Tequila is traditionally made from the blue agave plant, which surrounds the city of Tequila down in Mexico. Tequila is near Guadalajara in the western highlands of the Mexican state of Jalisco. The red soil there is conducive to the growth of the blue agave, with more than 300 million plants harvested each year. Each area produces a distinct taste, with the Highlands producing a sweeter tasting tequila, while the lowlands produce a more herbaceous fragrance and flavor.
As expected, Mexican law dictates that tequila must come from the state of Jalisco, and four limited areas of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Mexico retains the exclusive rights to the word, “tequila”, resulting in lawsuits against countries trying to use the word.
Tequila is quite potent with 38 to 40% alcohol or 76 to 80 proof). It can be bumped up to 110 proof by certain tequila producers, though most tequila is 80 proof. It was first produced in the 16th century near the town of Tequila, founded in 1656. The Aztecs deserve credit for making a fermented drink from the agave plant, under the name of octli first, then later pulque. When the Spanish arrived and ran out of their brandy, they distilled agave, which became North America’s first indigenous distilled spirit.
The first mass-produced tequila began around 1600 by Don Pedro Sanchez de Tagle, the Marquis of Altamira. True to form, by 1608, the Jalisco government began taxing the tequila from his factory. Today’s tequila was produced in Guadalajara in the early 19th century. It was Don Cenobio Sauza, founder of Sauza Tequila, who first exported tequila to the United States. Shortly thereafter, Chevy’s was founded (just kidding!!!) It was his grandson that proclaimed that real tequila can only come from the state of Jalisco.
Since the 1990s, tequila has undergone some changes. Brown-Forman bought Herradura for $776 million in 2006. A tequila called ultra aged must be aged three years. Fortune brands bought both Sauza and El Tesoro brands. Most tequila now is distributed by large multinational organizations. There are over 100 distilleries making nine hundred brands of tequila in Mexico. In 2004, tequila was allowed to be flavored, and remain under the tequila name. Pure agave tequila cannot be flavored.
The famous blue agave plant
There are only two basic types of tequila, mixtos and 100% agave. Mixtos use not less than 51% agave, with other sugars making up the balance of the product. The 100% agave tequila is harsher (blanco or plata) while reposado and anejo are smoother and subtle but complex. Tequila does take on the flavor of the wooden casks, mellowing the harshness of the alcohol.
The tequila worm is strictly a marketing ploy that began in the 1940s. The worm is actually a moth larva which lives on the agave plant. Finding the worm on the plant indicates an inferior or lower quality product. The record price paid for a one liter bottle of premium tequila
was $225,000 in Tequila, Jalisco by Tequila Lay.
Tequila may be consumed in a variety of ways. The traditional way is to drink it straight with salt and a slice of lime. In Mexico, they drink tequila the old fashioned way, straight, no lime or salt. Some regions make a sangrita, which contains tequila, orange juice and grandine and hot chilis. If I were to drink tequila again, I would have the bandera. It consists of three shot glasses, filled with lime juice (green), white tequila, and sangrita(red). Outside of Mexico, the salt and lime are the most common accoutrements. It is basically the training wheels of the tequila world, or lip, sip, suck.
History goes back to 1942, when the well-known Louis Martini bought the old Standly Ranch and replanted it. By the 1970s, the Carneros region had more than 1300 acres under vineyard cultivation. The Carneros region soon gained a reputation for its quality Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. This reputation quickly spread to the sparkling wine producers from the Champagne region of France. A big wave of investment in the 1980s brought Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon, Gloria Ferrer, and Cordoniu Napa to Carneros. It soon became one of the best centers for sparkling wine in California. Later in the 1980s, phylloxera returned to Carneros, and forced replanting of the vineyards. Carneros producers used this opportunity to plant phylloxera resistant root stock, and the new French clones of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
With continued popularity of Chardonnays, the region now has over 6000 acres of this varietal. The Carneros region covers 90 square miles, along the low lying hills of the Mayacamas range. Each portion is allowed to use the Napa or Sonoma appellation, respectively. It is the coolest and windiest part of the area, and almost always had some morning fog. Recently, the area has also been planted with Syrah and Merlot. But the Chardonnays here have a higher acidity that balances the grapes from the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The Pinot Noir has a crisp acidity as well, and has a spicy berry fruitiness. Carneros was the pioneer for cooler climate plantings, like the Russian River, Alexander Valley, and the Santa Rita Hills.
