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The World of Mezcal: Terroir & Agave

Perlas formed in a jícara.

2013 was definitely a great year for Mezcal: the great mezcal producing region of Michoacan finally got their D.O. status, the “Ruta del Mezcal” was launched in Oaxaca, every day there were new producers of mezcal being certified in Mexico and Mezcal Tosba finally made it across the border!

The Mezcal trend has certainly come a long way from that 2009 article in the Los Angeles Times Magazine praising the renaissance of America’s oldest spirit. No longer a matter of identifying a mezcal as joven, reposado or añejo, we have seen an immense growth of knowledge from bartenders and consumers about the more than 30 different varietals of agave that can be distilled into mezcal. Words like Madrecuixe or Tepextate simply roll off the tongue like we have heard them since the first day we were born, and consumers with discerning palates are demanding ever more from the mezcal experience.

So what will we see next for the category of mezcal?

REGIONS (Terroir)

Mezcal is an authentic Mexican spirit with a Denomination of Origin (DO) produced from the agave plants that are found exclusively in Mexico.  There are 8 states in Mexico that belong to the Mezcal DO: Oaxaca, Guerrero, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Durango, Tamaulipas and as we mentioned, most recently, Michoacán. The vast majority of the mezcal that we see across the border comes from Oaxaca, but even then, there are differences between the mezcals being produced in Santiago Matatlán, Sola de Vega or San Juan del Río.

Espadín agaves in Sonora.

One of the main reasons for this is the terroir. Terroir is a term that is often applied to describe wines and can be defined as the set of special characteristics that the soil, water, and climate of a certain region express on an agricultural product. The terroir of a particular region gives mezcal a “sense of place”, so we can say that an Espadin mezcal from Santiago Matatlán will have a different taste than an Espadín mezcal from San Juan del Río. Both are made from the same agave, but these agaves were grown in two completely different regions.

Another great example of the influence of terroir in mezcal is Bacanora. Technically a mezcal, Bacanora is the regional agave spirit produced in the northern state of Sonora. Made from Agave Angustifolia or more commonly known as Espadin, its herbal and vegetal notes are far different from the citrus and fruity notes found in the most common espadin from Oaxaca.

MANY MANY MORE VARIETALS

I think we cannot express enough that unlike tequila, mezcal can be made from over 30 different varietals of agave. The most common varietals found in the market are Espadin, Tobala, Madrecuixe/Cuixe/Barril or any other form of Karwinskii. But with the constant certification of new producers all over Mexico, we will begin to see the entrance of an array of varietals unheard to many. From Duranguensis or Cenizos from Durango, to Cupreatas from Guerrero and Salmianas from Guanajuato and San Luis Potosí, these are only a few that will add to the diversity that makes mezcal one of the most vibrant and interesting categories in the world of Spirits.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Espadin will become boring and ordinary. Remember there are many factors that make a mezcal interesting and the mezcal journey is just beginning! So keep your eyes open to trying as much agave as possible. The best way to learn about mezcal is through tasting and keeping your tastebuds open to some of the wildest and finest spirits in the world. Salúd!

 – La Niña del Mezcal

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