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Smoke and Mirrors

Seven palates, four mezcals and 400 gods

By Christina Waters

THE ADAGE THAT 'MANY ARE CALLED, FEW ARE CHOSEN' definitely applies to an invitation to taste rare, limited edition mezcals. No one--including mezcal virgins--turned me down when I asked for help sampling the quartet of handmade mezcals that constitute the current Del Maguey product line.

Naturally, these same volunteers tittered a lot when I laid out the gorgeous bottles of Oaxaqueño white lightning, each colorfully labeled and packaged within a woven palm fiber jacket. Working in the order suggested by the experts, we began our tasting.

San Luis Del Rio
96.6 proof. An earthy, very smoky sip with a warm finish, this has as close to a bite as you can get and still have good manners. Once they'd regained their breath, the samplers jumped in with comments. Some detected spice and a top note of citrus, others tasted aromatic elements of sagebrush, peppers and mesquite. Created in a village at 8,000 feet elevation two hours south of the city of Oaxaca, this gorgeous mezcal is made in a landscape of bromeliads, iguanas and vast fields of corn.

Chichicapa
95.6 proof. Next we sampled this buttery, more floral number with a light nose and some detectable tones of mint and grapefruit. While more complex in the middle, this one lacked the fragrant nose of the first mezcal. Opinions on the Chichicapa were mixed, with several of the seven finding it unlikable. Made by Faustino Garcia Vasquez, this mezcal hails from a valley whose tropical climate produces bananas, guava and mango.

Santo Domingo Albarradas
98.4 proof. Located at a serious altitude of 8,500 feet, this offering is made in a tropical zone that actually resembles parts of Hawaii, with tropical plants, mountain streams--and spectacularly pure water. Sampling the handiwork of palenqueros Espiridion Morales Luis and his son Juan, we all agreed that this was one complex mezcal. One taster commented on the lingering flavor. Another called it herbal and plant-like. Still another missed the smoky quality and found it sweet and a bit glue-like in flavor. I loved the spiciness and pepper oil finish.

Minero
98.2 proof. We all agreed that the final sample was the most interesting of all four. The depth was remarkable, with a huge floral bouquet and smooth fruitiness. Some of this noticeably complex flavor must be due to the fact that a clay still with bamboo tubing is used for Minero rather than the traditional copper still. One taster found hints of licorice, another suggested cinnamon. I detected a bouquet of pears. Still others insisted on a suggestion of oranges, gardenias, even butterscotch. We all agreed that it was the most complex, the most intriguing. If joy and mystery married and produced a flavor, Minero would be it.

Even with very, very small samples, this quartet produced a definite and voluptuously primal buzz. The 400 gods would approve. They also would leave the driving to others.

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From the August 21-27, 1997 issue of Metro.

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