THE SHORT VERSION
1. Generally you will pay more for 100% Blue Agave distilled products.
2. Generally you will pay more for Aged Products. More time = more money (up to a practical limit).
3. You can find sweet spots in value, based on what you want to do with the tequila. Pay less for tequila that will be used for shots or hidden with mixes in margaritas, pay more for sipping tequila.
4. Don't be fooled by labels and bottle shapes and colors.
THE LONG VERSION
Buying Tequila these days is getting more challenging. Start with "what are you going to do with it". If you know it is for a party and will be used for shots or margaritas then our rating guide will help with that. If it is for serious sipping and enjoyment then insight to the drinkers particular tastes or favorites is useful. Our ratings again will help you with which brands to consider. Here are some additional things to watch for.
Contents- A real tequila is made from at least 51% sugars derived from the Blue Agave or Weber Agave. Different names might be used Azul or blue or even the formal Agave Tequilana Weber. Also these plant should have been grown in the Jalisco State of Mexico and in certain areas of Guanajutao, Michoacan, Nayarit and Tamaulipas states. Also the higher % of source sugars the better. 100% Blue Agave is the what you want to look for. If that claim is not present on the bottle there is a reason. So don't pay 100% Blue Agave prices for a bottle without this label. No matter how pretty the bottle is or other claims about "rested", "aged", etc. With the short supply of Agave plants many distillers have moved to less than 100% Agave sugars and have kept the same bottle, but have modified their labels to be "legal" but not necessarily revealing true nature of the contents. Less than 100% is called Mixto, less than 51% is considered Mescal. Less than 100% isn't always bad, just make sure you know what you are buying. Generally I find that the less non-agave sugars used the less probability and severity of hangovers from consuming more than your fair share. This is where many a "spring breaker" took a wrong turn in Tequila Appreciation.
There are some very interesting things happening out side the classical 100% Agave market. Particularly in the Mescal space, where they use 100% of another variety of Agave grown in another region. The Sotol made from an wild agave from the Chihuahuan Desert is a good example. See the Dec 05 review for a great product. There are other Mescals that deserve more consideration of our time and money. More reviews to follow.
There are some products that can rival the taste and bold flavors that may not be able to claim 100%. El Jimador Reposado is a good example. They appear to have moved to a Mixto formula, but improved their distillation and blending process at the same time making a better overall product than before. Look for a review in the upcoming months.
Aging- Most distilled products are impacted by the aging process. Tequila is no exception. Here are the general categories.
Plata, Silver, or Blanco Not aged
Joven Abocado Young Tequila 0-2 months
Reposado or Rested Rested 2-6 months in contact with Oak
Anejo or Aged Aged a minimum of 1 year in Oak Barrels
Aging tequila for anything over 3 years doesn't appear to provide any additional improvements. Again if you don't see a claim on the label, then it probably has not been aged. Aging in an oak barrel causes the tequila to pick up the Tannin taste and imparts a subtle golden color. A label with Rested or Aged in Oak is not equivalent with using 100% Agave sugars, so don't get confused about that when spending money. Get what you pay for, don't pay for Marketing flash on the bottle or label that is not in the bottle. Some distillers add corn syrup to achieve the nice golden hue and label it as Golden, Gold, or Oro.
One other aging variable is what kind of oak barrels the tequila is aged in. It can be new oak, new French oak barrels, barrels used some other drink (Sherry, Port, Cognac, Whiskey, etc), burned (charcoal) barrels or just plan used barrels. Each of these variations can impart unique tastes to the tequila. Purists prefer the new French barrels, but creative variation is a good thing. Each distiller can use these variations to create a taste that matches your desired taste palette better and everyone's is different.