The Tequila & Mezcal Masters 2020 results

6th February, 2020 by Melita Kiely

With all the celebrities falling over themselves to get in on the Tequila and mezcal hype, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was no substance to the category. But our annual taste test showed there is more to the sector than star power.

George Clooney really sparked a celebrity trend with his Casamigos Tequila brand. Founded by Clooney, Rande Gerber and Mike Meldman in 2013, the brand was handed over to Diageo for the handsome sum of up to US$1 billion in August 2017.

Since then, many famous faces have followed the actor into the agave‐based category. In the past year alone, pop star Rita Ora has partnered with Conecuh Brands to launch Próspero Tequila, while Nick Jonas triggered Villa One Tequila. Even basketball star Michael Jordan has become involved, launching Cincoro Tequila last year, while more recently, wrestler and actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson revealed plans to launch his Teremana Tequila brand next month.

MEZCAL MAKES ITS MARK

It’s not just Tequila that’s being noticed – mezcal is making its mark, too. Several big players have made moves to add a mezcal brand to their portfolios in the past couple of years. Diageo acquired Pierde Almas mezcal in 2018, while last year Campari Group took a controlling stake in Montelobos mezcal and Ancho Reyes liqueur for US$35.7 million.

Both categories are unquestionably on the rise, with combined Tequila and mezcal volumes forecast to grow by 4.7% to 40.7m nine‐litre cases this year, according to Euromonitor International. But as the Tequila and mezcal categories expand, has quality prevailed?

Our 2020 Tequila & Mezcal Masters took the challenge of blind‐tasting some of the best brands on the market to see if the agave‐based sector is living up to the hype. Held at Café Pacifico in London, two panels of expert tasters assembled for the challenge.The first panel comprised Dan Greifer, bartender at Ladies and Gentlemen in London; Marco Stella, head bartender at the Mandarin Bar in London; Nazareth Rodriguez, bar manager at Mahiki in London; Eduardo Gomez, founder of Tequila & Mezcal Fest; and me, Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business, who chaired the panel. A second team was chaired by Nicola Thomson, director at Fifteen71, who was joined by Elise Craft, Whisky Squad co‐ordinator; Carlos Londoño, Café Pacifico director; and Tony Valdez, Café Pacifico bar manager.

Thomson’s panel kicked off the day’s proceedings with a flight of Mixto Tequila – Blanco. Living up to its name, Sierra Tequila Silver won a respectable Silver medal. Judges praised the expression for being a “good example of a mixto Tequila” with some “pepper, spice” on the palate. Thomson’s team then progressed to a flight of Mixto Tequila – Reposado, awarding a Gold medal to Sierra Tequila Reposado. The judges found flavours of “dry fruits, prunes, orange and grapefruit”, leading to a “long finish”.

Craft said: “The nose is exciting; the palate doesn’t quite come up to that promise – though it is lively and complex with soft red fruits and some bright citrus, hibiscus, creamy and sweet notes.”

It was then onto the 100% agave expressions, starting with a flight of premium blanco Tequilas. My panel awarded two Silver medals. The first was presented to Tequila Tromba Blanco for its notes of “olive brine” and “oily palate”. Gomez added: “This is a great Tequila for shots – and that’s OK. It was spicy, peppery and really fresh, so it would also be good for cocktails.”

The second Silver went to Mi Rancho Silver, which the judges enjoyed for its “dry, earthy, complex” character. Rodriguez said: “I liked the balance of this Tequila. Very good value for money, and it would be good for Tequila and tonics.”

On Thomson’s panel, the judges were getting stuck into a flight of 100% agave super‐premium blanco Tequilas. The panel was impressed with Sierra Milenario Tequila Blanco, awarding a Gold. The Tequila was described as having a “lovely clean nose with the signature purity of the agave flavour”, leading to a “slightly floral” palate. Two Silvers were also awarded, one to Corralejo Blanco Tequila for its “herbaceous spice”, and another to Sierra Antiguo Plata for being “bright” with notes of “peach and citrus”.

Moving up a price bracket to the ultra‐premium 100% agave blanco Tequilas and my panel uncovered another Gold medallist – Satryna Tequila Blanco. The judges found flavours of “caramel, butterscotch” and a “salty” finish. Gomez said this was a “well‐ balanced Tequila”. A Silver was also given to Sierra Milenario Tequila Fumado, which had an “earthy, peppery, citrus” nose.

Onto the 100% agave reposado Tequilas, and a flight of premium expressions was tasted by Thomson and her judges. El Jimador Tequila Reposado, which was said to have hints of “tobacco smoke” and “citrus”, received a Gold. A Silver was given to “dry, mineral” and “fresh” Mi Rancho Reposado.

