Learn to Read a Tequila Label
Before you even pop open the bottle, Greenleaf suggests checking the label to make sure you know what you’re about to drink. First, skim to certify that you’re not about to drink anything less than tequila made from 100 percent agave. Some tequilas, known as mixtos, are mixed with sugar cane spirits, additives or flavoring. “While tequilas are rarely labeled as ‘mixto,’ indicators to look for are ‘Product of Tequila’ or just ‘Tequila,’” she says. If you want the really good stuff, make sure the label states that you’re drinking 100 percent agave.
The next step is to look for one of the four aging categories used for tequila. This tells you if the spirit is aged or not, and for how long. “The longer it ages in the barrel, the more oils and tannins are pulled from the barrel into the tequila,” Greenleaf says. “Aging imparts notes of oak, vanilla, caramel, dried fruits, baking spices, tobacco and leather, creating a spirit that drinks more like a whiskey.” Commit these four aging categories to memory:
- Blanco, Silver, Plata, Crystal, Platinum: Mellowed in a barrel for 59 days or less but most commonly unaged. These tequilas are clear, vibrant, and often include pepper, citrus, floral, herbal or mineral flavors.
- Reposado: Rested in an oak barrel from two months up to one year. Reposado tequilas are light caramel-colored with flavors of oak, vanilla, baked pear and caramel.
- Añejo: Aged one to three years in an oak barrel, which gives the spirit a deeper, darker color. Añejos include complex flavors of toffee, vanilla, baking spice, cocoa and dried fruits.
- Extra Añejo: Aged three or more years in an oak barrel. The color is a much darker amber, almost like maple syrup.
If you’re a real tequila pro, you’ll also check the NOM (Norma Oficial Mexicana). “A lot of us agave geeks refer to the NOM a lot,” Greenleaf says. “It’s a four-digit number printed on every bottle of tequila that basically functions like a zip code to indicate the distillery that produced the bottle.”