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SUNDAY BRUNCH | Liquid City

Tequila: A Titillating Spirit

September 13, 1998|CHRIS RUBIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Ritz-Carlton Cancun has what may be the world's most famous tequila bar, with a handpicked selection of 120 bottles and its own special sommelier. But tequila is no longer something only found across the border and at Mexican and Southwestern restaurants.

It's practically everywhere.

Even the bar at Hotel Bel-Air stocks a variety of the premium bottles, from Patron and Herradura to Casta and Porfidio. Sommelier Robert Cross reports that tequila sales, especially of Patron, have been strong this summer, both as straight shots and blended in margaritas.

At Newsroom in West Hollywood, Eddie Caraeff stocks about 40 different bottles, including El Tesoro and Chinaco, and nearly one-fourth of his bar sales come from the Mexican spirit. (The No. 1 seller here is the refreshing watermelon margarita, made with fresh-squeezed limes and melons from the restaurant's fruit bar.) Also popular--and educational--is a tasting flight, with miniature glasses of four tequilas and one mescal.

Why is tequila so hot?

Patron owner Martin Crowley speculates that the surge in interest comes from "the feeling you get--it's different from drinking vodka or gin. It's more of a psychotropic effect, whether real or imagined."

Several books on the subject have recently come out, including "The Tequila Lover's Guide to Mexico" (Wine Patrol Press) by Lance Cutler, a former winemaker, and "The Book of Tequila" (Open Court) by Bob Emmons. Each offers an excellent introduction to the exotic, centuries-old spirit and a guide to some of the lesser-known brands.

Many tequilas made in Mexico have yet to be sold here. One of the newest entries on the American market is El Distilador Reposado, a high-quality, budget-priced bottle, available at Wine Expo ($19.99 a liter) in Santa Monica, where they also carry the premium Casta brand.

A recent trend in tequila is the introduction of high-priced bottles, including Herradura's Seleccion Suprema ($275), Jose Cuervo's Coleccion ($1,000) and Porfidio's Barrique ($500). These tequilas tend to be dark and heavily oaked, more like bourbons.

Most interesting of all is El Tesoro's new Paradiso Anejo ($95), created in a partnership with cognac maker Alain Royer, who shipped over used cognac barrels and supervised the blending process. But this "tequila with a French accent" doesn't taste like a cognac--it just tastes like the perfect tequila.

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