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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.