Monday, March 1, 2010

The Tequila Chronicles: Seleccion Suprema by Herradura

Let's throw a few words out here.

Revelation. Epiphany. Game Changer.

Or, in the catch phrase from Monty Python that has become reliably standard (no, not the Spanish Inquisition one), "...and now for something completely different!"

We were at Clayton Szczech's great tequila tasting at Cha! This was the final tequila of the night. And fitting that it was. because how could you follow this?

In tequila, first there is Blanco (or Silver, or Plata, or White), then Reposado (rested), then Anejo (aged). And so it was for many years.

Then Casa Herradura came along and changed things. Oh, there had been tequilas around for a long time that had a little extra barrel age on them, that were extra-mellowed, but these weren't usually available outside of the tequila families, or they couldn't be designated differently.

So Herradura went to the authorities and sought a new category, something beyond anejo, something that required a new name because it ushered in a style...something completely different. That was the first "Extra-Anejo"---extra-aged. So a new category was born.

When you progress through the tequila designations, essentially what you are doing is moving from the immediate and fresh---made and bottled quickly---to slightly aged, to long aged. And along the way the essential nature of the tequila is being altered: it's changing from the focus on the purity of what agave brings to the complexities that the wood aging develops in the tequila.

Long aged tequilas, the Extra-Anejos, are expressions of tequila through the prism of age and oak. As such, an amazing transformation happens, and the tequila becomes much more similar to a fine Cognac or long aged Agricole Rum.

The Herradura Seleccion Suprema was the first of the new category of Extra-Anejo recognized by the authorities. It is still, I firmly believe, the best of them. The severe elegance and dignity of the thick walled decanter bottle signals to the eye that, for tequila, this is something completely different. And it is.

With over four years of aging in used barrels, the nature of the agave base is muted here---still present but subdued to almost a background murmur---and this allows the incredible complexities of extended maturation to emerge, the influence of severe diurnal shifts of temperature slowly coaxing the flavors out of the cellular walls of the barrel to diffuse with the tequila. Subtle notes of cinnamon and nutmeg and cardamom and slow-roasted pumpkin waft out of the glass, with even more subtle etherea of chocolate and coffee and whiskey hovering underneath to tease and tantalize.

Some people might say "This isn't Tequila!" and in that they would be right. It isn't tequila, not the tequila of slamming shots and sweet margaritas; not even the tequila of gentle sipping Reposado and measured amounts of forceful Anejo. This is Tequila of the profound sort, a "Grande Fine Champagne" of Tequila, made to grace a snifter and to be cupped in the hands to warm and volatize and savor long into the night.

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