by Gabriella Vigoreaux
If there is one thing we like here at the Epicurious offices, it's great tequila. In fact, Nilou Motamed, our EIC, keeps a rather expansive selection of artisanal bottles in her office bar at all times. Needless to say, no arms were twisted in conducting this taste test. Under the watchful eye of NYC tequila guru Jason Silverman, we sipped our way through 21 blanco and reposado tequilas, and we did it all for you.
Ever wondered which tequilas are best for making margaritas and which are smooth enough for sipping? Want to know which tequilas taste amazing AND cost less than $30? Whether you fancy yourself a tequila snob, are looking for a killer mixer, or just want to get the best bang for your buck, we've got you covered. Read on to see which tequilas reigned supreme.
Blanco or silver tequilas are usually unaged and bottled (or stored) immediately after the distillation process. Sometimes they're aged for less than 2 months and kept in stainless steel or oak barrels. Reposado refers to tequilas that have been aged for at least 2 months, but no more than a year, in oak barrels.
Method to Our Madness:
Our tasters ranked the tequilas on a scale from 1 to 5 in three different categories: aroma, taste and finish. In addition, the tequilas were also judged according to set criteria such as "best for the tequila newbie" or "best for mixology."
Best Blanco Tequila: Casa Dragones Blanco ($75.00)
Best Sipping Tequila: Casa Dragones Blanco
Casa Dragones first came on the market with their premium sipping tequila, Joven, back in 2009. The brand has recently released a second premium spirit, the blanco, made specifically for mixing. The blanco is made of 100% pure blue-agave in small batches of no more than 400 cases. The agave plants are harvested in the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt and distilled with pure spring water resulting in a crystal clear tequila with subtle flavors of tropical fruits, cucumber, and mint. This blanco was an all around favorite, consistently rating 4 or 5 in aroma, taste, and finish. While it may have been created for mixing, the tequila's tropical and vegetal notes make it smooth and clean enough to be enjoyed on its own. One taster thought it had a "fruity wine taste" and another said that it was "muy bien and super sippable!"
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Best Blanco Tequila Value: Calle 23 Blanco ($21.99)
Calle 23 was founded by Sophie Decobecq, a French woman with roots in the cognac industry. She fell in love with tequila and moved to Mexico with the determination to start her own brand. Thus, Calle 23 was born. While it may not be a heritage brand like others that we tried, our tasters deemed this blanco as the best bang for your buck, at just shy of $22 a bottle. It was also a favorite in the flavor department, with hints of citrus on the nose and a lingering taste of apples and pears.
Best Reposado Tequila: Casa Noble Reposado ($42.99)
Casa Noble is both a distillery and an agave grower, so the plants that go into their tequilas are grown on their very own soil, 3,000 acres of it to be exact. Consider this the farm-to-table version of tequila. Oh, and Carlos Santana is one of the owners, so there's that. Casa Noble's reposado is aged for 364 days in French white Oak barrels. Several testers ranked this reposado in the excellent category for it's complex taste and finish. It was lighter and easier to sip than others, but one taster said, "the vanilla flavor was too overwhelming."
Best Reposado Tequila Value: Tres Agaves Reposado ($29.99)
Best for Margaritas: Tres Agaves Reposado
Tres Agaves hails from a family-owned boutique distillery in the town of Tequila (yes, that's actually a real town). For over a century, the brand has been preparing tequila the traditional way. The agave is matured for 9 years and the tequila rests in ex-Bourbon barrels for 6 to 9 months where it develops its signature oak and agave flavor. It doesn't get more legit than that, and the low price tag makes it perfect for your next margarita fiesta. This reposado was sweet, smooth, and some even said nutty. Its traditional tequila taste profile would play well in margaritas, with orange liqueurs (we like a Mandarine Napoleon or Combier) or even in a tequila negroni.
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Best with Guacamole: ArteNOM Blanco ($41.99)
Taking the idea of terroir to the next level, ArteNOM is the first tequila company to highlight the individual distilleries themselves where their blancos, reposados, and añejos are produced. The NOM is the 4-digit number that the Mexican government gives to each distillery, and you can see the number on the bottles. Tasters liked the ArteNOM reposado for it's lime scent and described it as "sweet and smooth" and "good for sipping." The hint of caramelized flavor makes it a perfect match for food, especially creamy guacamole and salty chips.
Best for Sophisticated Cocktails: Fortaleza Reposado ($53.99)
Fortaleza Tequila is made using the 500-year-old Tahona process. First the agave plants grow for 7 to 8 years before they are cooked in a brick oven. The cores of the plants, called the piñas, are then crushed with a 2-ton piece of volcanic rock. The resulting juice, called mosto, is fermented for 5 days before being double-distilled. What you get is a clean, smooth tequila that was a huge hit with our staff. Tasters liked this reposado for its fruity taste and smooth finish. It ranked a perfect 5 in all three categories for several tasters. The flavors of this resposado would be best accented by vermouth, bitters, and fresh citrus.
For the Tequila Sipping Newbie: Casamigos Blanco ($39.99)
George Clooney and restaurateur Rande Gerber's Casamigos is one of those celebrity-owned products that actually tastes good. A few factors set this tequila apart from other blancos on the market. First of all, the agave plants are roasted in brick ovens for 72 hours (most distilleries steam them). They also make their own yeast blend, rather than using commercial yeast, and employ an 80-hour fermentation process, instead of the standard 48. Tasters found this tequila to be extra smooth and perfect for even the biggest tequila wimps. The flavor was described as mild and nutty with hints of sweet vanilla. What's better: Proceeds benefit Clooney's humanitarian work in Sudan.
For the Tequila Snob: Tequila Ocho Reposado ($42.99)
Tequila Ocho is the the only single-estate vintage tequila on the market. What does that mean? Basically each vintage they produce is different than the one that came before (just like with wine). The reposados get a new vintage every couple of years and the blancos every year. Tequila Ocho's reposado was an overall favorite, with many 5's in the taste category. One tester described it as "smooth and light, almost like a wine." This makes sense since the brand's process was actually inspired by wine making.
We would like to extend a special thank you to all the participating tequila brands, Jason Silverman, and Agave NYC. Check back tomorrow for some of Jason's tips for tequila and food pairings.