Fwd: article: Cinco de Mayo is just one reason to taste tequila
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Cinco de Mayo is just one reason to taste tequila
Thursday, April 28, 2005
By Johnna A. Pro, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Writing for the Food & Flavor pages isn't always
as tantalizing as readers think. Sure, we get to
nibble appealing appetizers and chocolate-filled
cookies, but for every delectable dish, there are
eating and drinking assignments that challenge
the palate. Still, we forge ahead.
Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette
About that worm
If your tequila has a worm in it, it's not
tequila. It's Mezcal, a liquor also produced
from the agave plant but distilled once and
not regulated like tequila.
Last week, we drank tequila.
We chose tequila to christen this space dedicated
to wine and spirits because of its surging
popularity and because Cinco de Mayo is next week.
Until recently, tequila got little respect in the
United States, where it conjured an image of
margaritas, worms, shot-drinking frat boys and
George Carlin. ("One tequila. Two tequila. Three
But as Americans develop a thirst for Mexico's favorite
liquor, tequila sales are climbing, with premium tequila
seeing a 15.4 percent increase from 2003 to 2004, accor-
ding to the Distilled Spirits Council, which tracks the
market. Statewide, tequila sales climbed nearly 44 percent
from 2000 through 2004 and show no sign of slowing down,
according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
In 2000, Pennsylvania consumers and liquor license holders
spent $16.7 million on tequila. In 2004, sales totaled
"People are realizing that tequila today is not what it
used to be," said Anamaria Cesena, of Jose Cuervo
International. "We have tequila aged in oak barrels that
can be sipped and savored, like cognac."
Tequila will vary in taste, in part, depending on the
aging process and on the amount of blue agave, a plant
with sharp spiny leaves, and other spirits used in
production. The minimum requirement is 51 percent agave.
Better tequilas boast 100 percent blue agave.
True tequila is produced only in five Mexican states,
and 95 percent comes from Jalisco, where the soil is
perfect for growing blue agave. The heart of the plant,
or pina, is harvested every eight to 10 years to make
"It's a ball of starch," Cesena says. "It's like a big
Tequila producers heat the agave -- Cuervo bakes it
in adobe ovens for two days -- to convert the starch
At a mill, the agave is pressed, and the extracted
juices, called honey water, are fermented, then double
distilled, as required by law, producing crystal-clear
Consumers will find four kinds of tequila on the market.
White or silver, called blanco, not aged; rested, or
reposado, aged 2 to 12 months; young tequila, or joven,
a blend of reposado and blanco; and anejo, aged at least
For our tequila tasting, a merry group of 14 singles
gathered around a buffet laden with Mexican-inspired
dips and appetizers. We started by opening the good
Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia ($94.59) is touted as
the jewel of the Cuervo brand. It comes in a colorful
wooden box and is hand-bottled and hand-labeled with
a design that features a different Mexican artist each
Our tasters agreed that it lives up to its marketing
"That's very smooth," said Colette Hucko, who summed
up the group's reaction. "It doesn't bite you. You want
to sip it to get the flavor."
Not everyone wants to spend the night sipping tequila
straight. With Dan Vitchoff cooking Jerk Chicken on
the grill, Michael McCabe readying the patio and Larry
Frediane playing DJ, Darci Saunders and Michelle Shuker
were stationed at the blender to mix frozen margaritas.
(By night's end, we used 25 pounds of crushed ice.)
We use Cuervo Especial, known as Cuervo Gold ($18.99).
It is the world's best-selling brand and makes a fine
frozen margarita or a margarita on the rocks. We used
a variety of margarita and sours mixes and two brands
of triple sec. All of them made a tasty drink, so let
personal preference guide your choice.
Back at the tasting table, we open a bottle of Don Julio
1942 ($123.19 by special order in Pennsylvania). The
slender 15-inch bottle is reminiscent of an agave leaf.
Dan, the grill guy, is a man who appreciates its
caramel/toffee bouquet. He took one sip and proclaimed,
"This deserves a snifter." We handed him one made of
crystal before sending him back to the grill. He wasn't
No one could open Cuervo Tradicional ($24.99). Dan couldn't
open it either. After a struggle that became progressively
funny with each passing minute, he called for tools.
A wrench did the trick.
Tradicional has a pleasant aroma, but the tasters were disappointed.
It's not as smooth as the more expensive
tequila and ultimately ended up in the frozen margaritas.
"It was more fun opening it than it was drinking it,"
Later we learned from Cesana that there's a "torquing
problem" that Cuervo is fixing so the bottles will be
easier to open. She's not surprised to hear it wasn't
Tradicional is a best seller in Mexico, but it does have
more of a peppery flavor. "Here in the United States, we
have a sweeter palate."
A final thought: Pennsylvania liquor stores carry tequila
priced from $15 to more than $100. Several highly rated
offerings cost between $25 and $50, so if you're looking
for something to sip, we suggest you start there before
moving to pricier brands. For descriptions visit
The Perfect Margarita
A quick survey of our favorite bartenders, Internet
cocktail sites and cocktail recipe books reveals any
number of ways to make a margarita. Among the most
popular are those made with tequila, Cointreau and
fresh lime juice.
1 1/2 ounces premium tequila
1 ounce Cointreau (orange liqueur)
Fresh squeezed lime juice (use one-half to a whole lime)*
1 lime wedge
Moisten the edge of a margarita glass using the lime
wedge and dip it in salt. F
ill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the tequila,
Cointreau and lime juice.
Strain the ice out and pour into the glass.
Garnish with lime wedge.
If you're making frozen margaritas, put all the
ingredients in a blender and process until the
ice is crushed.
Many recipes substitute triple sec.
or frozen margaritas, substitute a pre-made mix.
We recommend Daily's Sweet & Sour Cocktail Mix
because it foams up nicely and adds body.
Plus it's made in Verona and versatile enough to
use in other cocktails.
(Post-Gazette staff writer Johnna A. Pro,
who is now recovered from a night of tequila
tasting, can be reached at 412-263-1574 or
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