Whatever the experts, viticulturists, and enologists say, I just happen to like the Carneros region sparkling wines more than any other. I particularly like the Domaine Carneros Brut Rose’, and rate it with Chateau Marguet from France. Both are a little out of my budget for everyday drinking, but I always keep a few bottles on hand.
I have attended the Winemaker’s Luncheon at Domaine Carneros twice now. Their winemaker, Eileen Crane was prominently mentioned in the popular book, The Widow Clicquot. In fact, one year, she sat next to me, and I proceeded to ask some questions that only an old farm boy would know to ask. Then, this past year, she rewarded us with her first vintage, her 1988 Carneros Brut champagne.
These are the wineries in Carneros:
I profess to have only tasted a few: Buena Vista, Ceja, Clos du Val, Cuvaison, Domaine Carneros of course, Gloria Ferrer, Merryvale, Raneswood, and ZD.
A few good places to eat can be found in Carneros as well. One is the Fremont Diner, not far from Domaine Carneros. Some of their specialties are: huevos rancheros, shrimp po’ boys, burgers, and pulled pork sandwiches. You vegetarians can order mac and cheese, or grilled cheese sandwiches, topped by a milk shake for dessert. Nearby also is the Boon Fly Cafe, casual and also serving three meals a day. Their rather rustic cuisine is based on availability of nearby agriculture of the region.
I joined the Chateau Society of Domaine Carneros last year. I have two bottles of bubbly sent to me every other month. I also receive 20% discounts on food and wine service. I also get a complimentary tasting for me and a guest, along with a free public tour once a year. But even without it, you will find me there several times a year. It is my favorite place in the entire wine region!!!!
The first stop is Murph’s Pub for a $10 Blarney Burger, a massive half pound of Angus beef topped with corned beef, melted cheese, cole slaw, and Russian dressing. I would call it either the “instant heart attack” or the “totally confused cuisine” burger. But the best part of this behemoth sandwich would be the bottle of Guinness that is ordered with it.
For something relatively healthy, the Farmer’s Market has fresh fruit for sale. So, do the caramel apple fries sound healthy? Not if the tart Granny Smith apple sticks are drenched in caramel sauce. Would it be okay to just have a Fuji apple without the trimmings?
Caramel apple fries
Personally, I do not crave a Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae when I go to a Giants ballgame. My preference is either the cha cha* bowl, named after Hall of Fame first baseman, Orlando Cepeda, or just a regular hot dog. I also enjoy a bag of peanuts once in a while, along with a cold soda or light beer. But do you realize that a waiter or waitress will come to your seat and take your order? Then deliver it faster than Aubrey Huff can pop out weakly to the second baseman?
*the cha-cha bowl contains a bed of rice and black beans, topped with grilled chicken and a salsa of zucchini, carrots, onions and pineapple.
The Grill has many items that are not available on the other levels. Some of these are the grilled portobello sandwich, finally something good for you vegetarians, and a grilled chicken sandwich with field greens and roasted red bell peppers. The pizza is made in the Wood Pizza Oven, and the baked potato station is a real kick or should I say spud of a time? How about some carne asada nachos, mozzarella-tomato kebabs, or a fresh crab sandwich? For dessert, skip the regular ice cream selections and have some tangy gelato.
For those of adult age, the Grey Goose martini is available until the 7th inning. My choice would be the Irish Coffee, ala the Buena Vista Cafe. The bars have plenty of big screen televisions, so even alcoholics can watch the entire game from their barstool. I hope it will be like this for the Cal football games this Fall. Our team is temporarily using the Giants ballpark while Memorial Stadium to renovated.
As far as amenities, the seats seem to have more legroom, sort of like United Airlines’ Economy Plus seating. If we can’t get upgraded to the private suite, we might as well have less riff raff roaming the stands. Also, it is easy to find a seat near the food vendors, unlike the other levels. And best of all, no long lines for either the men’s or women’s toilettes. If you must bring your laptop, ipad, or netbook, free wifi is also available.
Upscale fare, although I do not attend the games for food.