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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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Tuesday
Aug312010

Can You Pair Tequila With Food?

When the Spanish Conquistadors came to Jalisco, Mexico, they experienced a bit of gastronomic culture shock. In a letter back to the Spanish king, Nuño de Guzmán, a particularly ferocious conquistador, wrote, "This land has no bread nor wine nor oil, vingar or cattle." They may not have had wine from grapes, but the indigenous people did have a fermented beverage from the nectar of the agave. When this pulque-like drink met the Moorish invention of the pot still, Tequila (and history) were made.

With a fabulous beverage in hand and no wine, what else do you do, but create a cuisine that goes well with Tequila? After all, most of modern Mexican cuisine is a fusion of "Old World" and "New World" ingredients and cooking techniques. A dinner at Tres Agaves featuring the awsome Fortaleza Tequilas was a great testing ground for my theory.

Tequila Fortaleza is a fantastic distillery headed by the passionate and charismatic Guillermo Sauza, a fifth generation taquilero in the heartland of Jalisco. Yes, his family is the Sauza family, but his grandfather sold their brand in the late 1970s. The family does, however, still own the Fortaleza distillery in the town of Tequila and a beautiful hacienda nearby. From the brick ovens to the old stone mill, everything here is done the old-fashioned way. This artisanal Tequila, with its complex and deep flavors, is a great foil for food.

As we sat down for dinner, all three of the Fortaleza Tequilas were poured in glasses in front of us. I tasted through everything first:

Tequila Fortaleza Blanco ($46.99) The Blanco is the true expression of the beautiful blue agave. Bottled after distillation and adjustment to 40% alcohol, it has bright citrus and pear aromas and a full body on the palate. The long peppery finish on the palate lasts and lasts.

Tequila Fortaleza Reposado ($55.99) The Reposado is aged in used Bourbon barrels for 6-9 months. Aromas of pear, golden beets and vanillin oak are followed by a round, plush palate feel. Green peppercorn and a bit of heat lift the rich flavors of this repo.

Tequila Fortaleza Añejo ($81.99) Aged for 32 months in used Bourbon barrels, this is a powerful Tequila. All the wood complements the earthy rich aromas of cooked agave. The elegance of the aromas and the palate is followed by enough earth and fire on the finish to remind you that this was Tequila!

Now I know what you're thinking. Okay, Anne, tasting notes are great, but does it go with food?

The beautiful part of having all three styles already in front of me was that I got to compare and contrast as the dinner went on. We began with a selection of antojitos or appetizers. The albondigas de camarones or shrimp dumplings in a roasted tomato sauce went beautifully with the Blanco. The citrus notes did really well with the shrimp while the wood of the other two tequilas was overpowering. From there we moved to a puerco in salsa verde served with coconut rice. The Blanco showed well as a contrast to the richness of the dish, and the Reposado was also a great compliment. The Añejo was still a bit too big. From there we moved to Xolostle, a regional classic made of chicken that is slow cooked in a red chili sauce. I loved the Reposado with this dish. The peppery finish matched up well with the cascalbel chilis. Finally, our entrée was cola de res en salsa negra, oxtails that were braised in a dark chili sauce and served with elote and lime rice. Oh my! The Añejo had found a friend with this dish. The full flavors married beautifully with the fiery earthiness of the spirit.

At the end of the night, I was a convert. Artisanal Tequilas like the Fortaleza have a complexity to them that makes them a fabulous foil for more than chips and guacamole. Try some at a dinner in your hacienda!

Anne Pickett

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