Monday, 7 March 2011

Tequila tasting at Wahaca Soho

My second encounter with Tequila came when I was invited to be part of a tasting panel tasked with selecting the shortlist of Tequilas for recently-opened Wahaca Soho's Tequila bar. Based in the basement of the cavernous space, the bar has a beach hut feel to it, from the bright blue walls to the pod-like wicker hanging chairs. Joining me on the panel were fellow Tequila nuts Alice Lascelles and Clint Cawood from Imbibe magazine, and beer buff Ben McFarland and partner in wine (and spirits) Tom Sandham. Before we get stuck into the plethora of Tequilas waiting expectantly on the adjacent table, we are given a strip of Blue Agave to suck on. Tasting it in its raw form, it has a wonderful malt loaf and molasses nose, like an earthy Pedro Ximenez.

Tequila is made from the agave plant, which is not a cactus as is widely (and wrongly) thought. There are over 200 varieties of agave in Mexico, but only Blue Agave is used in the production of Tequila. A beautiful turquoise colour, the plants are cut and left to steam in a brick oven for a day-and-a-half to help increase their sugar content. The juice is then squeezed out and placed in fermentation vats, where yeast is added. The spirit is double distilled before bottling, or, in the case of the Reposados and AƱejos, barrel ageing.

Like wine, flavour is obtained from the oak barrels and differs depending on the amount of time spent in cask, with French oak imparting a chocolate aftertaste and American oak offering vanilla sweetness – old Bourbon barrels are becoming increasingly popular as they offer attractive smokey aromas associated with whisky. Of the 11 Tequilas we try, price isn't always indicative of quality. A large number of brands seem to be jumping on the Grey Goose bandwagon, packaging their premium Tequilas in bling bottles that wouldn't look out of place on a dressing table and charging their club-hopping customers three times the price for the privilege. Even Justin Timberlake has gotten in on the act, with his 901 brand.

Luckily for Wahaca, the panel is almost always in agreement about the top two Tequilas of each flight. The best examples are smooth and soft on the palate, with complex aromas of herbs, woody spices, vanilla, caramel and honey. Los Abuelos, meaning 'the grandfathers', stole the show. Smooth, creamy and rich, it had an elegant, alluring nose of vanilla, caramel and honey, and a lingering length that left us all craving for more of its molasses-tinged sweetness.

Unfortunately, Abuelos isn't available anywhere in the UK yet – the bottle we tried had been snuck through customs by Wahaca owner Thomasina Miers. But hopefully, with the revamping of Wachaca's Tequila list, London will soon be able to enjoy this exemplary Tequila, one of a select few spearheading the quality revolution in Mexico.

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