Tequila truly contains multitudes. On one side of the bell curve, you have the bargain-basement level, uncomfortably harsh well-variety shooting spirit. On the other, you have more expensive, mature juice, with layers of flavors and plenty of nuance.
As the tequila world expands, the space between these opposite poles is in a state of flux. Even the cheaper bottles are rapidly improving, while the more expensive expressions continue to evolve in craftsmanship. In 2020, it ought to go without saying that an extra añejo tequila can reach the heights of any rye, bourbon, scotch, or brandyon the market.
With mezcal also booming, it’s a good time to be a fan of agave spirits. We could spend all day writing about bargain tequilas (and we have), but this time around we’re turning our attention to the expensive stuff. Below you’ll find eight of our favorite top-shelf tequilas, all worth their (relatively) hefty price tags.
ABV: 40% Price: $78.99 The Story: This 100% Blue Weber agave-based tequila was fermented in open-air wood tanks and matured to perfection for eighteen months in American oak barrels. The result is an extremely mellow, easy-to-sip tequila that will make you forget all about the plastic handles you purchased years ago. Tasting Notes: You’ll want to give this tequila a nice nosing before taking your first sip. You’ll be treated to aromas of brown sugar, toasted vanilla beans, and charred oak. The roasted agave flavor is obvious on the palate. This is followed by dried orange peel, candied toffee, almonds, and caramel flavors. The finish is warming, long, and ends with a final hit of charred agave. Bottom Line: This is the kind of expression that will convert tequila haters. The maturation and high-quality ingredients will appeal to even the snobbiest whiskey fans.
Jose Cuervo Reserva De La Familia
ABV: 40% Price: $169.99 The Story: Hand-selected from the Cuervo family private collection, this extra-añejo is made from 100% Blue Weber agave and aged in American and French oak casks for at least three years. The result is a complex, layered tequila that’s most suited for sipping neat. Tasting Notes: On the nose, you’ll find scents of sweet toffee, molasses, and vegetal agave. The first sip brings flavors of vanilla beans, buttery caramel, charred oak, and honey. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a nice punch of sweet brown sugar. Bottom Line: Save the cheap Jose Cuervo for shots and mixing. Drink this tequila neat after a heavy meal. You’ll be so happy with its digestive properties that you’ll probably put back more than one.
Avión Reserva 44
ABV: 40% Price: $129.99 The Story: This small-batch tequila drinks more like a whiskey than any tequila we’ve ever had. That’s because, on top of being made from 100% Blue Weber agave, it’s aged for 43 months in American oak casks before spending another month in special, daily rotated petite barrels. Tasting Notes: If you take a moment to savor the aromas, you’ll be greeted with subtle spice, roasted, vegetal agave, and caramelized sugar. The first sip yields dried fruits, nutty sweetness, and smoky, toasted oak. The finish is medium in length and ends some nice, subtle spice. Bottom Line: Avión is a whole lot more than just “the tequila from Entourage.” Though sipping this bottle will make you feel famous.
Clase Azul Reposado
ABV: 40% Price: $139.99 The Story: Clase Azul is widely known as an expensive brand, but I’m here to tell you that (if you have the cash) it’s worth it. Not only is this tequila made using the highest quality Blue Weber agave and aged for eight months in oak casks, but its bottle is a work of art, handcrafted in Mexico. Tasting Notes: Fill your nostrils with the scents of roasted agave, brown sugar, and spicy cinnamon. From there, you’ll enjoy flavors of clover honey, vegetal sweetness, caramel apples, and charred oak. The finish is long, full of warmth, and ends with a flourish of cinnamon spice. Tasting Notes: Display this bottle prominently, but take your time enjoying it. Save it for a special occasion or share it with your favorite sibling. Just don’t tell the others.
Tears of Llorona No. 3 Extra Añejo
ABV: 43% Price: $229.99 The Story: This extra añejo was aged in a combination of Cognac, sherry, and scotch barrels for at least five years in total. The result is a highly complex, flavorful tequila that really does measure up to the price. Tasting Notes: You’ll want to sniff this tequila before your first sip. On the nose, you’ll find hints of dried cherries, sweet vanilla, toasted oak, and subtle agave. Upon taking a sip, you’ll be met with caramelized sugar, sweet agave, cocoa, and cinnamon. The finish is sweet, medium in length, and ends with more caramel sweetness. Bottom Line: This is a bourbon drinker’s tequila. It’s so unique and complex, you’ll want to pour it, let it breathe for a few moments, and then savor every single note.
El Tesoro Paradiso
ABV: 40% Price: $119.99 The Story: El Tesoro is already known for its high-quality tequilas. That reputation is most obvious when you take a sip of El Tesoro Paradiso. Aged for five years in ex-Cognac French oak casks, this spirit has unique, pleasing flavors that you won’t find in any other tequila. In short, it’s been racking up awards for a reason. Tasting Notes: The nose is subtly smoky with hints of caramelized sugar, charred oak, and fresh mint. The first sip is filled with brown sugar, roasted agave, rich vanilla, and sweet cream. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a final waft of pleasing smoke. Bottom Line: Take a trip to paradise in the middle of winter by slowly sipping a glass (or two) of this tequila neat. You’ll forget all about the short, cold days.
Don Julio 1942
ABV: 40% Price: $159.99 The Story: Don Julio 1942 is one of the most well-known luxury tequilas on the market, and it’s not just because of the iconic, long-necked bottled. It’s made in small batches and aged for at least two and half years in oak casks — all to pay homage to the 60th anniversary of Don Julio’s first distillery. Tasting Notes: On the nose, you’ll get nutty sweetness and hints of roasted agave, molasses, and creamy vanilla. The first sip is filled with caramelized sugar, spicy cinnamon, and just a hint of cracked black pepper. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a nice combination of caramel and dark chocolate. Bottom Line: This is a bottle to be treasured. If you’re spending the cash to get it, make sure you don’t have a crazy evening where you drink it all. You want to remember savoring this one.
Casa Noble Single Barrel Extra Añejo
ABV: 40% Price: $119.99 The Story: Casa Noble is one of the most underrated tequila brands on the market. If you have the money, you can do a lot worse than the brand’s Single Barrel Extra Añejo. Bottled from only one barrel, this tequila is extra-aged in French white oak casks. It’s mellow, rich, and perfect for whiskey drinkers as well as tequila fans. Tasting Notes: Take a nice sniff of this high-quality tequila and you’ll be greeted with milk chocolate, peppery spice, and charred oak. The first sip is full of spicy cinnamon, caramelized sugar, sweet molasses, and roasted agave. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a pleasing kiss of campfire smoke.