Tequila Crash Course – Part V: Tasting the Blancos

It's Saturday night. I'm home alone. I've got the last part of Michigan and Notre Dame on the big screen (did anyone else see that poor girl on the sideline get absolutely drilled when a player got pushed out of bounds?). And I've got a load of blanco tequilas to distinguish between. You might as well know something about the way these things taste now that you're becoming a tequila expert. Tasting products side by side is the best way to understand context. Let's go through them one by one, shed some light on their origins, and see what we find:

Tequila Ocho Blanco – NOM 1474 – $44.99 (2009 Rancho Pomez) Of all the producers we carry at K&L, Tomas Estes's Tequila Ocho seems to most understand tequila's relationship to wine. If the agave makes such a difference, and terroir is important to flavor, then why wouldn't the vintage, location, and batch matter as well? Tequila Ocho bottles have a rancho location and vintage date on the label. They're distilled at Carlos Camarena's La Alteña distillery, which is confusing because that means two different NOM numbers are used at the same location (Camarena's Tapatio tequila uses NOM 1139). As I've stated in earlier posts there are some confusing aspects of the whole NOM number thing. How does it taste? The nose is incredible – pepper comes first, but behind it are drifts of cooked agave and sweet citrus. The palate is light, lean, and clean. The flavors are zesty and lively, with more peppery accents, but the finish doesn't live up to the nose. That's asking a lot, however. Good stuff.

Tequila Tapatio Blanco – NOM 1139 – $32.99 (1 liter bottle) Carlos Camarena's legendary brand is finally available in the U.S. thanks to Marko Karakasevic from Charbay here in Northern California (who also distills his Charbay tequila at La Alteña). Tapatio has been a brand in Mexico since 1937, but the old-school, traditional label was never seen as desirable by American importers. Personally, I love it. I also love the girth of the one-liter. The aromas on the blanco are mild and slightly herbaceous. The palate is quite round for a blanco, but it's never sweet or overly fruity. The pepper, fruit, and agave flavors are perfectly in balance with one another, almost preventing one from picking them apart. Really well done and a fantastic deal.

Calle 23 Blanco – NOM 1529 – $22.99 Calle 23 is distilled at Agaveros y Tequileros Unidos de Los Altos and is is owned by French-born biochemist Sophie Decobecq, who first worked with agave in South Africa. It spawned a love of both tequila and eventually Mexico itself. Her tequila represents a great value for those looking to find something affordable, but authentic. The nose on the blanco is vivacious and filled with cooked agave notes. The palate is a bit spicier than the previous two with more peppery and tangy vegetal flavors. Tough to beat for the price.

Siembra Azul Blanco – NOM 1414 – $37.99 We've covered quite a bit about David Suro's tequila distilled at Feliciano Vivanco distillery. Let's taste it! The nose is heavenly – all fruit, sweet agave, and floral herbaceous notes. The palate is also wonderful. It's clean, delicate, and very elegant in style. Lots of pure agave flavor with the spicy accents wonderfully balanced. This is tough to beat at any price.

Campeon K&L Exclusive Blanco – NOM 1107 – $29.99 There's a ton of information here about El Viejito distillery from my visit earlier this Spring. Let's break down the flavors now from our first ever Mexican exclusive: the nose shows saline, mineral aromas with light pepper. It's quite different from the others. The palate is clean and delicate with more pepper and light spice. There's not a lot of floral, fruity components to this. It's much more mineral driven. I really like the contrast and the profile. But that's probably because I contracted over 1,000 bottles for K&L. Of course I'm going to like it.

ArteNOM Blanco Tequila – NOM 1580 – $39.99 Jesus-Maria is a Highland region known for having some of the best agave in Jalisco. Its high altitude and arid soil helps stimulate large, sugar-loaded piñas to grow under the earth, resulting in fruity, creamy tequilas when distilled. ArteNOM's blanco used to be labeled 1079, but a new ownership purchased the distillery and changed the NOM number. Today it's still made at the same place. I once called this tequila the "best blanco I've ever tasted". Is it still the best? The nose is amazingly fruity, almost like the fermentation brought out white wine and red berries. That's gotta be from the super ripe agave. The palate is round, yet spicy, with almost a white whiskey component – that beery earthiness that sometimes overpowers moonshine and corn whiskey. This is only a slight background characteristic. The finish is pepper and spice. I think the ArteNOM still really stands out in a group, mainly because it's totally different than the others. I still really like it. Alot.

Chinaco Blanco – NOM 1127 – $29.99 In the mid-1980s Chinaco was a revelation to inexperienced American tequila drinkers. 100% agave? What does that mean? Today 100% agave tequila is the norm, but it wasn't back then. An interesting fact about Chinaco is that it's distilled outside of Jalisco, in one of the few regions that can legally call its products tequila: Tamaulipas – a state to the east of Jalisco along the Gulf of Mexico. Chinaco was the first real boutique tequila on the U.S. market. Today, it's not quite the same as it once was, but it's still one of the most interesting and diverse tequilas on our shelf. The aromas are strong with roasted agave and a slightly earthy component. The palate is tangy with more cooked agave and a lovely combination of spice and bell pepper on the finish. Really great stuff and well balanced.

Don Julio Blanco – NOM 1449 – $35.99 And where does Don Julio Gonzalez's legendary blanco fit into this boutique tequila tasting? I can't say that it does. While Don Julio's aged expressions are still top notch and worthy of praise, the blanco simply can't hang with this group. The nose is pleasant enough, but the palate is rather vegetal and lacking in pop. There's not much fruit, mostly pepper and bitter vegetal notes. It's not bad, but it's not better than one of the tequilas I've tasted so far. I'd still happily drink it if poured a shot, but remember this tasting is about side-by-side context. 

Still more tequila talk to come!

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll