Tequila, I Feel Ya!

“One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.”  – George Carlin

With the White House proposing new taxes on all things Mexican (including tequila), should we rush to the nearest liquor store and stock up?

We’ve all had our tequila moments – salt, lemon and our amigo Jose Cuervo. But with finer tequila, you can forget the salt shaker and just sip – and savor.blue-agaveAll tequilas share the same humble beginning: they’re a distillate made from the fermented juice of the agave plant, a succulent. All 130-plus varieties of agave have long, spiky leaves called pencas but only a few varieties are used for making tequila.

These are no houseplants; blue agave can grow to eight feet tall and 12 feet in diameter. Unlike most other spirits (such as vodka, which can be produced anywhere in the world), tequila is only made in Mexico. If it’s labeled “100 percent agave tequila” it must be both produced and bottled there. About 80 percent of blue agave grows in the Mexican state of Jalisco, the region surrounding Guadalajara.

Blue agave grows for six to eight years before it’s ready to be harvested. Its pencas grow in a rosette pattern; for tequila production its flower is removed, leaving a swollen central rosette called a piña (pineapple) or cabeza (head). The piñas are cut and cooked; the sweet juice is extracted, fermented and distilled, and you have tequila.

As it turns out, tequila is good for you – at least, it’s good for your bones. A study by researchers at Mexico’s Center for Research and Advanced Studies found that compounds in blue agave can boost absorption of calcium and magnesium, which are essential for bone health.

As for my initial question – should we start hoarding tequila? Maybe not, but it’s always fun to have a bottle of the good stuff in the cupboard.

Wine/Spirits Lingo of the Day: Tahona = Before distillers had modern machinery to extract agave juice from the piña, they used a tahona, a massive stone wheel drawn by a donkey or horses to crush the fibrous pulp of the agave after it was cooked. A similar contraption was used by rum producers in the Caribbean.

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Vino ‘View: For a fine sipping tequila, try BlueNectar Reposado Special Craft. (80 proof; $54.99/750 ml) This bottle came to BigSexyReds with recipes, but we decided not to mix it – it was delicious on its own. Its golden color was created by aging it for up to eight months in charred North American oak barrels. We drank it in a rocks glass with one ice cube and tasted cloves and mint, with just a hint of sweetness from being infused with a kiss of agave nectar.

[Photo, “Blue Agave Fields.” By Alan Levine via Flickr]

¡Salud!

Mary

Wine & Tequila? On Margarita Day, Si!

Not crazy about tequila, you say? That doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate National Margarita Day with the rest of the Jose Cuervo crowd.

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This scrumptious drink is called The Devil’s Margarita – A Margarita Recipe topped w/ Wine. If your taste runs more to vino than fermented agave juice, this easy cocktail – a classic lime margarita layered with red wine – gives even wine lovers a way to party like Louis C.K. (Bet you didn’t know he was Mexican!)

(I used an earthy, slightly dark cherry-tasting Tempranillo as my red. The grape thrives in the Guadalupe Valley of Mexico’s Baja. Aha.)

I’m not the first to flavor tequila drinks, of course. Any mixologist will make you a peach margarita, or mango, strawberry, banana, or orange. You can find plenty of wine-based margaritas online, too, most made with white wine, some adding or substituting orange liqueur for the tequila, and almost all served in a salt-rimmed glass (which I decided to omit, having learned long ago that salt and red wine don’t make the greatest pairing, even with tequila in the glass).

Speaking of glasses, the traditional margarita glass is shaped like an upside-down sombrero – apropos, right? But you’ll also find bartenders serving them in martini glasses, Champagne coupes (the old-fashioned shallow glasses) or batched and sold by the pitcher. You can order them slushy-frozen, shaken (but make sure the bartender sings “La Cucaracha” while he shakes) or straight up. I found one recipe for a “wine-arita” that called for freezing red wine in ice cube trays and plunking them into a traditional margarita. I think you could get away with a regular rocks glass for that one.

If you research the margarita’s beginnings, you’re likely to find more versions of its history than variations of the drink itself. One story had it invented in 1941 in Ensenada, Mexico by a bartender who was experimenting with drinks; a woman named Margarita Henkel, daughter of a German ambassador, was the first to taste his tequila drink so he named it after her.

Another source claims the drink was created in Galveston, Texas for the late torch singer Peggy (Margaret) Lee, and still another says it was invented for a Ziegfield dancer who was allergic to most other booze.

There are more. The most accepted history: a Tijuana bartender in the 1930s decided one night to mix tequila in his drinks instead of the brandy he’d been using, and customers loved it. His drink had been called “The Daisy,” and “daisy” in Spanish is “margarita.”

The Devil’s Margarita, thanks to our friends at Yummly:

Mix 1-1/2 oz. white tequila, 3/4 oz. lime juice and 3/4 oz. simple syrup (made of equal parts white sugar and water) in a shaker filled with ice, then pour the mixture into a frosted martini glass. Slowly pour red wine into the glass, cascading it over the back of a spoon.

Click here for another photo and recipe. And don’t forget to like, share, comment and click on the “Follow” tab at the bottom right corner of your screen to get BigSexyReds  by email. Thanks!

Wine Lingo of the Day: demi-sec = translated from French, it means “half-dry,” describing wines that are just slightly sweet.

Cheers!

Mary