Explore Something New

tequila, tasting, alexander perezBy Alexander Perez | 05.22.10

It’s interesting to stand by and watch how people gravitate to the same tequila brands over and over again. The “big” brands have the marketing dollars to place ads in magazines, sponsor car races and take out huge billboard ads throughout the city. So when people think “tequila” these are the first that come to mind. Unfortunately, the same happens with uninformed retail “advisors” and believe it or not, untrained or uninterested waiters and bartenders – the ones that should be encouraging us to try something different and explore new and un-heard of brands.  When someone asks for a tequila, instead of recommending something different they reach for the “standard”.

Its time to break the monotony and stop being a creature of habit! Today there are so many good tequilas (and not to forget mezcal and sotol) out in the market it would be a sin not to try something different. Many are afraid to take that chance and venture into a new bottle since the chance might mean spending some good money on something you may not like.

The answer? Do a little research and find the local bar or Mexican restaurant with a good tequila selection or even a tequila menu. These places offer an opportunity to try a few brands, try a few types (blanco, reposado, anejo) and discover what you like. Local restaurants and bars also conduct regular tequila tasting events throughout the year. These are great opportunities to taste many different brands and hear the stories behind them. Once you know what you like you can invest in a bottle or two. And if you are a true Tequila Aficionado and Ambassador, pass on your knowledge and discovery to others, even your local bartender. Maybe next time they will have a good recommendation for you. So get out there and explore something new!

Feel free to comment on your favorite bar, restaurant or retailer and how they have introduced you to new treasures.

Alexander Perez is the founder of Tequila Aficionado.com having thought of the idea of a premium tequila and mezcal online magazine back in the early 1999. With an extensive background in wine and spirits, having been in the industries for many years, Alex fell in love with the under appreciated spirits of Mexico, Tequila and Mezcal. His mission: to educate the public on these fine spirits.

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Gary Shansby and Partida Tequila – Part 3

By Ryan Kelley | 04.19.10

With all the accolades, praise, and taste test data, how come Partida isn’t taking the country by storm and trying to dethrone Patrón’s grasp on the premium tequila market? Shansby retorts, “let Patrón be Patrón, and Patrón is what they are. It’s probably the most brilliantly marketed spirit brand, certainly tequila, in the world today [but] it doesn’t win any taste tests, and doesn’t even enter them anymore.” So even though other tequilas are obviously vying for Patrón’s market, Shansby prefers to remain above the fray. “Nobody should get ahead by beating someone else up,” he says.

Shansby made a name for himself by building popular brands in a variety of industries, and part of success in marketing products is to know about the people who consume or use (or, who should consume or use) one brand over another.

“People today are interested in exploring and discovering on their own,” he says. “They’re not interested in copying anymore. That’s kind of passé. They’ll trade up to good brands which they discover on their own and they love telling their friends about it.”

This moment of “discovery” is important to Shansby, and it is paramount to Partida’s marketing strategy. “Don’t try to talk them into it,” he advises, “just entice them into exploring. If they explore and discover it [on their own], they’ll like it more!” He does his part, too. Shansby lectures about tequila in the U.S. and Mexico, “with no commercials” – although it often ends with a tasting. He strives to educate (or in many cases, re-educate) people so they can have a better understanding of tequila. “Once a year we do a ‘tequila immersion day,’ where we bring in 40-50 up-and-coming bartenders from an area and start from the basics.” They are taught everything about tequila, and given information they can pass on to their customers – and managers.

Shansby is proud of his tequila, (why not – it’s delicious!) and is fond of sharing it with others. On a vacation in Oregon with Partida investor, and hugely successful winemaker, Michael Mondavi, Shansby brought a case of Partida with them and held a tequila tasting. He noticed four gentlemen who were ignoring the tequila. Upon asking, they told him they “did not drink tequila” and preferred to sip their single malt scotch. Shansby tasted their scotch and “praised them for how good it was.” They were very proud, and so he asked that they humor him, and have a “tiny taste of añejo – knowing that they drank single malt scotch. They reluctantly agreed. So I went over and got four champagne glasses, which kind of blew their minds, and I put about half an inch in the bottom and they tasted it. The first comment to come out was: ‘that’s not tequila!’ I told them it was very fine, estate-bottled tequila. The next comment to come out was: ‘you know, I can drink that!’”

