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Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris calls the shots and discovers the world of fine tequilas.

 

Make mine a margarita

Holy guacamole! The Mexican town of Tequila is home to more than 1,000 brands of tequila. Just like the rule that champagne can only be produced in its home region of France, 100% agave tequila can only be produced from the Weber blue agave plant found close to that part of Mexico.

As the Americas' first distilled drink, dating back to the early 1500s, tequila's history is as long and rich as the drink itself. The state of Jalisco, to the west of Mexico, is a protected World Heritage Site and its highlands and valleys are home to vast blue agave fields.

Sensitive like grapes, agaves need the right climate and soil for their thick, spiky blue-grey leaves to grow, and take a minimum of seven to eight years to mature and produce their distinctive taste and bite.

With distilleries and haciendas producing three different styles of tequila: blanco, reposado and anjeo, the wheel of flavours can turn from peppery, herbal and floral to smooth, sweet and citrusy.

And while Mexico's national drink is famously enjoyed neat in a shot glass with salt and a lime wedge, the following margarita recipes include 'ritas that are fresh, tangy and elegant with just the right amount of sweetness.

Part of the Casa Herradura portfolio, and the number one-selling tequila in Mexico, El Jimador Tequila Blanco (£14 from £18.35, until July 24, 70cl, Waitrose) is an easy-mixing tequila that fires up the mouth with a citrus sweetness, and it's unbeatable quality at the price.

To serve it like a pro, run a wedge of lime around the rim of a cocktail glass, dip the rim into a saucer of salt, shake off any excess and chill in the freezer before shaking.


:: El Jimador Mexican Margarita

45ml El Jimador Blanco, 15ml Triple Sec, 15ml lime juice

Half fill a shaker with ice, add the ingredients and shake well. Strain into a margarita glass rimmed with salt (optional), and garnish with a lime wedge.

A favourite in swish hotel bars, Patron Silver (£43.29, 70cl, Waitrose) is the top-selling ultra-premium tequila in the world. Hand-selected and distilled in small batches, it's a soft and sweet peppery blanco that can be sipped neat or mixed.


:: Perfect Patron Margarita

45ml Patron Silver, 15ml orange liqueur, orange juice, juice of half a lime, sweet and sour mix

Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add Patron Silver, orange liqueur, orange juice, lime juice, and sweet and sour mix. Shake well, strain, and serve in a martini glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Another combination of sweetness and pepper, Don Julio Blanco (£44.49, 70cl, www.thedrinkshop.com) has a vanilla character with a delicate herbal note and hails from agave plants that can be aged up to 13 years. Best served on its own or in a margarita, here's a sweet tip for the recipe below.

Note to self: Agave syrup can be found in the health food aisle of major supermarkets, and works as a sugar substitute if you find a recipe too tart; or if it's too sweet, add more lime.


:: Fresh Agave Margarita

50ml Don Julio Blanco, 25ml agave syrup, fresh lime juice, lime wedge

Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add Don Julio Blanco, fresh lime juice and agave syrup. Shake well and pour into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.


A slight twist on the original version, Cointreau's (£17.99, 70cl, major supermarkets) global ambassador Dita Von Teese has cast her name to the MargaDita - a reinvention of the classic margarita using this top-shelf orange liqueur, the bitter-sweet orange flavours and subtle rose notes from Monin's flavoured syrup kick it up a notch.


:: MargaDita Cocktail

25ml Cointreau, 25ml blanco tequila, 25ml fresh lime juice, bar spoon of Monin Rose Syrup, 1 pinch chipotle spice

Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the ingredients, shake vigorously and pour into a chilled coupette glass. Garnish with floating organic yellow rose petals. And for an added kick, add chipotle to the salted rim.

Reposados and anjeos are aged longer than blancos (bottled within 60 days of distillation), and they're worth seeking out. Reposados can be matured for two to 11 months, and anejo a minimum of one year.

Good for sipping with ceviche, oysters, tortillas and salsa, try Ocho Reposado Tequila (Los Mangos) (£26, 50cl, Harvey Nichols nationwide). A single estate tequila aged for eight weeks and eight days, it's spicy, full and smooth with a hint of smoke and ideal served at room temperature.

Alternatively, for a complex, oaky expression, try Casa Ambar Ambar Anejo Tequila (£64.95, 70cl, www.harrods.com). A real showpiece with golden tequila inside the glass stopper, it's aged for 18 months and can be sipped like a fine cognac. With a creme brulee profile and notes of caramel and vanilla, sit back and enjoy a Mexican wave "Jalisco style" from this subtle, sweet beauty.


:: Best buy

Game on! To celebrate the Glorious 12th (August 12), and the start of the grouse season, Dourthe has released Diane de Belgrave 2008 (£15, Oddbins) from its fifth growth property, Chateau Belgrave, in the Haut-Medoc. A classic Left Bank Bordeaux, its deep plummy fruits, spice and full-bodied palate are the perfect match with grouse and gamey meats.

:: Liquid news

Bacardi goes back to its roots... To celebrate its 150th Birthday, the Bacardi family's master blenders have created a rare blend in honour of their ancestor and founder, Don Facundo Bacardi Masso. A blend of the finest Bacardi vintage rums, aged in oak barrels for up to 20 years, and finished in 60-year-old cognac barrels, only 1,000 crystal decanters of Bacardi MMX11 Vintage (£1,999, 50cl, specialist drinks stockists) have been produced, with 50 on sale in the UK. Exceptionally fruity, raisin-rich and aromatic, with a silky honeyed, oaky finish, this Cuban corker is available at The American Bar, The Savoy, London for £300 a glass (50ml measure) - ideal for rum lovers with a taste for the high life.

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