For those whose experience with tequila began and ended during their youth at a bar (or, God forbid, a frat party), this unique and flavourful spirit is well worth a second look. Yes, there are still plenty of tequilas with lots of color, sugar, and flavorings added in to maximize your morning-after hangover. However, there are a growing number of tequilas on your local liquor shelves which have a much more honest presentation.
Tequila, made exclusively from the Blue Weber varietal of agave, comes in two forms:
- Mixto tequila (or, simply, tequila). This is the type of tequila that has the potential to give you the ‘ole college hangover. Many of them contain only 51% agave spirit by volume (the legal minimum) with the rest being sugar and artificial flavorings of one type or another. If it just says “Tequila” on the bottle, this is what you’re getting.
- 100% Agave Tequila. This is the real deal, containing 100% agave spirit…sort of. Even though it says “100%” on the bottle, tequila producers are still allowed to add no more than 1% by volume of additives, usually oak flavorings or artificial color, to give it a look and taste of more advanced aging.
For the latter category, there is a real push by (predominantly) North American consumers to identify brands that don’t put in any additives at all. This certification process is mainly carried out by Tequila Matchmaker, based in Guadalajara, Mexico. I’ll cover more about them in a future article because they do amazing work to promote transparency in a historically opaque spirit category.
Let’s turn our attention to the 100% agave Tequila in my glass today. In the early 1990’s, Don Gildardo Partida Meléndez and Doña Leticia Hermosillo Ravelero opened Tequilera Puerta de Hierro in Jalisco, Mexico. They launched the Cava de Oro brand in the early 2000’s. Their signature red wine barrel maturation (Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from California) for their aged tequilas started in 2005 and in 2010, they launched their first Extra Añejo, aged in casks for five years. I’ll explain tequila aging in a separate review as well.
My first Cava de Oro review is of their Plata 100% agave expression. Plata (Silver in Spanish) or Blanco in the tequila world denotes an un-aged tequila. It’s bottled at 40% ABV.
Nose: I’ll admit that my experience with good tequila is fairly limited. After tasting goodness knows how many tequilas and mezcals at a festival in Vegas last year, my preference gravitates towards spirits that are not overly vegetal. This is one of those tequilas. The sweetness of the cooked agave is mixed with what can only be described as a Bounty Bar, teaming with coconut and milk chocolate. The chocolate isn’t as strong as the coconut though. I’m also getting burnt sugar, a dash of cinnamon, and a good dose of vanilla. After a while, I’m getting the zestiness of a lime and the Bounty Bar has faded into the background.
Palate: The cooked agave is once again the star of the show, yet there are a few other subtle notes that prevent it from being overly dominant. A light vanilla character is introduced during the entry and carries forward through the whole experience. Cinnamon comes in mid-way through the development and is joined by a few cracked peppercorns for some added heat. The longer you swish this in your mouth, the spicier it gets. A hint of grilled lime floats over top, keeping my mouth watering a little. A surprising poached pear note comes in at the very end of the development. Very nice!
Finish: Due to its proof, this is on the short side, yet remains characterful throughout. The pear and spice fades halfway through, leaving mostly cooked agave at the end.
With water added
The nose is less agave, but that pear that I got near the end of the development without water added has come all the way forward. This is dusted with cinnamon and a tiny drizzle of dark chocolate. There is a bit of a toffee sweetness too. The lime also remains. It’s a touch on the floral side now. Quite a contrast against no water added. That poached pear is unmistakable on the palate now, yet its syrupy sweetness is paired back by the agave, floral note, and pepper.
When offered a vertical tequila line-up, many people tend to gravitate to the barrel-aged expressions, ignoring the blanco as just a cocktail mixer. In my opinion, this is a mistake. High-quality blanco tequilas, such as this one, are every bit as good for sipping neat as they are for being a fantastic base for a killer cocktail. For the aficionado, the blanco should always be the starting point, so that its character can be detected from the Reposado all the way through to the Extra Añejo. As far as craft tequilas go, this is a great price at $70-80 CAD!