Words by Gary
Giddy up! Tequila, playground to the hedonist, wastrel and connoisseur alike. This little patch of goodness was on our radar in the early stages of planning this trip. Everyone has a relationship with this place whether they’re conscious of it or not. For us Gen-xer’s growing up in Sydney town we never had the privilege of sampling a fine sipping Tequila from Cava Del Oro, Casa Noble or Fortaleza. No, we had to settle with El Toro — who could forget that tacky plastic red sombrero that adorned the top of the bottle? Or that dastardly Jose Cuervo special blend – don’t let her resplendent gold label fool you!
Fast forward 20 odd years and I’ve come to learn that what we were funnelling down our gullets, complete with tormented facial expressions, was in fact not the genuine article. It was an imposter drop. A blend. Legitimate tequila can only be called such if it contains 100% blue agave. There’s plenty of other Tequila based product available on the market but they’re known as ‘mixtos’ – which legally require 51% blue agave and the rest is made up with glucose and other sugars. The Tequila renaissance is well upon us. Shooting with salt and lemon has taken a back seat to the more genteel swill and sip approach. Well, at least in my world and the gaggle of Hollywood glitterati that have invested in their own Tequila brand having grown tired of the parfumerie movement.
Whilst on gardening leave from Fox Sports I’d invested a fair bit of time studying my most treasured species of flora and the distilleries worth visiting. Number one on the list was Fortaleza – or Los Ambuelos (the original Mexican name) founded by the pioneering Sauza family. My gratitude is extended to the bar woman at the Bearded Tit in Redfern, Sydney for introducing me to this exquisite drop. It was late at night and I was well on my way, she poured me a blanco, cost $AUD 17 for a nip but it left an indelible impression that left me wanting to taste her two older sisters, reposado and anejo.
Fortaleza is one of two distilleries that conform to the original handcrafted production techniques – including the tahoma stone that is used to mill the pinas (agave hearts). It’s boutique, artisanal and bloody difficult to get your hands on. They export to UK, US and Australia only and due to the price tag most Mexicans can’t afford it – in fact it’s difficult to find outside of Tequila. So for 500 pesos ($AUD 40) each we organised a private tour which ended with an intimate tasting of all three tequilas in a candle lit cave. Mission accomplished.
The best Tequila to pass our lips was the Cava Del Oro Extra Anejo. This pearler was aged in oak barrels for 5 years and can be best be described as a dessert tequila. I kid you not this drink would turn even the most devout tequila hater full circle. Like a red wine possessed of power and finesse this drop delivered a spiritual experience. We were in love.
Our top five drops to date:
- Cava Del Oro – extra anejo
- Fortaleza – anejo
- Jose Cuervo – Gran Reserva (extra anejo)
- Maestro – anejo
- Cofradia – anejo
You’ll note the bias here. Extra anejo is barrelled 3+ years, anejo between 1-3 years, reposado 2-11 months and blanco is fresh from the vat but can be stored for up to 2 months. Guess our affection for Scottish malts has come into play here.
The town itself was humble yet exceedingly pretty. Nothing pretentious or ostentatious, except for the assortment of giant chillies, wine barrels and tequila bottle shaped vehicles that whisked tourists through the cobblestone streets from distillery to distillery. She’s perched in a valley at 1200m watched over by the now extinct Tequila volcano and skirted by the stunning Sierra de Los Balcones.
Surprisingly there are few pubs or bars to speak of yet she does boast La Capilla: a small cantina that is owned by a 94-year-old barman who created the cocktail “The Batanga”. It goes something like this:
- Highball glass with salted rim
- ½ a lime squeezed into the glass
- Ice to the brim
- Generous shot of blanco Tequila
- Fill the rest with Coca-cola
Everyone in the bar was holding one, seemed almost compulsory. This dingy, ‘old man’s pub’ has been listed in the Top 50 World’s Best Bars. Regardless of its status it was a privilege to sit in the corner and watch the energy unfold as a traditional three-piece band with a combined age of 250 act cranked up some tunes in company with the chorus of pub goers. A treasured moment.
Do yourself a favour and pay this town a visit. If you thought hopping from cellar door to cellar door sipping the good grape was a hoot then imagine the buzz brought on by a three day Tequila bender. Thank heavens it promotes well-being.
We stayed: Tierra Magica – gorgeous, B & B style hotel. Very intimate and wood-fired pizza
We slurped fine coffee: El Paloma – a fine brew is hard to come by in Mexico