“I’m laughing because I know the secret of life. The secret of life is that I have validated my existence” – Carlos Santana
Fortaleza is a tequila brand that surely needs no introduction. To know it is to know it carries a groundbreaking legacy that spans five generations and began over 150 years ago. To know it is to know the dizzying heights tequila, as a category, can truly ascend to. To know it is to know it is one of the best of the best.
This is not hyperbole.
Fortaleza is perhaps the brand most frequently cited as the finest sipping sipping tequila on the market, and it’s not just ivory tower critics saying so. In all of my conversations with bartenders across the country, in speaking to tequila enthusiasts, and in chats with practically anyone in-the-know, Fortaleza is almost universally named as the tequila par excellence. Having previously reviewed their stellar Still Strength Blanco, even I have felt inclined to add my voice to the chorus.
Surely, at this point, it’s the wise man who casts cynicism on unanimity. I make no claim to profound wisdom, but indeed I found myself intrigued that a single brand could command such high praise from seemingly all concerned parties. So, in an attempt to quell my nagging skepticism, I sought out a few Fortaleza samples “for research purposes” so that I could selfishly quiet my inner voice while simultaneously edifying you, dear reader. It is my pleasure to do so today.
Let it be said that I typically like to follow the lead of magicians and leave the reveal for the end. Typically, I use this preamble to remark on either what I find commendable or cause for criticism about a given brand. In magic, this first step is known as the Pledge: revealing an ordinary object and setting the stage for the extraordinary to unfold. The Turn, or the second stage, is “where the magic happens,” and in this format that would be the body of the actual review – tasting notes and the likes – when the liquid either delights or disappoints. Finally there comes the Prestige, that would be the “Conclusions” and “Score” portions, where all three parts come together to complete the trick. It’s not enough to show the rabbit then make it disappear, one must conclude with pulling the rabbit out of a hat.
I say all of this because I’d like to dispense with the entire act and cut to the chase: all three of the expressions I will be reviewing today are fantastic. My inner naysayer is silenced, the harmonious chorus of voices can be heartily commended, and we can simply parse the differences between each of them because they are all indeed wonderful tequilas.
I hope this doesn’t ruin the magic for anyone, but it seems absurd to attempt a trick with an audience that knows the outcome. The secret has already been revealed because of the fact that so many folks are in agreement about Fortaleza’s superlative quality, so it seems best that we get right down to discerning what makes these expressions so enchanting.
Today I will be reviewing Tequila Fortaleza Blanco, Tequila Fortaleza Reposado, and Tequila Fortaleza Reposado Winter Blend 2022. Beginning with the Blanco, it comes from NOM 1493 using 100% blue weber agave sourced from Tequila Valley that is cooked in a hybrid stone/brick oven using steam (an innovation Fortaleza’s forbearer Don Cenobio popularized), ground with a tahona stone wheel, and double distilled in copper pots. This expression is then bottled at 80 proof (40% ABV) and sold for a SRP of $50. It should be said that I will be trying a sample provided to me by Tequila Fortaleza at no personal cost to myself, though that will not affect my scoring.
To pluck but one voice from the chorus of approving critics, Grover Sanschagrin the founder of Tequila Matchmaker had this to say: “This is probably the best blanco on the planet.”
Tequila Fortaleza Blanco – Review
Color: Crystal clear.
On the nose: The nose is profuse with the aroma of honeydew melon, star anise, green olives, and black pepper. As these scents waft out of the glass they make room for subtler notes of cooked agave, a slight salinity, orange oil, and herbal tea. All of the aromas are built on the interplay of anise and olive with the melon, orange, and agave softening those dense punches. It all smells wonderful.
In the mouth: Anise, black pepper, and green olive cease the floor as the most prominent palate notes, while the faint citrus flavor of expressed orange peel flits at the periphery of the tongue. On the middle of the tongue a certain Earthiness takes shape, almost like potting soil, though this quickly dissipates, allowing space for a mint-like note to develop. This sip concludes with the agave from the nose, and a hint of vanilla with salinity lingering through the finish.