When not enjoying Partida (“reposado – neat – in a stem glass”), Shansby does enjoy other tequilas. His “second favorite tequila is El Tesoro. It’s a very different tequila than ours. It’s cooked differently. It’s from a different region. It’s a highlands product, and not a big brand, but it’s a high-quality brand.” Shansby also likes Don Julio reposado, Gran Centenario añejo, Chinaco, Siete Leguas, and “Cabo Wabo has a fairly decent reposado.”

All the effort in developing and producing Partida has paid off. Shansby has a solid product and it’s validated every day by tequila and spirit enthusiasts around the world. He has, indeed, met his goal of developing “a really fine tequila, [and] it’s delivered beyond my best dreams. Now it’s my job to make sure it stays as good as it can be – and consistently good. The awards we have received have been gratifying, and the mixology community loves us, and I don’t dare let anyone down.”

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Gary Shansby and Partida Tequila – Part 2

Gary Shansby
By Ryan Kelley | 04.14.10

After a thorough study of the tequila market, Gary Shansby, the founder and chairman of Partida Tequila, had the knowledge he needed to succeed, but didn’t yet have any tequila to market.

Then, he met an agave farmer (a jimador) named Enrique Partida. Partida had “thousands of acres” as a tequila farmer, and “he was selling agave to whoever would buy it” (Cuervo, Herradura, etc.).

During my telephone interview with Shansby he noted,

“[Enrique] had a burnt face from the sun, an old cowboy hat, and a twinkle in his eye. I thought: he’s central casting! I can’t call this tequila “Gringo Gary’s,” so I might as well see about calling it Partida.”

Shansby checked, and “Partida” had never been used or trademarked anywhere in the world. “Without telling Enrique, I trademarked him, and basically took ownership of his name…He was not a happy camper at first, but since then he’s delighted, and we’ve become friends. He’s not an investor, but he is the farmer and does manage the farms.”

But, how does Partida Tequila get its award-winning flavor? Shansby explains that “by using an older, more mature and sweeter agave; and by cooking it in a stainless steel autoclave versus a stone oven” he would be able to produce “a more pure, agave-tasting product.” Unlike many tequila, premium or not, Partida is completely estate-grown and bottled. This means that the agave all comes from the Partida farm and it is cooked, distilled, and bottled on the estate. (Shansby rebuilt Enrique Partida’s “hobby distillery” into a fully functional tequila distillery that is capable of producing all of the Partida tequilas.)

Once Shansby had his tequila, he took it to the Mexico CRT (Consejo Regulado de Tequila, or Tequila Regulatory Council) where he “won all the taste tests.” A similar taste testing was done with Julio Bermejo, the US Ambassador of Tequila, at the San Francisco Wine and Spirit festival, where it also blew everyone away.

The product was ready for consumption. In his meticulous way, Shansby went through 600 variations of a bottle before it was finalized. The bottle is truly a work of art – slightly larger than Patrón and easily handled by bartenders. The bottle is mostly clear, exploiting the beautiful color of Partida, except for the branding, which includes the Partida spirit bird.

I had never heard the legend of the spirit bird before and Shansby revealed that it “is a tale I developed, and now Enrique [Partida] tells me it has been in the family for a hundred years! The story…has believability to it because we made it believable.” Most tequilas don’t have a logo (except Herradura’s upside-down horseshoe) and Shansby, an experienced brand-builder feels strongly that to build a brand “you need a Nike swoosh, and so my Nike swoosh is the Partida spirit bird.”

The tequila is purposely priced just a little higher than Patrón. People often ask Shansby how he can do that, especially as a newcomer to the tequila market, but he dismisses skepticism with a challenge: “Just taste the product and tell me if you agree. Nobody has ever said it wasn’t better, or at least just as good [as Patrón]. I don’t claim it’s the best, my job is to keep it among the very best.”

Quality and consistency is how Shansby plans to maintain Partida’s success. “Everything is done to perfection. We age reposado precisely, to the day, six months in the barrel. We rotate our barrels for 36 months, 3 at reposado and 1 at añejo, which is [aged for] 18 months, and then we destroy it.” The barrels are all purchased from Jack Daniel’s. “They’ve been used once for Jack Daniel’s. We then hot distill wash them twice, dry them, and use them ourselves.” Shansby claims that if you go into other distilleries (which he has done), very few people will be as consistent. “If they get a good buy on Bordeaux barrels that have been used five or six times, they’ll buy them. I won’t do that.”

