Tequila is big business these days. Consumers have been bitten by the agave bug, eagerly snapping up spendy bottles that fifty years ago would have been labeled “Mexican brandy.” While there are plenty of big brands (Jose Cuervo, Patrón, Sauza) and celebrity-backed brands (Carlos Santana and Casa Noble, Justin Timberlake and Sauza 901) clamoring for attention, there are also dozens of decades-old Mexican distilleries quietly (relatively speaking) producing top notch tequilas. One such brand that’s somewhat new to the U.S. market is Demetrio.
While tequila has a reputation with some as Mexican firewater that requires lime and salt to choke down, it may surprise you that Mexico has extensive and comprehensive regulations regarding tequila and its parent category, mezcal. These regulations are known as NOMs (Norma Oficial Mexicana), and included among the regulations is that each licensed distillery receives a government assigned NOM number, present on any bottle produced. Multiple online NOM databases can help you dig deeper into your bottle’s background. It’s not at all uncommon for a distillery to produce multiple brands of tequila, which a NOM database search will clearly show, as you’ll soon see.
Demetrio’s tequila originates at NOM 1459, known as Tequila Selecto de Amatitán, located in the city of Amatitán, population 20,000. The city, in the state of Jalisco, is smack in the middle of the lowland tequila producing region of Mexico. While all tequilas differ, in general, lowland tequilas tend to be earthier than their highland siblings.
The Tequila Selecto de Amatitán distillery started in 1942 and produces a number of brands in addition to Demetrio, including Los Tres Tonos and Blue Nectar. The distillery uses agave cut fresh from their own locally adjacent fields – 340,000 agave plants in total. After cooking the heart of the agave plant, known as the piña, the mixture is fermented in one of seventeen 30,000 liter tanks. The entire Demetrio line is made from 100 percent agave, a sign of a premium tequila. Lesser tequilas, known as mixtos, are produced with a combination of agave and other fermentable plants like sugar.
The distillation of Demetrio and its sibling brands occurs in stainless steel stills, rather than the copper used for most other types of high-end spirits – the presence of copper during distillation significantly changes the character of a spirit All the distillery’s tequilas are double-distilled; their six stills produce a total of 1500 liters new-make tequila per day.
Demetrio’s aged tequilas spend time in heavily charred, 200 liter French oak barrels, which the distillery has approximately 2000 on hand. Using the finer grained French oak barrels, which impart less vanilla flavors than you typically get with American oak barrels.
The Demetrio brand is imported into the U.S. by Ekeko Fine Wine and Spirits, who picked up the label in early 2015. (Ekeko also imports the Cartavio line of rums, reviewed here recently.) Ekeko currently imports three of the distillery’s products: Blanco, Reposado, and Anejo, and they’ll soon import the Extra Anejo when it’s ready. Ekeko graciously sent me the Blanco and Reposado to review here, so let’s take a look.
The Demetrio bottles are visually distinctive – taller and thinner than the average spirits bottle. They’re topped with synthetic cork and oversized, black wooden stopper. The back labels have an agave plant reverse silhouette. When the bottle is backlit and viewed from the front, the colorful image of the agave plant really pops out – blue for the Blanco, orange for the Reposado and Anejo.
The Blanco, as with all the Demetrio expressions, clocks in at 80 proof. The nose is dominated by the distinct agave notes expected in a blanco tequila. The entry starts out a bit understated, then explodes into full-blown agave. The Demetrio is less fruity and more savory than other high-end blanco tequilas I’ve experienced, and Mrs. Wonk detects a bit of brine. As the Blanco fades into the finish, the slightest bit of honey notes creep in. It retails for around $28 for a 750 ml, making it slightly less expensive than similar brands playing at this level, like Partida, Casa Noble, and Cabeza.
Moving on to the Reposado, we have a tequila that truly benefits from its nine to fourteen months in oak barrels. Nosing it provides orange and caramel in addition to the expected wave of agave. Sipping it reveals the Reposado to be pleasingly smooth, with a flash of orange peel. The agave-ness is toned down relative to the Blanco. In time, a touch of smoke and char emerges, likely the result of the heavy barrel char, and the finish segues into very pleasant honey tones. As with the Blanco, I find the Demetrio Reposado to be less ethereal and fruity than some reposados in this price range. At around $35 for 750 ml, it’s a tequila that’s a pleasure to sip and is underpriced relative to other reposados at comparable levels of quality.
All things considered, the Demetrio Blanco and Reposado are competitive in the premium tequila market, which is distinct from the “luxury” market – think $60 per bottle or more. They’re flavorful, solidly executed, and slightly underpriced for their value. Although only the contents should matter, presentation plays a big part in the perception of a spirit. Demetrio’s labeling, with its “Ye Olde World” fonts, try a bit too hard to convey a sense prestige, which feels dated compared to what other brands at this level are doing. Given the quality of the two expressions I tried, I’m eager to experience the Anejo and, when available, the Extra Anejo. If you’re a tequila aficionado, the Demetrio line is worth exploring.