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Tequila, We Hardly Knew Ye


Calmly back away from the shot glass.

While the Tequila Gods would probably turn a blind eye with Jose Whatshisface, you generally risk their full-blown fury with the whole salt-and-lime slam-athon that has become a Cinco de Mayo tradition. But venture South of the Border and you'll see tequila not only being sipped, but being sipped from -- huh? -- a champagne flute to better enjoy the bouquet.

This Sunday, May 5, put the shots down, and raise a glass with three tequilas sure to incur divine wrath if you don't enjoy them properly.

Avion Silver: As Seen on TV
AvionBest Unaged White Spirit, Best Tequila Winner, and Double Gold Winner -- and that was just from the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Isn't it ironic that a silver should win so much gold?
Often considered the uninteresting larval stage of tequila, silvers are usually consigned to mixers. This would be an unjust fate for Avion Silver; even the most respectful margarita mix would mask the intense agave aroma graced with herbal tinges of mint and rosemary, delicate hues of flowers and black pepper, and hints of grapefruit and pineapple. A mix would also do a real number on the taste; crisp and clean, well balanced and exceptionally smooth, Avion Silver packs a pure Blue Weber Agave punch shipped direct from the highest regions of Jalisco, Mexico -- the higher elevation, the more depth and character in the tequila, and Jalisco is at just the right height for Avion's medal-mongering taquileros.

In other words, try it before you mix it.

If Avion looks a little familiar, it should: it rocketed into the pop culture stratosphere after appearing as a plot device during in the seventh season of HBO's Entourage, when a few too many shots nearly cost Adrian Grenier's Vince his job. (Tequila Avion partner Kenny Dichter is childhood buddies with Doug Ellin, the creator of the series; who says networking doesn't pay off?)

The Entourage storyline was pure fiction, but only to a point; Avion Silver's very real 40 percent ABV takes no prisoners for those under the false pretense that larval means gentle.

Excellia Reposado: The French Connection
If you didn't know better, you'd think brand manager Audrey Fort was free-associating when she describes Excellia Reposado.

Excellia"The bouquet has hints of caramelized agave, toasted wood, mushrooms, honey, lavender, jasmine and violet notes, but on the palate you still get the peppery spiciness of the agave," she says. "It is complimented by the dryness of the cognac's influence. Sauternes is a dessert wine, so you'll have some dried apricot notes, honey flavors, orchard fruits, and lots of white flowers as well."

Sauternes? Cognac? "Toasted wood?" Fort is describing the "voila!" moment when Excellia's creators, master tequila distiller Carlos Camarena and Frenchman Jean-Sebastien Robicquet, founder of EWG Spirits & Wine, put their heads together and aged pure highland tequila in barrels formerly used for grand cru sauternes wine and cognac.

Sub-letting barrels is old industry trick -- as the sauternes and cognac age, they soak into their respective woods and get locked in. When the tequila takes up residence, they seep back out.

After nine months of aging in these separate barrels, Camarena and Robicquet then blend everything to together to create a reposado imbued with all the hints, notes, and flavors of France while maintaining a fiery Mexican heart (and an equally fiery 40 percent ABV).

And boy, did it work. Excellia Reposado blew the lid off the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and in 2011 was crowned best tequila in the world.

It may very well have been the French side of the Franco-Mexican spirit that put it over the edge, says Fort. "The reposado is probably the best of the two different barrels. It really grasps all the aroma, the roundness, the floral notes, the honey touch of the sauternes, and the characteristics of the cognac."

As the adage goes, everything is sexier in French.

Don Julio Extra-Anejo REAL: The Founding Father
The bottle might look like something Gandalf would stash in his apothecary, but to Master Distiller Enrique de Colsa, it really is what's on the inside that counts.

Julio"The blue agave becomes apparent as soon as the tequila reaches your palette," de Colsa beams. "While the layers of dried fruits, chocolate, and almond burst through, taking the experience to an even higher level. Don Julio REAL's finish is full of indulgent vanilla and oak flavors and its warmth is never followed with any heat."

OK, so he gushes a little.

But it's more than just hype; Don Julio REAL (yes, with the all-caps) is the brainchild of de Colsa's late mentor, Don Julio Gonzales himself, who had a very specific idea of what made a tequila "good." Drawing on his 70 years of experience, Gonzolez's method behind the madness began in 1996, when he first aged his tequila in American white oak barrels up to five years, creating a full-bodied tequila golden in color with flashes of tropical green, and a nose balanced with gentle hints of citrus and sweet, cooked, roasted and raw agave, dashed with touches of vanilla, caramel, honey, chocolate and dried fruit. That cornucopia alone is gush-worthy, but in creating REAL, Gonzales also set the foundation for what would become the entire Extra-Anejo category, the originator by which all others would be judged. Let the proverbial floodgates loose.

With that kind of pedigree, it should come as no surprise Don Julio REAL barges yearly through the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, accepting new top accolades with each go around, like the double gold honor in 2011, and the silver in 2012. The 40 percent ABV may help lubricate the judging process, but to de Colsa, and Gonzales, it comes down to the fact the original is always the one to beat. No other magic needed.

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