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Del Maguey Wild Tepextate

Since this is my first Mezcal review, I thought it would be a great opportunity to review a Del Maguey Mezcal, as a gesture of honor. After all, not talking about Del Maguey—and in turn not talking about Ron Cooper when discussing Mezcal—seems wrong.

Who is Ron Cooper, you ask? I say, try to buy a copy of his book Finding Mezcal to find out. Without going into too much detail, Ron Cooper is the man responsible for Del Maguey. He is the reason why the world knows Mezcal today. Ron Cooper started Del Maguey in the ’90s, but before being known as the man who brought Mezcal to the world, he was (and still is) an artist. He spent a lot of time in Mexico, and he fell in love with Mezcal during his travels, so much so that he traveled from village to village to find a good producer. He’d bottle the Mezcal and take them back to the US to preach the way of the Maguey.

Another great thing about him is that he wasn’t selling them to get rich. He’d sell enough to get by, but also made sure he gave back to the communities of the palenqueros (Mezcal distillery owners) and/or Mezcaleros (Mezcal distillers). He’d help them build better palenque and would even help the Mezcal producers send their kids to college.

Mezcal seems like the inverse of whisky to me. Whisky is seen as the most premium and sexiest drink, for the most cultured of drinkers; it’s drunk by royalty, nobility and the wealthy, even in the old days. It is currently and mostly made in the richest of economies, starting its life from grain that’s harvested yearly. After fermentation and distillation, all that’s left is to wait for the preferred time as the distillate ages in casks.

On the other hand, Mezcal is still mainly seen as a hipster’s drink or something the geeky bartenders gravitate toward. Why should one pay for this expensive white spirit, one might ask? All white spirits should be cheap! To whomever has those thoughts, you are wrong. So very wrong. Let me tell you why.

It is drunk or used as a form of currency by the poor villagers in the struggling economy of Mexico. To give you an idea, most Mezcal distillery sites, called palanques, exist in backwater areas. Don’t let mention of the word distillery make you think of concrete buildings with modern equipment. Most palanques, before the Mezcal boom, were more like thatched huts or clay walls. They’re made in underdeveloped towns where the harshness of life is the only constant. Mezcal producers have to wait for an agave plant to age, to mature. Imagine what the agave farmers feel as the plant endures the weather, insects and diseases, caring for plots of land, waiting years for a harvest that may never come. Once fully mature, the plant is killed upon harvest.

The production process is often done by hand. The Espadin variety, which takes at least 7 years to mature, grows up to 5 or 6 feet and weigh at around 100kg. They are then chopped to smaller sizes and put in a pit dug in the ground to be roasted. Mezcal, after all, means “cooked agave.” They are roasted underground along with hot stones or charred wood for days. This is where the smoky flavor comes from. After roasting, the cooked agave is crushed, usually with a tahona powered donkey, to extract the juice. Then the juice is fermented for days along with some agave fibers and/or leaves. The fermentation usually occurs in open vat wooden vessels in the outdoors. Only then it is distilled.

After all that work, it is sad that what the majority of drinkers usually only see is a “dirty” white spirit. A spirit whose inner unpretentious beauty is ignored by those ignorant of what truly contributes to flavor in spirits. The years of waiting for this plant to mature and die for this liquid diamond are worth the time it takes to get there.

According to Jay Schroeder’s Understanding Mezcal, Wild Tepextate is a slow-maturing variety of agave that takes 15 to 35 years to mature. Emphasis on the wild part, because some agave are like truffles. They can’t be cultivated, unlike the commonly used Espadin, which comprises 90% of the agave used for Mezcal production. On a side note, Espadin is also called Blue Webber agave— the only agave that can be used for Tequila production. I’ve heard of attempts to cultivate some variety of this agave, but they didn’t mature as well as the wild ones. As for the maturation span required:15 to 35 years?! Imagine what can happen in that long span of time! That’s four to nine presidential terms!

The weather is not well-suited to the agave. Bugs eat agave. Some sorts of agave sickness exist. Imagine: how many agave of this kind needs to be harvested to produce a few hundred bottles? Why don’t spirits like these, that have nothing to hide behind but the distiller’s talent and raw materials, cost more again? Ask the marketing people.

Del Maguey Wild Tepextate – review

Color: Liquid diamond.

On the nose: Strong and lingering scents of smoke, agave, jalapeno and earthiness, followed by alternating scents of peppers, bell peppers, lime and lemon peel; hints of cinnamon, pineapple skin, pineapple pulp, lemon and lime juice; charred wood, sugarcane syrup, and end in a floral note similar to strawberries and honey.

In the mouth: Floral agave notes with a buttery texture are followed by a light, yet lingering bell pepper and jalapeno flavor, sugarcane syrup, pineapple juice, diluted watermelon juice, and cinnamon syrup.

Conclusions

It’s unfortunate that the “smokey tequila” selling point is what sticks and sells whisky drinkers who try Mezcal. It just has so much more to offer. The nose is super complex. It alternates from earthy to citrusy to floral sweetness. Moving the glass one foot away from me allows me to smell only the floral notes. I can smell this all day. This is one of the few 45% ABV spirits that don’t give off ethanol in the nose. The nose takes up all the glory, sadly. The bright spot with the lackluster flavor is the difference in taste the Tepextate agave gives versus an Espadin agave.

