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Spirits: A few more shots of tequila

In my most recent column, I asked, "Is tequila the new vodka?" I was pleased to see this question taken up by various writers and commenters.

In particular, over on A Jigger of a Blog, Matt Browner Hamlin writes thoughtfully in response:

"I think Wilson is missing something important. While no one had really felt the urge to spend $50 on a bottle of flavorless spirit before Grey Goose exploded with the help of celebrities, there is plenty of high quality, rare, and legitimately super premium tequila on the market now. While there is sure to be more brands that launch themselves exclusively to, well, look exclusive, it’s hard for me to see this as dramatically changing the market."

Hamlin's point is that vodka is popular "because it tastes like whatever you mix it with and for most people – rappers, actors, and athletes included – the taste of tonic or cranberry juice is a lot more enjoyable than a spirit." On the other hand, he insists, tequila is "a complex, savory, dynamic spirit that is greatly influenced by terroir. How it is made, where it is made, how it is aged – these are all factors which determine flavor."

Camper English on the blog Alcademics, made a similar point back in June: "Tequila is not vodka. It has flavor. Consumers want a little bit of flavor, with the average consumer not wanting too much."

I think that's selling spirits consumers a little short. A lot has changed since Grey Goose grew to popularity in the late 1990s. More and more people have discovered fine spirits beyond vodka, and now I believe a wide swath of drinkers are looking for something with more distinct flavor. (However, the bloggers' point about tequila and terroir is certainly accurate, and one that I have made numerous times.)

Robert Simonsen, who writes about cocktails for the New York Times, emailed me yesterday, and told me he'd been hearing from a number of sources that "Entourage" is having a big effect on improving tequila's image. "Perhaps," he wrote, "it will be to tequila what 'Sideways' was to Pinot Noir." If that's the case, would vodka be the equivalent of merlot?

By the way, as I was chronicling the pop cultural rise of tequila, I did accidentally forget to mention those 1800 Tequila commercials starring Michael Imperioli of "The Sopranos."

In my favorite of those ads, Imperioli poignantly asks, "What happened to tequila? These days it's all velvet ropes and posturing."

-- Jason Wilson
Follow him on Twitter.

By Jason Wilson  |  September 10, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Spirits  | Tags: Jason Wilson, spirits  
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