K&L Best of 2010 Awards: Tequila

December is here and that means that magazines and newspapers everywhere will begin releasing their year-end lists of whatever is best in this world.  Top wines, top songs, top albums, top books, top films, top restaurants, you name it.  We as a culture are obsessed with lists and seeing who or what ended up in the finalists. Being an only child, my parents used to placate me on long road trips with almanacs and periodicals that focused on these rankings.  I devoured them.  I still think I can name every major Academy Award winner from 1980 to 1996 (so bring me along for pop trivia night at your local pub if you want to decimate your opponants).  Therefore, I see no reason why David OG and I shouldn't begin our own year-end list of the best spirits we were fortunate enough to taste.  There is a good amount of ground to cover and each category deserves its own focus, so today we'll start with tequila.

David D Picks: Charbay Blanco Tequila - There's a reason why every distillery I visit is most excited about pouring their eau de vie offerings - successful distillation is about purity of flavor.  While reposado and añejo tequilas are more popular here in the U.S. with their smooth textures and vanilla flavors, only in blanco tequila can one truly taste the art of distilling.  There is no wood to mask off-putting alcohols or soften the harsh heat.  It's all there in the bottle and if it wasn't distilled with care, then it won't taste good.  I find it both amazing and troubling that Charbay, located in St. Helena, was able to travel down to Mexico and make the best tequila of the year.  Shouldn't it take time to figure agave distillation out?  I don't know if it's a testimate to the craft of Markos and Miles, or a sign that Mexican distilleries are really behind the times, but the result speaks for itself.  Clean, clear, vibrant flavors of citrus fruit, agave, baking spice, and a soft, delicate demeanor.  Tasting the spirit along side other blancos just humiliates most other companies.  It's about time that craft distilling came to tequila. 

Runner up: Los Osuna Blanco Agave Azul

David OG Picks: Deleon Tequila

Deleon Diamante Blanco - Hailed as a new benchmark for blanco tequila, Deleon is opting to market a whole lifestyle of tequila drinking rather than just an old fashioned spirit. 

The marketing strategy is not just hype.  The Diamante commands a high price because the quality is there.  Without a doubt, the thick glass and ornate top cost money, but what you're really paying for is the quality of the juice.  The high-altitude, 7500 feet above sea level, and the perfectly matured piñas make all the difference.  Agave plants grown at high altitudes tend to be sweeter, with more honey, citrus, and floral notes. 

Add a family-owned distillery devoted to making only one product of the very highest quality, and you get one of the purest, softest, and most luxurious blancos ever seen.  Even at $94.99 a bottle (for blanco?!) we've had a difficult time keeping it on the shelf.

Deleon Anejo is here and just as ridiculous as the Diamante.  It's not the first Tequila to be aged in Sauterne barrels, but it certainly is the best.  It is, however,  the first and only tequila to be aged in Chateau d'Yquem barrels.  By using only first growth Sauterne barrels to ace this stuff, Deleon's commitment excellence becomes clear.  Highly respected within Jalisco as well as around the world, Deleon Anejo is a new frontier in an old (sometimes tired) category. Here's the skinny on the Anejo.  It's aged for 18 months in French Oak barrels and finished in Chateau d'Yquem wine casks - for an undisclosed period of time. Delicious, meticulous, and ultra small production you've most certainly never tasted anything like it. Richly textured, this Anejo presents a stunning range of unusual and attractive aromas.

Nose: Stone fruit, salt water taffy, pink pepper corn. Palate: Buttercream, bell pepper, and rich sweet agave fruit. The intensity of agave fruit works perfectly with the sweet first growth bordeaux finish. Gotta taste it to believe it, totally worth the $149.99.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll