I never thought I'd get nervous sipping tequila. But as I took a mouthful of the agave elixir, sweat dripped from my brow as I tried in vain not to notice that I was being watched intently by two lovely twenty-something females. Should I swish it around in my mouth the way they do with wine? Should I wrinkle my nose and frown, as if the tequila wasn't up to my usual high standards? Should I swallow it loudly and say "Aaahhhhhh... that's nice..."?
Let me backtrack a bit. Several weeks ago I, normally a music blogger for the HuffPost, wrote a piece extolling the virtues of vermouth. I'm no Dale DeGroff, but I fancy myself more knowledgeable than most when it comes to spirits and cocktails. My blog caught the eye of the PR firm in charge of promoting several spirits, among them G'Vine gin and Partida tequila, and before I knew it I was being sent oodles of literature about said brands, plus free little airplane bottles of the stuff. And if that wasn't cool enough, I was invited down to the firm's office for an in-person sampling of the line.
So that's how I found myself in a sterile, flourescent-lit room at 3:30 in the afternoon, sipping room-temperature tequila from wine glasses. The stakes were high. The wrong facial expression could blow my cover -- they'd figure out I'm not a booze authority, and there would go my free samples. I put on my best poker face, wrote down a few notes, and said nothing. The women seemed to hang on my every move. Finally, I put down my pen, looked up, and muttered, "It's very good." Smiles all around.
And the thing is, it was good. I tried four different tequilas, a gin, and a vodka during my visit, and all of them left me impressed to greater or lesser degrees. Now, the challenge is to convince you (and the Huffington Post powers-that-be) that I'm not just shilling for the company to get more free alcohol or to win the favor of the lovelies who watched me sip that afternoon. So I'll start with my least favorite.
Christiania Vodka is a Norwegian vodka whose roots supposedly go back almost 500 years. It's being used in cocktails in some of the finest restaurants in New York. When I tried it neat, though, I found that it had a sweet aftertaste, almost cloyingly so. I guess you wouldn't notice if it's in a cocktail with a lot of fruit juices and the like, and it was indeed smooth. But I'm still a Smirnoff man, although I definitely prefer Christiania to Grey Goose. Then again, I'd probably prefer rat urine to Grey Goose's horrible glycerin aftertaste. So I'm not sure what kind of a recommendation that is.
Much better and more interesting is G'Vine Gin. G'vine's secret is the green grape flowers infused into the spirit along with juniper berries and more traditional botanicals such as cardomom and coriander. The gin is delicate and floral, with lavender notes, and it's much less medicinal than many of the heavier-duty gins such as Tanqueray. G'vine is a good transitional gin for vodka drinkers who are looking to make the switch, and while hardcore gin fans may not love it, it makes a damn fine martini and also goes down nicely on its own with an ice cube or two.
As for the Partida tequilas, once I got used to being stared at while I sipped, I found all four brands I tried to be quite enjoyable. The blanco, an unaged tequila also known as silver, is clear and most commonly used in margaritas. Consumed straight, it has the trademark slight sweetness of all Partida brands, and seems more fruity and less fiery than most other tequilas. The reposado (aged in wood casks for six months) is even smoother, with hints of pear and apricot flavors and not a whole lot of spice. The añejo (aged for 18 months) has a citrus-y, woody nose, with nice cinnamon and orange notes. In a nutshell, they're all worth trying, especially if you consider most tequilas too strong for your tastes.
But this is all prelude to the Big Kahuna, the ne plus ultra, the "¡Ay, Dios mio!" if you will, of tequilas. Partida's Elegante Extra Añejo brand comes with a crystal top in a gorgeous bottle that doubles as a decanter once you've drunk all the booze. It's got a sterling silver pendant on a leather strap wrapped around the neck. It comes in a really, really fancy box. And it'll run you a cool $350 -- enough for me to fly to Mexico and harvest my own blue agave plant.
With all the bells and whistles (and the cachet that comes from being able to afford them), what's in the bottle almost seems beside the point. But I was there to drink it, not look at it. And it was good. Very good, even. Aged in American oak for 36 months, this is a lush tequila that's almost wine-like in its fruitiness. It's got a pineappley aroma, and on the palate there are notes of vanilla and banana. This stuff takes smooth to a whole new level. Even if you don't like tequila, Elegante will convert you.
Is it worth $350? Let's just say I'd prefer it if they lose the crystal, the silver pendant and the fancy box, and lower the price. A lot. I don't think my wife would consider a pendant I got with a bottle of tequila to be very romantic, even if it's sterling silver. But if you've got more money than you know what to do with, you could do a lot worse than buying some.
I'm not sure if, after this grand experiment, I'll switch from my preferred brands of gin and tequila (Plymouth and Chinaco, respectively) to G'vine and Partida. But I have made up my mind about one thing -- I'd like to be a professional spirits reviewer. Have glass, will travel.