As promised this pour delivered in every way, captivating from the initial aroma through the finish of every sip. Considering the price you’d be hard pressed to find many better tequila expressions, and while $50 is certainly not “cheap,” this is a fantastic value tequila that is well-worth enjoying neat.
Next we will consider Fortaleza’s Reposado. Again we have a product of NOM 1493 with 100% blue weber agave sourced from Tequila Valley that is cooked in a hybrid stone/brick oven, stone ground, and double distilled in copper pots. For the Reposado each lot is individually aged in American oak. It comes in at 80 proof (40% ABV), carries a SRP of about $55, and again this was a sample provided to me at no cost by the brand.
To highlight yet another seasoned critic Lou Agave of Long Island Lou Tequila says, “This is the best repo I ever had.”
Tequila Fortaleza Reposado – Review
Color: Light white peach tea.
On the nose: A beguiling blend of cookie dough, agave syrup, and caramel take center stage at first pass. After a few swirls a white peach note presents itself and the agave gains in prominence before being joined by a touch of oak vanillin, rising cinnamon, and a lovely pad of butter. I couldn’t help but remark to myself that it’s all very well integrated as I nosed my glass a bit longer than I did for the blanco. Where the blanco is a bit more piquant, the reposado is on the whole mellower, though in no way less enticing.
In the mouth: On the palate butter and cinnamon announce themselves first in a mouth watering medley that also includes caramel, agave, and interestingly even some Parmesan cheese which features most prominently on the back end. The oak influence is delicately integrated making this a fantastic well rounded pour with a great mouthfeel and a gently simmering finish.
While the blanco arguably has a more interesting array of flavors, the reposado has a number of flavors that simply blend better together, making it altogether more approachable without sacrificing any complexity. These two expressions occupy opposite sides of the same coin in that they’re incredible values and exceedingly enjoyable, but I will say despite a slight uptick in price I preferred the reposado.
Last up we have Tequila Fortaleza’s limited edition Reposado Winter Blend for 2022. For this expression they take all the typical steps noted above, but age their Still Strength Blanco distillate separately in American oak barrels, used former Oloroso barrels, and used Tokaji barrels. It should be noted that though it’s not mentioned in the materials provided to me by the brand, other sources have mentioned that this expression is also aged in French Oak barrels. The tequila is then blended and bottled at 87 proof (43.5% ABV) and sold at a much beefier SRP of $115.
For our final insightful luminary I offer this quote from my own mother who said, “Oh, that’s smooth!”
Tequila Fortaleza Reposado Winter Blend 2022 – Review
Color: A slight shade darker than the standard repo.
On the nose: Popcorn and gooey caramel are both extremely evident on the nose and they sashay out of the way to allow cooked agave, candied walnuts, melted butter, and a faint peach aroma to strut their stuff. It’s a far more expressive nosing experience than the typical reposado, with a good dose of additional complexity, making this my favorite nosing experience of the bunch.
In the mouth: It begins with a surprisingly fruity palate, with agave buttressing white peach and caramel flavors on the tongue. Soon, melted butter and diluted vanilla ice cream make an appearance in addition to some slight nutmeg and cinnamon spice. It has a restrained sweetness that shows more refinement than the typical reposado as well as a slightly more prominent oak presence with increased bite on the finish.
This manages to take the complexity of the standard reposado up several notches as it immediately makes a more marked impression with both the aroma and flavor on the palate. I didn’t dislike one thing about this tequila as it presents great balance and a fun bouquet of flavor that is a clear progression over its predecessor. That said, I don’t know that it warrants such a steep price hike, and that’s before one considers the mark-ups that many local stores will place on this bottle. I’ve yet to see it locally for south of $150, and that’s on the extreme low end. While this is certainly my favorite of the bunch, I think value-wise one would be best to appreciate either Fortaleza’s Still Strength Blanco or their standard Reposado.