World-class añejo tequilas are often described as noble, elegant and sophisticated. By law, these spirits are aged in oak barrels—typically charred American oak barrels—for a minimum of a year and up to a day less than three. During their stay in wood, the oak imbues the tequila with color, aromatics and wood-induced flavors, such as vanilla, caramel, chocolate and light smoky notes. It is far from an exact science, which necessitates the master distiller—tequilero— to regularly sample the tequila as it ages. There is a brief window during which the tequila is at its prime, after that it will slowly degrade.
The key is balance. A great añejo will exhibit the herbaceous qualities of the agave and yet proudly display its barrel-aging. Too much wood and the spirit becomes listless and begins tasting more like a brandy than a tequila. That loss of identity is the death knell to a brand.
Somewhere in the field of new añejo tequilas is the next El Tesoro, Partida, Casa Noble or Siete Leguas. Who are the most likely lottery picks? Here’s our take on the major players.
123 Organic — This artisanal brand deserves kudos for its character as well as being ecologically friendly. It’s made in the Lowlands of Jalisco at Tequila Las Americas [NOM 1480] in Amatitán from certified organic blue agaves and is barrel aged for up to 18 months. The hand-numbered añejo has an oaky, tannic nose and a broad palate of chocolate, caramel and vanilla flavors. The finish is long and thoroughly satisfying.
Arrogante — The tequila is handcrafted at Impulsora Rombo [NOM 1467], which is located in Amatitán in the highlands of Jalisco. Ultra-premium Arrogante Añejo is matured in charred, American white oak barrels for a minimum of 18 months. The amber/gold hued tequila has a gentle entry that immediately bathes the palate with the flavors of vanilla, caramel, citrus and baking spice. The long creamy finish is laced with notes of toasted oak.
Comisario — Ultra-premium Comisario is produced in the highlands of Los Altos at the Agaveros y Tequileros Unidos distillery [NOM 1529]. The añejo is aged 23 months in American oak barrels and chill filtered to remove any residual impurities prior to bottling. It has a golden hue, a medium-weight body and a coffee and chocolate bouquet with light smoky notes. The long finish features cocoa, spice and peppery flavors.
Don Diego Santa — The brand is handcrafted at the Destilería Rio de Plata [NOM 1124] in Guadalajara, a small distillery founded in 1943 that only produces 100% agave tequila from estate-grown agaves. The small batch añejo is an elegant spirit matured between 12 and 18 months in small white oak barrels. It has a lushly textured body, a wafting bouquet of cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla and toasted oak and caramel, almonds, honey and slightly spicy flavors.
Don Modesto —Don Modesto is made in Amatitán, Jalisco at Tequilera Rivesca . This neo-classic Lowland spirit is produced using the same techniques and same mountain spring water as the distillery’s founder, Don Modesto Toro Anaya. In an unusual twist, the añejo is matured for 14 months in French oak used previously to age Cognac. It has a generous nose of cinnamon, vanilla, caramel and light oaky notes and a lavish palate marked with chocolate, nutmeg, baking spice and light citrus. The finish is warm and long.
Don Pilar — The Don Pilar range of tequilas is crafted by Grupo Industrial Tequilero de Los Altos [NOM 1443] in the highlands of Jalisco. The agaves are fermented using a process dubbed the “Mozart method,” in which classical music is played over speakers during the 10-day fermentation process. It’s thought the soothing strains of the music have a positive affect on the yeast used in fermentation. Don Pilar is an exemplary Highland añejo —fruity, buttery and slightly spicy.
Don Rich — This artisanal tequila is produced in Guadalajara at Compañia Tequilera Los Volores [NOM 1486]. It is made from mature agaves, slowly baked, naturally fermented and double-distilled in a copper pot still. The añejo, which is aged in American oak barrels for more than a year, features the aromas and flavors of citrus zest, dried herbs, baking spices and vegetal agave with light smoky notes.
Expresiones de Corazón — The ultra-premium Expresiones de Corazon range features three wood finished añejo tequilas from Casa San Matias [NOM 1103] in town of Ojo de Agua in the Highlands of Los Altos. After distillation, much of the tequila is placed in barrels used previously to age Sazerac Rye, George T. Stagg Bourbon and Van Winkle Bourbon—all famed whiskeys from Buffalo Trace. The genuinely remarkable Expresiones de Corazon añejos are matured between 22 and 24 months. The range also includes a blanco and reposado version. The limited release series is scheduled to make its debut in February 2013.
Luna Nueva — This luxurious newcomer is crafted at Premium de Jalisco [NOM 1558] in Mazamitla, Jalisco under the direct supervision of third generation master distiller, Wilfrido Ortega Casas. The agaves used in distillation come from both the Lowlands and Highlands. Limited edition Luna Nueva Añejo is aged for 18 months in new American and French oak barrels. It has a dark amber hue, a velvety smooth body and a wafting bouquet of cinnamon, spices, fresh citrus and vanilla. The palate is loaded with spice, butterscotch, cocoa, vanilla and light peppery notes.
Magave — Handcrafted in the Highlands of Jalisco at Destiladora del Valle de Tequila [NOM 1438], the agaves used to create Magave are baked in both stone ovens and stainless steel autoclaves. The extracted juice is allowed to slowly ferment using airborne yeasts before being double-distilled in copper pot stills. Magave Añejo is aged in American white oak barrels just less than three years and aerated before bottling. It is brimming with the aromas and flavors of red fruit, vanilla, caramel and spice.
Regional — Regional (pronounced “Ray-he-o-nahl”) tequilas are crafted at Empresa Ejidal Tequilera de Amatitán [NOM 1503] using agaves grown in the mineral rich valley floor to the Highlands of the surrounding mountains. The Añejo is matured for a minimum of 12 months in American white oak barrels, during which it obtains a deep golden/amber hue and a generous bouquet of spice, cocoa and dried herbs. It has a dry palate featuring the warm flavors of clove, anise, fresh herbs and chocolate and a long-lasting finish with notes of vanilla, toffee and honey.
T1 Tequila Uno Estelar — Produced at La Tequileña  in the Lowlands of Jalisco, Tequila Uno is the creation of master distiller Germán González of Chinaco fame. The golden hued añejo is matured 18 months in American white oak. It has a velvety textured body and a bouquet saturated with the aromas of chocolate, vanilla and zesty citrus. It bathes the palate with a balanced offering of oak-induced flavors and herbaceous spicy notes. The long, lingering finish is the embodiment of elegance.
Tres Agaves — The Tres Agave range of tequilas is made in the Lowlands at El Llano Distillery [NOM 1109], one of the oldest distilleries in Jalisco. Artisanal Tres Agaves Añejo is aged 18 months in Woodford Reserve barrels. The dark amber tequila has a generous citrus, caramel, cocoa and herbaceous nose. The palate is a delectable blend of herbs, vanilla, baking spices and black pepper.
¡Salud¡ one and all!