My only previous experience with tequila wasn’t promising. Too many tequila sunrises in one sitting during my college years, and I swore off orange juice for a decade.
That sounds typical to Alfredo Sanchez, Tequila Master at the new Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita in Nayarit, Mexico.
Young people often down shots to cap off a night of drinking something else. When they are overcome by a head-pounding hangover the next day, tequila gets the blame.
Sanchez was in Chicago, hosting a tequila-tasting for a handful of journalists and bloggers as part of a promotional tour. At Punta Mita, a casita-style luxury oasis about 45 miles from Puerto Vallarta, tequila is serious business: About 200 brands are served, and most are unavailable in the United States. Tasting menus, or menus degustation, are created with tequila pairings rather than wine or beer. Optional excursions take guests to premium distilleries and private reserve cellars.
Tequila should be savored slowly or mixed in a cocktail, not gulped, he said.
Sanchez’ mission was for us to develop a finer appreciation for tequila and mescal–or mezcal, as it is spelled in Mexico. Both are spirits distilled from agave plants. Tequila is a mescal, but not all mescals are tequila. The distinction is primarily geographic, like Champagne and sparkling wine. Mescal is produced throughout the country, but tequila can be produced only in the state of Jalisco. The growing conditions there are sublime for the thorny succulent, which thrives in the dry, mountainous region. Also, mescal can be made from any agave, but tequila is made from the hearts of mature blue agave plants. It is aged in French oak barrels from less than one year to more than three years.
“You cannot dislike tequila–you just have not found the one you like yet,” Sanchez said.
Lined up before us were eight bottles and decanters, bearing names like Wahaka, Crisanta, Don Fulono and Don Julio. (The prices, we learned later, ranged between $30 and $400.) Sanchez poured small glasses of each one.
“Take a sip,” he instructed. “Then breathe in and out with your mouth open to discover more aromas.”
The first one gently warmed the tip of my tongue before hints of herbal essence and sweetness slowly unfurled. The second was woodier and citrusy. The third was woody and spicy. Some were sweeter, some were bolder. We made our way through the procession, clearing our palates in between with bites of pineapple and orange dusted with chili powder. The last tequila began as a tease before its passionate heat radiated through my body. I recognized the feeling: This wasn’t the first time I had fallen in love at a bar.