Admittedly, I don't know much about tequila beyond the basics. If you've been reading my articles regularly, you know I've spent a lot more time on whiskey, and learning about that alone has been practically a full-time job over the last year.
That said, I enjoy margaritas and trips to the Pastry War, and I'm always game to try any high-quality spirit, so when given the opportunity, I'm certainly willing to give tequila a shot. I was invited to a Herradura pairing dinner at Vallone's Steakhouse, part of their promotion for this year's specially finished release, the Scotch Cask Reposado. (This is the third in Herradura's annual series of specially-finished tequilas; in 2012 they made a reposado finished for three months in a port cask; last year, the tequila was finished in a cognac cask.)
The three-course meal contained items especially prepared to be paired with three different varieties of Herradura tequila. Ruben Aceves, Master Taster for Herradura, was on hand to tell us more about the tequilas we would be tasting, and to go into quite a bit of detail as to the process of making tequila as well.
The appetizer was paired with the blanco, the main course with the reposado, and dessert with the Scotch Cask Reposado. (Without going into too much detail you can easily find yourself, a bit of a primer on tequila classifications: "blanco" is given to unaged tequila, "reposado" must be aged a minimum of two months, and "anejo" must be aged a minimum of one year.) Herradura specifically ages their tequilas longer than required: they use used American oak barrels to age their blanco tequila for 45 days, their reposado for 11 months in used American oak barrels. (Technically, the requirements for tequila only state that it be aged in "oak containers," which could mean almost anything.) The Scotch Cask 2014 takes the reposado and finishes it for three more months in American oak barrels that have been previously used for Scotch, half in Islay barrels and half in Highland barrels, before re-marrying the barrels into the spirit bottled.
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The flavor profiles of the tequilas were significantly different-- perhaps even more so than the whiskeys I'm used to drinking, aged on a similar scale. The blanco had bite and spiciness, with hints of pepper and herbs on the nose, with a slightly nutty finish. The reposado was particularly impressive: it was an easy sipping tequila, with many sweet flavors-- vanilla and orange on the nose, hints of sweetness on the first sip similar to that of Irish whiskey, and a honeyed finish. I'd known a good tequila could be a sipping spirit, but I didn't know they could carry this kind of flavor, especially in what is a relatively standard line from one of the world's largest producers of tequila. The reposado is an excellent value and, I imagine, a good place to start if you want to get into quality tequila.
I had higher hopes for the Scotch Cask, naturally, and it didn't disappoint: The additional aging provided a much richer nose, with a mouthfeel that was jammier, flavors evoking dried fruit and hints of smoke. A rich, almost buttery finish rounded out the experience. It's one I'd recommend trying; the limited run (13,000 barrels) is expected to retail for $89.99, which isn't cheap, but certainly isn't out of line at all with other limited-release spirits.
The food at Vallone's was excellent. I particularly enjoyed the chicken-fried quail with the appetizer, perfectly crispy without being heavy or greasy, and the filet mignon, which looked like a lump of charcoal from the outside but turned out to be perfectly seared, soft and red the whole way through. Kudos to chef Jason Brandon for both the high quality of the food and the terrific suitability of the pairings.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised: not that the tequila was good, but that the possibilities for flavor were so much more than I'd expected. From time sipping mezcal, I expected the tequilas to be a bit smoky, with a bit of that rough tequila saltiness to them. Instead, I got a range of flavors; spicy on the blanco, sweet on the reposado, and smoky on the Reposado Scotch Cask. I may have to do some more digging into tequila to learn what else is out there.