How to Choose the Best Tequila This Cinco de Mayo, According to a Tequila Expert
If you’re anything like us, you start craving margaritas the moment the calendar strikes May, thanks to Cinco de Mayo. But you don’t need to spend much time in the liquor store to realize that there’s a whole slew of tequilas to choose from—and some of them are probably less than spectacular. How do you weed out the duds, you ask? We called on Audrey Formisano, tequilera at Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa, for guidance on shopping authentic tequila stateside. Here are her top tips for buying the best tequila you can find.
1. Check the Label
Any product labeled “tequila” should provide some basic information to the buyer about its quality and authenticity. “The red flag for me [is] if the bottle doesn’t say where [the tequila] comes from, the location of the producers and if there is no certification stamp,” explains Formisano.
The location matters because authentic tequila is only made in the Mexican state of Jalisco or select municipalities in the states of Michoacan, Nayarit, Guanajuato and Tamaulipas. The certification Formisano is referring to is one from the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), or the Tequila Regulatory Council. Much like Champagne, tequila is governed by this council to ensure that production, bottling and labeling are all in line with the Norma Official Mexico (NOM), or the Official Mexican Standard of Tequila. The CRT reassesses NOM standards every few years with the help of the National Industry Tequila Chambers (CNIT), a group of tequila producers that are responsible for making almost all of the overseen tequila.
The certification process allows the CRT to ensure that only authentic tequila hits the international market. Quality tequilas that have been permitted to be exported have a NOM number or the initials CRT on their label. So, if you’re on the fence about a bottle but don’t see either on the label, keep looking.
2. Only Buy Tequila Made with 100 Percent Blue Agave
If you’ve ever wondered what the difference between tequila and mezcal is, it all comes down to the agave and how it’s prepared. Tequila must hail from Jalisco (or one of a few specific municipalities in the aforementioned states) and be made exclusively from blue agave. Mezcal is defined as any agave-based liquor (including other popular spirits like raicilla and sotol), and there are more than 30 types of agave that it can be made from. Formisano says that any product labeled “tequila” should also say that it’s made with 100 percent blue agave right on the bottle. If it doesn’t, choose another.
3. Don’t Feel Pressured to Spend A Lot
In Formisano’s opinion, there are a number of quality tequilas available stateside, and they’re not even excessively fancy or expensive. “From what I remember from my trip to the states, Don Julio has an [authentic] quality, whether it’s Blanco or Reposado,” she says. “Herradura delivers the same quality, [too].” A 375-milliliter bottle of Don Julio Blanco will cost you $27, while Herradura’s equivalent is even more affordable at $20, so don’t think you need to shell out a ton of cash to make a quality marg. (However, that doesn’t mean that expensive, high-end tequilas aren’t worth the dough—many of them definitely are.)
You may have also noticed many celebrities making their own tequilas nowadays, from George Clooney to The Rock. While some tequila experts see this as a bad omen for the industry and for smaller family-owned tequila producers (like @thelucasassis_ on TikTok), Formisano sees an upside to the trend. “The fact that many celebrities are interested in producing tequila also means that it’s being taken more seriously, and for that I am very glad,” she says. “Kendall Jenner is one of the latest that I’ve heard [of], and I truly hope she knows tequilas, but more importantly, has the passion for it.”
4. Know Your Taste
In the nearly 20 years that Formisano has been working in the tequila industry, she’s no doubt sipped an unreal number of tequilas. And yet, she doesn’t think a singular “perfect” tequila exists—it all comes down to your personal taste. “I truly believe that the one you like the most is the perfect one for you,” she explains. “It depends on your taste, your background on drinks—even for me [it’s] impossible to say. To me, the perfect [tequila] will be the one that I drink depending on the moment and the people that I am with.”
We’ll cheers to that.