Premium vodkas are so last century. The new chic drink is quality, artisan tequila. How do I know? Riedel has come out with a line of specially designed tequila glasses (something in between a champagne flute and a snifter) and the estate of Frida Kahlo has licensed a premium tequila bearing the artist’s image. These are strictly for sipping — not the kind of swill you shot in college. Like fine wines, tequila is produced in a defined appellation, a legally defined region, primarily in the state of Jalisco. Tequilas labeled “100 percent agave” are made entirely from the fermented sap of the blue agave plant. Tequilas without the 100 percent demarcation, mixtos, contain at least 51 percent blue agave. There are more than 600 brands and flavors change dramatically from producer to producer, depending on growing conditions, soil, climate, and distilling techniques. However, there are four primary styles:
Blanco or Plata (“silver”): Clear, fresh from the still, with a strong agave flavor and a rougher edge. Oro (“gold”): Mellowed by the addition of colors and flavorings, such as caramel, to make it appear old (think Cuervo Gold and frozen margaritas). Reposado (“rested”): Aged in white oak casks for two months to a year; the oak mellows the flavor slightly, making it gentler on the palate. Añejo (“aged”): Aged more than a year, it takes on the woody flavor of the cask and a dark amber color.
Tequila is traditionally served at room temperature in a caballito, a tall, thin shot glass. Some prefer the Riedel approach or a brandy snifter for reposados and añejos. The lime-and-salt routine is a gringo fabrication; the traditional chaser is a tomato-citrus concoction called sangrita. And what of that worm? It was a marketing ploy to impress gringos in the 1940s. It has nothing to do with tequila production, and eating it will not produce hallucination, unless, of course, you drink the entire bottle.