“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
So when you’re in Mexico, do as the Mexicans. When it comes to sipping tequila – that means putting down the lime and salt – a crude custom developed and often propagated in the U.S.
Sommelier Audrey Formissano is looking to make things right. The French-born and trained sommelier is now one of a handful of certified tequila experts in Mexico, having discipled under master tequila experts and growers in Jalisco.
Through the Wine and Tequila Tasting program at La Estancia restaurant in Puerto Vallarta’s Casa Magna Marriott, Formissano aims to dispel the myths of drinking tequila and educate visitors and locals alike on the rich history and culture behind tequila. It’s one of the best tequila programs in the city – so don’t miss out.
“Mexicans savour tequila just like the French savour wine or cognac,” explains Formissano, as she begins pouring tequila.
Before shot glasses existed, cowboys and workers in the countryside would drink tequila from hollowed-out bull’s horns. Today, while tequila is usually drunk from shot glasses, proper tequila-tasting glasses are a shorter version of champagne flutes.
“This is the way real way to drink tequila,” she begins, with an expert swirl of the glass, pointing out the “legs” falling down the side of the glass.
“First, you want to look at the colour,” she says, motioning to the three tequila-filled glasses. One holds white tequila, the next a light gold tequila, while the last is a rich amber colour – tequila blanco, joven, and anejo – respectively. Blanco is the “purest” of them all and is an un-aged tequila while the anejo is usually aged for 1-3 years in oak barrels.
“The next thing you want to do is smell the tequila,” Formissano says as she expertly extends the flute of tequila blanco to her nose. “Finally, taste it,” she explains as she takes a small sip, holds the tequila at the front of her mouth, swirl it on her tongue, and then lets it slide down nice and easy.
“You’ll notice after you try the joven and anejo, that there are major differences in the depths of flavours of each one,” says Formissano, adding: “just like wine. “
Tequila is made with the “pina” or fruit of the blue agave plant grown in Jalisco, Mexico. Hundreds of years ago, Mexicans would use the leaves of the blue agave for making sandals and handicrafts while the “pina” was thrown away. Locals noticed that the smell from the garbage was sweet and so they began to use the “pina” and eventually created tequila.
It takes at least eight years for a blue agave plant to mature before it can be used to make tequila. One mature blue agave will grow to weigh 70-80 pounds but can yield about five bottles of tequila. Only tequila that is produced from 100% blue agave from Jalisco is considered real tequila. Year-round, travellers can visit the Jaliso region to watch blue agave plants being harvested in fields and many distilleries.
The types of tequila range from blanco to joven, reposado, anejo, or extra anejo, based on the process and duration the tequila ages. Better premium tequilas are made from older agave plants (10 years or so) and use French oak barrels; while cheaper tequila is usually younger and aged in used whisky oak barrels.
For travellers, Formissano warns that bottles should also be certified by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila A.C., indicated by “CRT” on the bottle, who ensure the quality and standard of the tequila. Visitors will have a hard time exporting a bottle of tequila that doesn’t have “CRT” on it.
La Estancia is helmed by Executive Chef Fred Ruiz, who creates exquisite traditional Mexican dishes in a contemporary fine-dining setting. The wine list boasts more than 600 bottles while the tequila list has a staggering 170 types of tequila – Puerto Vallarta’s largest and finest selection.
For more on tequila tasting at La Estancia, go to: www.laestancia.marriottpuertovallartarestaurant.com .
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