Marketing Margaritas

Cinco de Mayo 2011 is upon us, so look for parties and special promotions with Margaritas a plenty.  Why not make the most of your Margarita experience (and impress everyone) with a little knowledge about tequila?  My knowledge comes from working  in the  wine and spirits importing industry and from free lance writing about wine and spirits.

The Margarita remains the best-selling cocktail year ‘round in bars and restaurants throughout the country.  With help from marketers, the wine and spirits trade easily keeps the Cinco de Mayo spirit alive every month of the year by promoting unique experiences with Mexico’s most popular drink and by teaching patrons how to tell their Margaritaville from their mescal.  It’s not clear exactly which year or by whom, but in the mid- to late 2000’s, National Margarita Day was declared on February 22nd.

According to the Distilled Spirits Council, the introduction of upscale tequilas back in the 90’s helped make tequila the fastest-growing distilled spirits category.  Sales jumped 75% while spirits overall declined. Nearly two dozen new tequilas came onto the scene in 1999 alone.  Jose Cuervo and Sauza became the world’s best-selling tequila brands.

Most American drinkers first tasted tequila mixed in a Margarita or tossed down as a shot.  Many Mexicans (and savvy connoisseurs) sip tequila followed by Sangrita, a non-alcoholic chaser of citrus juices and grenadine.

Bartenders and restaurateurs are on the front lines when it comes to teaching interested patrons the options for tequila drinkers. Traditionally, a Marguerita is made with tequila, Triple Sec and lime juice. Some consumers opt for margaritas made with aged super premium tequilas mixed with upscale liqueurs such as Grand Marnier instead of Triple Sec.”

High-end tequilas (premium or super premium) can cost upwards of $25 a bottle.  Anejo, Reposado and Silver Espolon, for example, are produced from estate-grown 100% agave, crafted without any chemicals, flavorings, colorings or alterations of any sort and aged in specially built barrels.

There were six Tequila categories in the 2011 Ultimate Spirits Challenge, held March 1-4 at New York City’s Astor Center.   Expect to pay $100 for Grand Mayan Extra Añejo, top winner in the Extra Añejo 100% Agave Tequila category.

Tequila Tutorial

Understanding tequila, which is roughly an 80 proof spirit, is a little like understanding wine.  Origin, production, age and labeling are important.  Over one hundred varieties of agave plants grow in Mexico and the southwestern U.S., but tequila is made only from blue agave plants (in the lily/amaryllis family), not from cactus plants; and (unlike mescal) no worms are found in tequila bottles.

  • Production is controlled by the CRT (Tequila Regulatory Council)
  • Norms (NOM), established in the 70’s, call for each authorized distillery to have a designated NOM number, and approved tequila brands display it on their labels
  • Authentic tequila can only be made with at least 51% of the blue agave extract
  • Blue Agave can only be harvested, and tequila can only be produced within five Mexican states:  Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit and Tamaulipas.
  • Tequila must be distilled twice and aged (14 days to 7 years) only in oak barrels (which impart color).*
  • Labels must include the words “hecho en Mexico,” (made in Mexico), the producer’s registration and ID number, plus the tequila’s age.
  • Anejo means “aged” (barrel-aged at least one year)
  • Reposado means “rested” (aged two months to one year)
  • Oro means “gold” (aged up to two months)
  • Blanco “white or silver” (aged up to two weeks, or essentially not aged)

*  There are no regulations about what may have been in the barrel before, such as a lesser quality tequila or another spirit altogether.

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