made? I mean, there are maybe 1200-1500 brands of tequila. I got 60 bottles. You should come over some time!