Defiance in Every Drop
As someone who works in the spirits industry, I regularly hear the same statement from numerous aficionados and experts: Tequila simply cannot age; putting it in wood casks is blasphemy. There’s sound logic in that perspective. After all, the subtle aromas and flavors that characterize tequila would be destroyed if the clear spirit, fresh off the still, was introduced to—and sat in—a wooden barrel for any length of time.
Certitudes are convenient; they help to put things into neat, tidy, and easily identifiable boxes. But they’re also made to be broken. Enrique Fonseca, a fourth-generation agave grower and master distiller, has believed that for decades. Twenty-five years ago, he decided to put it to the test with his high-end tequilas. Fonseca knew that whiskies, brandies, Cognacs, and other spirits could develop a magnificent complexity over time, and he wondered what might happen if he subjected his tequila to similar aging. Such a practice had never been done before. It was a bold move, one that could have gone very wrong, and one that could have left him with barrels of undrinkable (and unsellable) product.
With no road map to follow, Fonseca decided to use only refill casks—barrels previously used to age wines or spirits. New casks, he recognized, would impart too much oaky flavor and would overpower the subtle agave notes of the spirit. Jake Lustig, an importer and agave expert, first learned of Fonseca’s aged tequilas about 14 years ago and then spent the better part of the last decade trying to convince the distiller to release some. In 2009, Fonseca agreed to a limited release, which is just now coming to fruition. How limited, you ask? Fewer than 1,000 bottles have been allocated for the entire country, which makes this tequila something to seek out and to savor.
Fuenteseca Reserva, Fonseca’s brand of aged tequilas, currently is made up of three vintages: 9-year, 12-year, and 18-year expressions, which cost about $200, $300, and $600 a bottle, respectively. Each vintage was bottled at a proof that Fonseca believes showcases the spirit at its best. The 9-year tequila is 86 proof, the 12-year is 90 proof, and the 18-year is 87 proof.
One can only hope that Fonseca will choose to release more vintages (or simply more product from these current vintages) in the future; but nothing is guaranteed. So if you should get your hands on a bottle, by all means enjoy it. But know that it may be quite a while before you can enjoy it again.
Nicolas Palazzi owns and operates PM Spirits, a small New York–based import/distributing company that specializes in sourcing artisan spirits. He is also an independent Cognac bottler with a proprietary cellar in the Cognac region of France, where he sources, ages, and bottles single casks (or demijohns) of old, pure, artisan Cognacs.