However, the judges noted ample room for improvement in this flight. “Overall, it appears that the producers were utilising innovative techniques that unfortunately don’t seem to be working,” said Thomson. “It’s great that a thought process for originality is in the offering, but it is falling slightly short.”

As we progressed to the next price range, super‐premium, the uplift in quality of the reposado Tequilas was palpable. Thomson’s panel bestowed the first Master medal of the day to Patrón Reposado. Valdez said: “I found it very gentle and easy to drink with peppery, earthy agave flavours. That’s what you want and need in a Tequila – I loved it.”

The top price tier for the 100% agave reposado Tequilas also brought huge enjoyment to the judges, who discovered the second Master of the day: Sierra Milenario Reposado. This Tequila was celebrated for being “very complex”. Rodriguez said: “I liked that it didn’t taste like it had been artificially aged. The plant flavour was still there; it had really good character.” Gomez agreed: “It had great layers of flavour behind it.”

Our panel also found a worthy Silver medallist in Corralejo Los Arango Reposado. Greifer said: “I like the fact the nose and palate matched, and the sweetness stayed throughout. You knew what you were going to get and it had good balance.”

With reposado completed, it was onto a selection of añejo expressions. The 100% Agave Tequila – Premium Añejo flight drew two Silvers. The first medal was given to Mi Rancho Añejo Tequila for its “naturally sweet, complex palate”, while the second was awarded to Sierra Tequila Antiguo for a “slight minty, eucalyptus” aroma. “For the price, these were very good Tequilas,” noted Rodriguez. “Both of them were good value for money.”

L‐r: Dan Greifer, Marco Stella, Melita Kiely, Elise Craft, Tony Valdez, Nazareth Rodriguez, Carlos Londoño, Eduardo Gomez and Nicola Thomson

A small flight of super‐premium Tequilas came our way next. We awarded a Gold medal to Corralejo Añejo, with notes of “coffee” and “vanilla”. Stella said: “The agave flavours come through still, which is really nice to taste.” Sticking with añejo, we then tasted a selection of ultra‐premium Tequilas. With this being the most expensive category, judges had high expectations. Sierra Milenario Añejo Tequila received a Gold medal for its “lovely nose and palate” full of “tobacco” and “creamy coffee”. Two Silvers also went to “sweet and spicy” Corralejo 99,000 Horas Añejo, and Los Arango Tequila Añejo with a touch of “jalapeño” coming through to complement the agave.

But once again, judges found the category to be lacking overall, and saw an opportunity for expansion. “More attention to the ageing process was needed,” said Gomez. “Some of the producers felt like they hadn’t thought enough about the liquid in the glass.”

Greifer added: “I’d say don’t try to be too innovative when people don’t understand the category fully yet.” The ultra‐premium extra añejo flight proved to be much more to the judges’ taste. Corralejo 1821 Extra Añejo was deemed to be a deserving Master medallist. Craft said about the expression: “Woody – but in all the best ways. Spices, panna cotta, and a creamy vegetal quality like avocado. The agave shines through – truly exceptional.” Sierra Milenario Extra Añejo also walked away with a Gold, hailed for its “smoky, leather” flavours.

Both panels collaborated on the next flight: 100% Agave Mezcal – Joven. Mezcal Picaflor walked away with two medals in this flight – including a Master for its Picaflor Wild, made with espadin and Madrecuishe agave. Stella said: “This had amazing balance and great length.” Gomez was equally enthusiastic about the mezcal. He said: “This was a delicious blend of two agaves, with the Madrecuishe making the mezcal very complex and delicious. Very sophisticated.” Picaflor Espadin also took home a Silver.

A final flight of Tequila Liqueurs and Flavoured Tequilas was split between the panels. Los Arango Coffee Liquor Made With Tequila scooped a Gold medal. The judges enjoyed its “spicy, peppery” palate with “bitter coffee notes”, which was well balanced with some sweetness.

A Gold was also presented to Sierra Gran Café. Gomez said: “The flavours of this Tequila felt more natural”, while Rodriguez found it was “more balanced”. Three Silvers were also handed out during the final flight.

Then, as with all Global Spirits Masters tastings, the Master medallists were put through their paces for a final time to determine the ‘best in class’ Taste Master winner. Walking away with the 2020 title was Picaflor Wild mezcal, which the judges found to be a “truly delicious blend”. There is much to be excited about when it comes to Tequila – and not just thanks to the celebrity faces boosting the category.

There is widespread innovation and fresh takes on flavour occurring across the category – and mezcal, too. And while some experimentation didn’t quite reach the desired end goal, there is plenty to keep consumers interested in this blossoming sector.

Click through the following pages for the full list of medal winners in this year’s Tequila & Mezcal Masters. 

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