Wine, tequila show kinship

By The Wine Ladies
April 20, 2011

On a recent tour of Mexico’s second oldest tequila distillery, Casa Herradura, in the city of Guadalajara, we discovered that wine exhibits common ground with Canada’s fastest growing spirit. From the significance of terroir, to the art of harvesting, the relevance of natural yeast and the use of oak barrels, the parallels were great. A similar ritual to wine appreciation including nosing, swirling and slurping exists with this often misunderstood spirit.

Just as many of our wineries follow the regulations of the VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance), so must tequila producers follow rules set out by the CRT (Tequila Regulatory Council). The CRT dictates the origin of the agave plant for tequila – predominantly produced in the state of Jalisco – the type of agave and the ripeness of the plant at harvest. As with wine, the relevance of tequila terroir is key, with a variety of soils producing fruity, citrusy notes at higher altitudes and peppery spicier ones in lowland and closer to the sea.

Casa Herradura is the only 100 per cent natural distillery in Mexico. The proof is in the vat, as we learned that the fermentation is spontaneous, wild yeast with no addition of specific yeast to kick-start or accelerate the process.

Our guide, Herradura International Brand Director Ruben Aceves, also introduced us to the barrel cellar, stocked exclusively with 200-litre American white oak barrels. The parallels between barrel use with wine and this complex spirit is once again evident. Oak chips and larger oak barrels, as available in the wine industry, are also used in the production of tequila, although not at Casa Herradura. The small barrels of varying levels of “toast” are selected to flavour and add complexity just as they do with wine. The duration of oak aging is also a factor.