Marca Negra San Martín and Tepeztate

Following Jason’s forays into mezcal and my maiden voyage with the Los Danzantes Tobalá, I am today considering two varieties of mezcal bottled under the Marca Negra label.

On my recent trip to Mexico, I noticed bottles of Marca Negra (“black mark”) almost everywhere. The distinctive design (a black handprint on the label and bottle) caught my eye, and my interest was piqued when I noticed the variety of agaves available. I tried a glass or two and found them high quality, prompting the purchase of the two bottles being reviewed today.

Marca Negra is the mezcal equivalent of whisky’s independent bottlers. Seeking out traditional mezcal producers all over Mexico, the company bottles these with labels indicating origin, batch and bottle number, and bearing the signature of the master mezcalero responsible for them.

The company’s website provides even more detail on each, down to milling and distillation methods. There are also sketches of each of the maguey plants, which are worth reviewing if only as a reminder of the diversity within genus Agave.

As with whisky, this is the type of transparency that is championed here at MALT. It makes us better-informed and more appreciative consumers, particularly in an area such as mezcal where the “installed base” of knowledge, for most of us, is not as high.

¡Vamanos! Onto the reviews!

Starting with the San Martín: this was made in La Noria, Ejutla, Oaxaca, by Maestro Basilio Pacheco. The maguey is wild grown, harvested at 10-12 years, and milled using the traditional tahona (stone wheel) method. A column-and-plate distillation yields the resultant spirit.

This is Lot #XBP10-18, bottle #484/1090, bottled at 49.1%. I paid MXN $1,000 for 750 ml. Master of Malt is selling this release for £74.02.

Marca Negra San Martín – Taylor’s Review

Color: None to speak of.

On the nose: Lime, English mustard, Sal de Gusano, aloe vera, serrano peppers. Sweet confectionary note of sugar calaveras.

In the mouth: Very delicate. More smoky salt at the midpalate. Faint sugary sweetness before a vegetal note of celery, mint sprigs, and a dry stony note.

Score: 7/10

Marca Negra San Martín – Jason’s Review

Color: Like Jura. Devoid of any substance.

On the nose: A walk amongst damp fir trees, with raindrops cascading downwards propelling their oily, minty, vegetative scent. Freshly grated lime zest. More damp wood and grapefruit followed by all-spice, fennel and watermelon.

In the mouth: Oily and gentle in nature with a slow reveal presentation. Green olives, mace, grapefruit, fennel, warming spices and liquorice. A delicate silver needle tea underlines the subtle nature of this mezcal. With a sprinkling of cinnamon, fruit sugars and a bag of decorative pebbles opened and dumped into a garden space.

Score: 6/10

Moving on to the Tepeztate. This was made in San Luis del Río, Tlacolula, Oaxaca, by Maestro Francisco Méndez. Once again, the maguey is wild grown, harvested at an age of 20-30 years. As with the San Martín, a tahona milling is undertaken before a double-distillation in a copper pot still.

This is Lot #XFM35-19, bottle #918/1120, bottled at 50.5%. I paid MXN $1,400 for 750ml.

Marca Negra Tepeztate – Jason’s Review

Color: Clear! All Clear!

On the nose: More fruity juicy and oily but in a different way. This feels more fragrant and opaque. A different beast. Marzipan, liquorice root, white grapes, grapefruit and chalky with resin and apples. Mint leaf, fruity sugars and freshly snapped asparagus.

In the mouth: Flatter initially. Traditional green tints and vegetative apparel. It’s not as pronounced as I expected after the nose. Distant almost. There are lemon and memories of limescale after a good bathroom clean – something I’ve had to do regularly due to a parade of guests. Towards the finish, we have freshly roasted Pardon peppers. Red chard leaves and radishes.

Score: 6/10

Marca Negra Tepeztate – Taylor’s Review

Color: Still none.

On the nose: More intensely aromatic than the San Martín. Aniseed, the sickly-sweet scent of rotten flowers, lime salt, and a smokily vegetal scent of green stalks thrown on a campfire.

In the mouth: Not delicate in the least. A burst of juicy citrus turns into a mouth-coating midpalate with roasted nopales and herbal notes of fenugreek and rosemary. Finishes with another squeeze of lime juice and a long mineral note that lingers forever on the back of the tongue and the top of the throat. It’s possible to taste this a full minute after the last sip.

Score: 8/10

Jason’s Conclusions

These matchups demonstrate the depth and range of flavours available in a mere mezcal. It is fascinating that simple plant can give so much once cultivated by the local population.

I enjoyed both of these solid offerings without being blown away. Sometimes I feel sitting at a table in Scotland that I’m missing that environmental element that lifts up a mezcal i.e. sunshine. Just like drinking a whisky in California with baking sunshine. You’re not getting the full experience without a drab, cold, wet and windy Scottish day.

Roll on climate change…

Taylor’s Conclusions

The Tepeztate is the more burly of the two, but also more flavorful. The finish, in particular, is impressive for its interminable length. That said, there’s plenty to like about the San Martín, particularly the delightfully spicy nose.

On the strength of these two offerings, and the high degree of transparency provided by Marca Negra more generally, I would deem them worthy of your custom should you ever find a bottle.

There is a commision link here should you wish to purchase a bottle. Such things don’t influence our opinion.

  1. PBMichiganWolverine says:

    20-30yrs???!! I know we discussed this earlier, but I’m just floored by how long some of these wild varieties have to be cultivated. It’s relatively easier to store barrels of whisky in a warehouse 20-30yrs, but growing a plant that long is an entirely different story. Not mention the question of a sustainable resource

    1. Taylor says:

      PB, nice to hear from you again. It is, indeed, mind-blowing how long these plants mature for. It also makes them uniquely susceptible to over harvesting and potentially extinction. Fortunately some good work is being done to preserve and propagate species, but this threat will always loom. Thanks again and GO BLUE!

  2. Welsh Toro says:

    Great to have both of your opinions for this brand. In fairness Del Maguey, perhaps the biggest Mezcal gun of all, has a great website which is very informative. Mezcal by its nature is craft business if it wants to survive. Many producers restrict over-harvesting and actively replant. It’s very common to run out of an expression and have to wait for the next years batch. I’ve been eyeing up Marca Negra because they are reasonably priced for quality mezcal so thanks for the review. Agree with Jason that environment plays a part in the experience. Tuscan and Umbrian wine always seems to taste better there than back in blighty. I’ll have to take a bottle of good mezcal with me the next time I go to Andalucia.

    1. Taylor says:

      Cheers for the feedback WT. Mezcal is a bit more complicated: the palenques are often small-scale family operations selling their produce to larger concerns like Del Maguey. It’s very challenging to enact any kind of meaningful restriction on over-harvesting, because the financial incentive for cutting down maguey today can outweigh the long-term sustainability concerns, particularly for someone that needs cash in their pocket. Not to mention the fact that mezcal booms and busts have often left the smaller concerns out to dry in the lean times.

      If you can swing it, I’d highly advise taking a trip to Oaxaca to witness all this firsthand. not only is the region home to some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life, but artisanal production of everything – pottery, rugs, and indeed mezcal – is an ongoing way of life. Happy to provide recommendations if you ever make it down there.

      Thanks again,

      1. Welsh Toro says:

        Wow, I can’t remember the review or the comment. Just to let you know I recently bought the Marca Negra Tobala which I highly recommend. I would love to visit Oaxaca to try the great food and drink. If I ever make it happen I’ll let you know.


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