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Dining | Tequila: Hot Sauza

It seems that every tequila brand has its own romantic story behind it. My suspicion is that these tall tales are usually at least in part manufactured by marketing and public relations firms, although they invariably hold some truth. In the case of Sauza Hornitos tequila, the saga goes something like this: Francisco Javier Sauza—a third-generation “don” from the renowned Sauza family—was all vexed, bothered and bewildered, in typical upper-crust male Mexican fashion, about his legacy. It says so right in the Sauza official history. Shades of George W. Bush, Francisco Javier felt the need to make his mark on the tequila industry in the way his father and grandfather before him had done. The solution: Create a tequila that would conquer the world.

Conquering the tequila world required developing a completely new spirit—unique from existing Sauza tequila—which Don Francisco Javier would come to call “Hornitos,” the word for the small agave ovens used to make tequila in his grandfather’s day. What set Sauza Hornitos tequila apart from typical tequilas was the tequila’s “pure agave character, which he rested in large oak vats to add complexity and a unique rich smoothness.” Don Francisco Javier had invented a new style of tequila, one that balanced traditionally conflicting styles and created a marriage between the pure agave common to white tequilas and complex oak characteristics of Reposado. Legacy saved!

There are three different tequilas which make up the Sauza Hornitos family of tequilas: Plata, Reposado and Añejo. Originally, Hornitos was only available as Reposado. Sauza unveiled its Hornitos Plata and Añejo about two years ago. I’ve tasted all of them in the past but was able to refresh my memory at a Sauza Hornitos tequila dinner hosted by Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill (see Dining) earlier this month.

The simplest—and cheapest ($30)—of the Hornitos tequilas is Plata (silver), which isn’t silver at all but a classic white tequila and the best choice from the Hornitos line for mixed drinks like the margarita or Tequila Sunrise. This is an unaged tequila with smooth agave flavors—clean rather than complex, with slight hints of clove.

Next in line, in terms of both complexity and price, is Hornitos Reposado ($32). What differentiates Hornitos Reposado from other brands is that the tequila is aged in large American oak vats as opposed to small individual barrels. The result is reduced contact from the tequila to the wood, giving it a softer amber color than normal (more wood contact equals more color) and more distinct agave flavor. Hornitos Reposado is mellow with a sweet and spicy flavor taken straight, but it’s also a good candidate for tequila cocktails like the Paloma, one of the simplest cocktails ever: Over ice, pour one part Hornitos Reposado tequila and 1 1/2 parts grapefruit soda (or any other zesty soda, like Sprite). Finish with a squeeze of lime and garnish with a lime wedge or twist.

Hornitos Añejo tequila ($36) is aged for a minimum of a year in American white oak barrels and made from 100 percent pure agave. Unless you’ve got money to burn and a penchant for experimentation, I don’t usually recommend using Añejo for mixing. It’s much better sipped slowly all by itself to show off Hornitos Añejo’s smoky, sweet oak flavors. Dark, with almost bourbon-like fragrances (maple, honey, vanilla), this Añejo even offers up some caramel flavors—a really nice sipping tequila for the price. Don’t let the mouthwash-style hourglass-shaped bottle fool you; this is good stuff. Enjoy it in a snifter or in one of those fancy dedicated tequila glasses that Riedel sells.