Originally posted on Forbes
Full disclosure: I’m no tequila connoisseur. But I have nothing but respect for the spirit.
Around this time last year, Pepe Hermosillo (of Casa Noble fame) graciously shared a sample of Alta Belleza—his well-regarded extra añejo, which was aged in French white oak barrels before being finished in Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. After that tasting, I was given a small bottle to take home and I was told to pair it with cheese.
I did—to astonishing results.
At the time, tequila was not something I would have associated with the enthusiastic consumption of Humboldt Fog. But that singular extraordinary experience completely shifted my perspective.
Photo: Tequila Ocho, Don Julio, Jose Cuervo, Herradura, Gran Centenario
Jorge Vazquez, the general manager of Toloache 50 in New York City, on his top 13 tequila picks.
So to further inform my Cinco de Mayo tequila extravaganza this year, I decided to reach out to Jorge Vazquez—the general manager of Toloache 50 in New York City. Toloache, the popular Midtown restaurant, bills itself as a Mexican bistro that offers elevated (but not overly precious) takes on quesadillas, tacos, and the like. But beyond that, it also carries more than 200 tequilas and mezcals on its list. And Vazquez is no stranger to the complexities of joven, blancos (otherwise known as silvers), reposados, añejos, and extra añejos. “Tequilas are often categorized into different types. Tequila blanco is not aged and bottled after it’s distilled and is often used for cocktails,” Vazquez says. “But don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of tequila blancos that have amazing qualities that make them great to drink by itself.”
Toloache, the Mexican bistro in New York, boasts a vast tequila and mezcal list of more than 200.
“Reposados, depending on the company, are often rested from three to eleven months in different oak barrels that have been used for wine, whiskey, Cognac, and more,” Vazquez continues. “This imparts unique and different characteristics and flavor to each tequila. Añejos are typically aged from one to three years in different oak barrels, allowing them to become smoother and develop more character and flavor. These are usually used for sipping, so one can enjoy the flavors.”
Jorge Vazquez, the general manager of Toloache 50.
“Tequila blanco is always great to use when mixing up flavorful margaritas and cocktails,” Vazquez says. “Fresh fruits and juices will always complement the clean notes of the tequila silver.”
Don Julio Silver ($49)
“This tequila is light and smooth. Its citrus flavors make it the perfect tequila for a simple margarita of lime, splash of agave, and salt on the rim. The agave notes balance well with the lime and you still get the kick of the nice strong tequila.”
Don Eduardo Silver ($43)
“I like this tequila for its mineral notes. It goes well with a Paloma made with grapefruit juice, soda, limejuice, and a salted rim. Such a refreshing tequila and cocktail.”
Gran Centenario Plata ($25)
“This tequila has a lot of character and flavor: citrus, herbal, and spicy. Flavors that you can enjoy drinking straight with an ice cube or as one of my favorite combinations: Gran Centenario Blanco, limejuice, agave nectar, and a splash of Grand Marnier.”
“Reposados are my favorite expression of tequila for traditional margaritas as their subtle complexity in flavor adds a certain depth to the cocktail,” Vazquez says. “For me, a margarita with a reposado, fresh lime, and a splash of Grand Marnier is the most satisfying combination.”
Herradura Reposado ($40)
“This one is aged in an oak barrel for eleven months, so the soft flavor of the wood combined with the agave give it this really nice, subtle oaky flavor with hints of vanilla and caramel. It’s a pretty earthy tequila.”
El Tesoro Reposado ($48)
“This tequila is mellow and spicy, with caramel notes. It’s another one that I think is enjoyed best in a traditional margarita with limejuice and agave.”
Riazul Reposado ($55)
“If you’re looking for something simple yet really sophisticated, serve it on the rocks with club soda and a lemon twist. This tequila has floral and chocolate characteristics.”
Clase Azul Reposado ($100)
“This one is more on the elegant, refined side. I recommend drinking it neat and enjoying the ride. It’s smooth and complex and has a lot of cinnamon and caramel characteristics to it.”
“For the añejos, this expression is more for a nice, relaxing night,” Vazquez says. “You can find so many different flavors, aromas, and notes depending on the region they were crafted—like the oaky notes from Gran Centenario Añejo or the elegant notes of the Tequila Ocho.”
Gran Centenario Añejo ($35)
“This 100 percent blue agave tequila is packed with floral, vanilla, and cinnamon notes from the 36-month aging process in oak barrels—making it a really nice, smooth tequila. Great for an after-dinner drink.”
Don Julio Añejo ($61)
“Barrel-aged in small batches for 18 months, this tequila is rich and distinctive. I love the mandarin, honey, berry, and spicy notes to it.”
Tequila Ocho Añejo ($55)
“Like the Clase Azul Reposado, this tequila is elegant and refined. The agaves used to make this tequila are grown in gray clay soil and in full sunlight. It’s then aged for at least a year in used American whiskey barrels. It has a lot of lavender, dried fruit, and citrus notes, making it a very interesting choice.”
“These are the extra-aged exquisite boys, similar to a single malt whiskey,” Vazquez says. “These are the ones that you should enjoy after a good meal at Toloache.”
Don Julio 1942 ($150)
“The vanilla notes of this beloved extra añejo are going to feel like a dessert. The Don Julio 1942 plays like a fine Cognac with a perfect balance of spice, salted caramel, and creamy tropical fruit.”
Jose Cuervo Reserva De La Familia ($200)
“This one is for those who are afraid to try tequila and think there’s nothing out there like Cognac. The strong notes of rich oak, hazelnut, vanilla, and cinnamon will blow your mind.”
Herradura Selección Suprema ($350)
“Herradura Suprema is just something else. For that I'm going to tell you to try it and see for yourself.”