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The Beverage Alcohol Report
Vol 2.6 – June 2005, Liana Bennett
A Big Mexican Drink
There is a little town in central Mexico that produces a wonderful liquor with a mean spirit. The town is Tequila and the drink is legendary. The Mexican Government regulates tequila production and requires that any product bearing the name Tequila must be made with at least 51% of juice from the Blue Agave plant from one of the five designated states in Mexico. If the product contains only Blue Agave juice it is labeled Tequila 100% Agave. The Agave plant dates back some 9,000 years and comes in many varieties, but it is the Blue variety that makes tequila. In the late 1990s, a fungus plagued the Blue Agave plants much like phylloxera did to the grape vines in the 1800s. This has affected the production levels over the last couple of years.
The Blue Agave plant itself takes six to ten years to mature and can weigh up to 100 pounds. When the plant is harvested, its heart is steamed until a starchy sugar juice is produced. This juice is then pumped into fermentation tanks where it is mixed with yeast. After fermentation it is distilled twice to fully refine the product. The first distillation results in a low-grade alcohol that is blended with the clear and harsh product from the second producing Tequila. Tequila runs between 70 and 110 proof alcohol.
Tequila 100% Agave is considered a premium product that is bottled in Mexico and comes in Blanco, Reposada and Anejo styles. Tequila (51%) can be exported in bulk and bottled in other countries. Along with the three styles of the premium kind, Tequila (51%) can also be made into an Oro style. The Blanco or White style is bottled within 60 days of distillation and is a clear liquid. This is the product we drink most often and is on the fiery side. The Oro or Gold is similar to the Blanco but has caramel added to color and slightly soften the taste of the drink. The Gold style is excellent in frozen Margaritas as it adds a little sweetness to the drink. Reposada or Rested, has been aged for two to twelve months in oak barrels. These tequilas are pale in color and mellow tasting. Top quality tequila is labeled Anejo or Aged and has been aged in small oak barrels or used Bourbon casks for more than a year. Anejo Tequilas are so smooth that it is recommended drinking these from a snifter to fully appreciate the aromas and flavor. Some Anejos are aged for longer periods and are sold as Reserva. These can command high prices.
Most of us associate drinking or shooting tequila chilled, with a little salt and lime. However, it is traditionally served at room temperature in a 2-oz. glass called a caballito and should be sipped, not shot. The salt and lime would show you are a typical tourist but adding a bit of lime juice to cut the bite is okay. Blanco and Reposado Tequilas are often served with a “sangrita” of tomato and orange juices with salt and chile. And honestly, I would still take the salt, lime and quick shot!
Margarita, Margarita, Margarita
Nothing can cool you off better than a margarita. It can be served over ice or blended to make a frozen version. Peach, strawberry, watermelon and other fruit flavors can be added to quench any thirst. There are several stories to the actual origin of the drink but most end up that it is named for a pretty lady. One legend even has it that it was named for Rita Hayworth whose real name was Margarita Carmen Cansino. For best tasting margaritas use real ingredients instead of the mixes and make sure you start with a good quality tequila.
3 oz. Tequila (use Oro for best flavor)
1 oz. Triple Sec (or any orange flavored liqueur)
1 oz. Lime Juice
2 oz. Fruit Flavoring (optional / strawberry, peach, etc.)
Pour all ingredients in a blended filled with ice and blend. Run a slice of lime around the glass rim. Roll rim in coarse salt and pour frozen drink in glass. Add a slice of lime for garnish.
Margarita on the Rocks
3 oz. Tequila (White will give fullest flavor)
2 oz. Triple Sec (or any orange flavored liqueur)
1 oz. Lime Juice
Pour all ingredients into an ice-filled shaker and shake. Run a slice of lime around the glass rim. Roll rim in coarse salt, fill glass with ice and pour drink on top. Add a slice of lime for garnish.
Mezcal is a cousin of tequila as it too is made from Agaves but not necessarily the Blue variety or from those in the designated states. And as such, tequila can be considered a mescal. It can also contain up to 40% sugar cane that results in a harsher spirit. And one big point, Mezcal has the worm, tequila doesn’t.
Nebbiolo - Originating in the Piedmont and Lombardy regions of Italy, Nebbiolo is named after the “nebbia” or fog that forms over the vineyards during harvest. This red grape can also be found in Australia, California and South America. In fact, Argentina has the most Nebbiolo planted in the world. However, it is without a doubt that the Italian climate produces the best quality Nebbiolo. The grape is extremely fickle about its growing conditions and will perform best in cool, strict microclimates. Nebbiolo produces wines that are so dark in color they often appear brownish. The tannins are heavy with the alcohol in the higher range. Nebbiolo are oak aged and have dominating aromas and flavors of blackberry, cherry, smoke and black licorice. Between the natural tannins and the oak aging, these wines can sit for at least 10 years. To taste the Nebbiolo grape, look for Barolo and Barbaresco wines. These wines are named after regional villages and use Nebbiolo as a varietal. Gattinara also uses Nebbiolo but as a blend. To truly appreciate what the grape can do, serve the wine with strong-flavored meats such as game, or grilled steak and sausage and don’t forget to add mushrooms.
Trebbiano - As full and heavy as the reds are in Italy, the whites are light, crisp and dry. And as bold and age-worthy as Nebbiolo is, the Trebbiano grape is subtle, neutral, light and ready to drink immediately. Trebbiano is the most widely planted grape variety in Italy and in some documentation the world. One reason for this is that the vine space with this variety is minimal. It is planted in Australia and France where it is known as Ugni Blanc and used in brandy and cognac production. Trebbiano in Italy makes bulk wines as well as Soave and Frascati. The acid is high and the alcohol on the mid-range point. These wines tend to be vinous on the palate; that is they taste like wine. Trebbiano is also blended with Malvasia Bianca and blended into old-style or traditional Chianti. Although not full of flavor, wines made from the Trebbiano grape fair well with shrimp cocktails, light pasta dishes, turkey, veal and catfish. It is also great for that early start on Saturday afternoon.
Ampelography - the science of vine and grape identification by their appearance
Viticulture - the cultivation of grapes, generally for wine production
Enology - the study of wine and wine making
Sommelier - a restaurant manager who has extensive knowledge of wine
What’s in Store
Coastal Estates Merlot 2002 - $12; Plums, cherry and slightly oaked; good fruit and light tannin; great choice for grilled salmon or chicken
Boony Doon Dry Riesling - $12; Green apples, citrus fruits; honey and spice; all elements of a perfect Riesling; drink with seafood
Fisheye Pinot Grigio 2004 - $7; Light and fresh; no real great taste but is good for Tuesday night’s dinner of fast chicken broccoli alfredo
Yalumba Viognier 2004 - $12; South Australian; Full-bodied with peaches, apricots and citrus; long finish; Serve with Chinese take-out
Luis Felipe Edwards Merlot 2003 - $9; Vanilla, chocolate and plums abound in this ruby Chilean wine; great for the price
The Beverage Alcohol Report (The BAR) is published on a monthly basis compliments of Liana Bennett. It main purpose is to further the knowledge, appreciation and general enjoyment of all alcoholic beverages. Your comments, questions and tasting stories can be sent to [email protected] . Please feel free to share this e-newsletter with your friends or forward their email address to Liana to be added to the list. Thank you and of course, I hope you have enjoyed The BAR and have learned something new!
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