The Journey to Your Favorite Tequila
Highland vs. Lowland agave plants: Does it make any difference in the tequila taste?
The word terroir, meaning ‘of the earth’, is a French word that describes the influence of soil type, climate and terrain. The importance of terroir in winemaking is well known, but when it comes to tequila the conversation is relatively new.
The high altitude of the region: rising to between 3,500 to 5,200 feet in the lowland-valley and 6,000-8,000 feet in the highland-mountains are considered superlative for growing Blue Weber agave.
Here, the agave plants grow deep roots, absorbing minerals and other nutrients from the two different soil types. Chilly spells in the higher elevations cause the plant’s sugar to rush, producing a sweeter, fruitier spirit.
The Paradigm Shift Towards Real Tequila Excellence
“Tequila terroir” was first introduced to the super-premium tequila lexicon by Patrón and Don Julio in the late 90s, with my own call-to-action for Patrón: “Change your perception of tequila.” The teaser headline led to an education on the clear distinction between tequila made from 100% Blue Weber agave tequila and inferior grades, including the still popular mixto varieties, that for decades remained unchallenged in terms of ingredients and quality.
Geography (Highland vs. Lowland Terroir)
The Highland region, called Los Altos, is the plateau to the northeast of Jalisco’s capital, Guadalajara, with an average elevation of 7,500 feet above sea level.
The Highland soil, called Tierra Roja, is rich in clay, with a high iron content that imparts a deep red hue. It is generally accepted that highland-grown agave––which endure higher climate stress, and in closer proximity to sunlight––creates a sweeter, fruitier tequila with a soft floral aroma.
In Los Altos, the rainfall is lighter, the nights are cooler, and the winters cold enough for an occasional dusting of snow. When temperatures drop, the agave nearly goes dormant, hanging on to whatever water, minerals and sugars that are available at the time. From this we get a more delicate flavor profile dominated by citrus, white flowers and minerality a along the lines of chalk and slate.
The Lowland region of the Tequila Valley are to the west of the city at altitude between 3,500 to 5,200 feet. The soil is very different in the valley region. Here, the dark-black, mineral-rich volcanic soil is called Tierra Negra.
Tequilas produced in the lower valley region have a more herbaceous character and a distinct earthy minerality. Advocates of the Tequila Valley also point out that the region has a better water supply, which also contributes to its earthier flavor.
Do I think terroir makes a difference in taste? My recent experience with the taste reformulation of an existing lowland tequila brand, I would have to say yes. When it comes to soil, it is what it is.
Here are a few examples of highland and lowland blanco tequilas with a bit of backstory. Try for yourself to discover your new favorite tequila style and brand.
Our marketing agency launched Don Julio in the United States, helping to jumpstart the late 90s’ trend toward real tequila made from 100% blue agave.
Don Julio is still recognized as a leading premium tequila for both taste and quality in the United States and Mexico. You can’t go wrong with Don!
Voted “Tastemakers Top Tequila,” by Forbes magazine. Casa Dragones has smooth, yet complex taste that is great for sipping and food pairing.
A mainstay of quality and affordability, I first tried Cazadores at a bar in Mexico City where they took their selection of sipping tequilas very seriously. Rather than waste one of their great sipping tequilas on my margarita, they gave me this.
Cazadores Blanco is a solid choice for mixing in cocktails. But when sipping tequila on a budget, I suggest trying it with a savory sangrita chaser.
Patron was the first to challenge the taste the expectations of the standard bearers of the worst, but most popular mixto tequila varieties in the United States, Jose Cuervo Especial Silver and Gold.
Penned by your’s truly for the U.S. launch, Patron’s call-to-action: “Change your perception of tequila,” was a game changer for America’s tequila IQ.
But don’t expect to find this once-trendy 100% blue agave brand anywhere in Mexico. Patron is export only.
Led by the world-famous actor George Clooney, Casamigos became one of America’s most popular tequilas virtually overnight.
Don’t expect to find this fledgling celebrity-chaser brand in Mexico. Highland tequilas tend to be on the sweeter side and Casamigos is no exception.
Taking its name from the agave field workers who do all the backbreaking work, Jimador is the most popular tequila in Mexico.
A classic lowland tequila, the brand offers great quality at an affordable price.
This versatile mixture makes some of the best tequila cocktails, hands down.
Not just because I was directly involved with the redesign of the taller, hero bottle and the new taste made for sipping and savoring in your favorite cocktail, Casa Noble continues to be an excellent choice.
The Master Tequilero, Pepe Hermos, still keeps it estate grown and organic.
It’s a lowland, so its herbaceous character still shines through in a classic margarita.