Talking Tequila and Mezcal with Tequila Master Alfredo Sanchez of The Four Seasons Resort, Punta Mita, Mexico
PRISCILLA PILON: Why do tequila and mezcal have such poor reputations?
ALFREDO SANCHEZ: People abuse tequila and mezcal by doing shots of them. Young people choose the most inexpensive and harshest-tasting varieties giving it an undeserved reputation. Tequila is meant to be sipped and mixed with other ingredients. We have 200 brands of tequila at the resort and today we will taste eight that are completely different from each other. You cannot dislike tequila — you just have not found which one you like yet!
PP: What is the secret behind a good tequila or mezcal?
AS: We have a lot of nice water and ingredients but the most important ingredient is the agave plant. There are more than 200 varieties around the world, but over 100 in Mexico alone. There are a lot of artisanal spirits produced, but tequila is the more popular. Mezcal is gaining recognition as well. The real flavor of the agave is gaining a lot of respect around the world because the natural sugar within the plant is nicer than cane sugar.
PP: Where does tequila come from?
AS: Tequila is mainly produced by the state of Jalesco nearby our resort of Punta Mita. You cannot produce this everywhere. It starts by using local agave plants grown here and we use a particular type of distillery in the making of tequila here. We only use blue agave plants for tequila, but mezcal can be produced with other types of agave plants.
PP: What gives mezcal its distinctive flavor?
AS: In order to make mezcal, the distiller puts the heart of the plant in the ground in a in a hole and cooks it with wood to give it the roasted flavor. Some brands use banana leaves lined in the hole to give it an even different flavor; it just depends upon the type of mezcal you want.
PP: Most people have a simple understanding of tequilaand mezcal, what would you like us to know about the art of making these spirits?
AS: There are several distillations that go into making tequila and mezcal. It’s more complicated than people think. The second or third distillation we call Tequila Blanco because it produces a clear, or white, product. White tequila has citrus and peppery notes and some herbs are the aromas and flavors you can experience. You need a second taste, breathe in and out with your mouth open so you can discover more aromas than the first taste.
Like wine, we have different terroirs that make up the flavors. In the valley are the most popular brands like Cuevro and in the highlands the agave produce more sugar so they produce more sweet notes. Patrón and Don Julio brands have a reputation for being easier to drink because they are sweeter tasting.
The El Tesoro brand tries to make it with a traditional way, without machinery — in an artisanal way. The plants need to grow for 7-15 years before they can be harvested.
The second classification is called reposado. It’s been in a barrel from more than two months and no more than one year. These are more common around the world. They are perfect for the art of mixology. It’s stronger and more jealous on the tongue. It’s more for people who like a strong taste. Each brand tries to bring tradition into the area they live by handcrafting their bottles like the blue and white one on the table. The color in the second classification is more yellow and has a slightly sweeter aroma. In the beginning it is more spicy on the tongue and perhaps you can taste caramel, cinnamon, and chocolate.The most important ingredient is the agave plant; there are more than 200 varieties around the world, but over 100 in Mexico alone.
The third classification is reserved for spirits in a barrel for a minimum of one year and no more than three like Partida Anejo. This kind is for people who like cognac. The agave plant has been in the ground for seven years, plus another two or three years in the barrel. It’s not for taking a shot. It’s more complex because of the barrel, but the soul of the agave is still in there. It’s more sweet than the others so far. It’s not spicy but strong. Extra aged spirits are definitely more expensive. We have a special edition of Jose Cuevro’s aged tequila at Four Seasons Punta Mita. It is for the 250th anniversary of the brand and the bottle costs about $5,000.
PP: How well does tequila and mezcal keep? Is there a shelf-life?
AS: Here at the hotel, we set up the outside display of tequila around 2 p.m. to keep the temperature ok. Room temperature is best. There is no specific shelf-life, but it is meant to be enjoyed with friends so the best way to drink it is to do so by the end of the year.
PP: What’s trendy in tequila and mezcal?
AS: The fourth classification of tequila is very trendy. It’s a blend that the maker wants everyone to be able to enjoy. It’s white, but it’s a blend of reposado and aged tequila. They make a double filtration of the alcohol to take the color away so it’s crystal clear. It’s a like a dessert tequila with chocolate notes. Don Julio 70 is smooth on the palette at first and then a kick comes in at the end. It’s perfect for groups of people and is priced at $35-40 for a bottle. We make parings with this one. A bit of dark chocolate — pieces and the combination is interesting. It’s very popular with women because of the chocolate notes.