One of the better Mezcal I’ve had, coming from Del Maguey or not. I’d say this is worth the $100 I paid for in Hi-Time Wine, just because it’s my first Wild Tepextate mezcal. This release is available via Master of Malt for £110.

The increased demand in Mezcal is causing a supply scare for cultivated, and even more so for wild, agave. As a result, I’m trying to support brands that ensure sustainability.

Score: 7/10

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CategoriesMezcal
John
John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    John, glad to see you’re joining the MALT mezcal appreciation society. It’s a magical beverage, and I’d strongly encourage you to go to Oaxaca and see it being made for yourself.

    To answer your question: we don’t need a marketing department to clarify pricing. Mezcal benefits from both low capital and operating costs. A palenque, as you note, is a fairly rudimentary setup. The raw materials are harvested in the wild, for only the cost of cutting down the maguey. Labor is relatively cheap, as Oaxaca is one of the poorest regions of the country.

    Also, unlike whisky – where releasing a 30 year old expression would require you to have distilled and aged some for 30 years, or to pay someone else for having gone to the trouble to do so – you or I could go cut down a 30 year old Tepeztate today.

    The sustainability issues are obvious, especially as mezcal booms in popularity. If you can find a copy, I discussed these in depth in an article in Distilled magazine. Jay Schroeder weighed in, as well as some of the folks on the ground who are leading the conservation efforts. You may find it informative. Otherwise, I touched on these challenges in my review of Bruxo #4 and #5 here on MALT, which may also be worth a read.

    Cheers!

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Taylor,

      I’ve been into Mezcal for a few years now. But it’s been mostly via cocktails. Also because it’s hard to get in Asia, all I’ve been able to get are espadin. Oaxaca is in my bucket list! It will take me a while to get there as I’ve set my sights on the EU for now.

      My question regarding Mezcal was just me wondering out loud. It’s something I’m quite torn on. I want more people to drink Mezcal but I know it will also lead to scarcity, lessening of quality and price increases.

      I’ll look up the Bruxo reviews.

      Cheers,

      1. Avatar
        Welsh Toro says:

        Great to see both of you Malsters getting involved in conversation. I completely agree with both of you about Mezcal. It’s a fantastic drink, truly artisan and worth it. Ron Cooper is a legend. The only Tepextate I’ve had is the Pierde Almas (55% – the maximum abv allowable) which is excellent as I have no doubt the Del Maguey is also. Cheers. WT

        1. John
          John says:

          Hi WT,

          Mezcal is amazing. I’m lucky to be exploring it now. I feel that later on it will be more expensive and harder to get as it gains more fame. It’s another fun and unexplored world.

          1. Avatar
            Welsh Toro says:

            You know John, I’m not so sure it will take off. We love it but it’s quite a weird spirit for people that grow up on vodka and gin. It’s also pretty expensive for all the reasons we describe. I don’t see much movement from the whisky drinkers into this territory either and I’ve been singing the praises of mezcal for years. Even Ralfy can’t persuade them. It’s clearly far more popular Stateside but still a bit niche. Let’s hope they stick to tequila.

  2. Avatar
    Alejandro says:

    Good article. This, however, is incorrect: “On a side note, Espadin is also called Blue Webber agave— the only agave that can be used for Tequila production.”
    Espadin is not (i)Agave tequilana Weber(/i), or blue agave, its scientific name is (i)Agave angustifolia Haw(/i) and can also be called by the “common” names of Espadilla, Bacanora, Criollo, and several others.

    Personally I’d also disagree with saying that Tepextate agave (Agave marmorata) is lacklustre in flavour compared to Espadin. That’s like saying all Islay whisky have a better nose but a worse flavour than Speyside. It all depends on the producer (did they know how to work with the plant? did they respect the flavours of agave and terroir? what type of process did they use?), on the agave themselves and the conditions in which they grew for decades, the terroir, and sometimes even on the fact that unknown to most consumers, some producers “blend” small quantities of Espadin in with the wild agaves to make up volume. Tepextate isn’t naturally less flavourful than Espadin, that’s just Del Maguey. And as far as them ensuring sustainability… well, we’ll see. Ron’s work is indisputable and a great origin story, but their acquisition by Pernod Ricard still has some people worried about possible industrialisation. I could offer some sustainable alternatives if you’re interested.

    Salud!

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Alejandro,

      Thank you for the comment. Most of the agave I’ve had are only Espadin. And based on my experience, the DM Tepex lacked in flavor when compared to Espadin released from brands like Fidencio, Sombra and Derrumbes. But the nose of the DM Tepex is amazing.

      I too am worried about Pernod acquiring DM. Which is why I have shifted my attention to other brands lately.

      I hope to have more comments from you soon. Mezcal and the world of agave is something I am eager to learn more about. But the lack of resources can be frustrating at times.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Tex,
      I wouldn’t call it that. I really love Mezcal. It’s a very underrated spirit… for now. It’s like another mystery for me to solve

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