Consistency is so important that Shansby has everything done on site. “We’re managed in Mexico – totally by Mexican employees. I go down there about every month for 5 or 6 weeks and stay there for 4 or 5 days and talk to the workers.” From the farming and distilling, right into the bottle; everything is done on the Partida estate. “It gives us full control, which I find enormously important.”

Shansby and Partida’s other investors have invested over $30 million into the product, which they also distribute. It’s easy to tell that he really has a passion for his product, but would he ever sell the brand and retire? No way, he says, “I’m doing this as a hobby and it’s not for sale. And I’m going to retire when they carry me out feet first.”

More about how the word spreads about Partida Tequila in the third, and final, part of my interview with Gary Shansby.

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Gary Shansby and Partida Tequila – Part 1

Gary Shansby
Gary Shansby
Gary Shansby of Partida Tequila

Tequila is one of the fastest growing spirits in the U.S., and Partida Tequila, one of the newest entries into the premium tequila market, is one of the most celebrated. Partida has won multiple accolades, and was the only line of tequilas to be awarded with 96-100 points for all three types of tequila in Wine Enthusiast’s 2008 Tequila Report.

The man behind Partida’s success is its founder and chairman, Gary Shansby; and I was able to speak with him for about an hour last week to learn more about Partida and the man behind its success.

Shansby is an experienced brand-builder and has spent his career developing and marketing more than 50 household consumer brands – everything from Famous Amos Cookiesto MetRx and Vitamin Water. He has a vineyard in Sonoma – “a tremendous way to lose money but a beautiful hobby;” and it was only 8 years ago that his journey into the spirit business began.

After being asked if he had ever considered the spirit business, Shansby – experienced in food and beverages, but not liquor – studied the industry. He discovered that

“the growth of important premium [spirit] brands was coming from entrepreneurs and not the big companies. Most of the entrepreneurs were mavericks in their industry, or they had no industry experience, and they were defying the logic of the big companies.”

He met with some of these mavericks, like Grey Goose’s Sidney Frank, Patrón’s Martin Crowly, and Skyy’s Maurice Kanbar (who has a minority stake in Partida), and concluded that they were “all passionate about their brands,” and intent on “building a brand and not a company. They were all driven – not for monetary gain – but for their love of what they were doing; and they were all having a great time.”

Shansby’s study of the market revealed that Patrón was the only brand in the tequila category that was poised for success; however, he “also noticed that the tequila industry had pretty much ignored women, yet about ½ the consumption in the United States is by females, mostly driven by the margarita.” With a strong background in branding, Shansby set out to find a tequila that would become successful in the American spirits market.

But, how do you develop the perfect tequila? Shansby began meticulously researching tequila. An MBA student was dispatched to Mexico for a tequila fact-finding assignment, while Shansby surveyed the market. Thorough knowledge about tequila – how it is made, what makes one tequila different from another, etc. – and understanding the tequila consumer were paramount. Shansby concluded that “the American consumer…likes a smoother taste – a product that brings out the natural agave and a little less of the old shot environment that had existed in the earlier years of tequila. I had to find a method to make something much smoother, but has the same alcohol content, but didn’t reek of it. I knew that the age of the agave, how it is cooked, how it’s processed, how it is aged; each little element had a different twist on it and I studied the different things that could be done.”

What made it all come together? Check out part two of the interview

Originally published on Examiner.com

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Masa Azul: Behind the Rock…

Behind the bar on a busy night at Masa Azul in Chicago

Masa Azul has been featured on Thrillist’s spring Must-Dos in Chicago!

What: Put back one of 90 tequilas on Cinco de Mayo
When: May 5th
Where: Masa Azul
The extensive tequila list runs from blancos to single-barrel extra anejos, and includes a selection of mezcal and lesser-known sotol, aka the NEXT mezcal.

Visit Masa Azul

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Visit Masa Azul’s website

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We are proud to be the first in Illinois to offer Tequila Alquimia! This artisan line is owned by Don Adolfo Murillo, one of the brightest minds in the tequila world! Not to mention one of the nicest people you could ever meet! Come by to taste these amazing tequilas, including the 6 year aged Reserva de Don Adolfo!

masa azul, tequila, alquimia

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Sipping off the Cuff with Tequila Aficionado

Sipping off the Cuff

What happens when two tequila lovers happen to get together and taste tequila?  Of course they’re going to talk about it!  Here’s what happened when M.A. “Mike” Morales and Alexander Perez got together all those many years ago.

Alex and Mike decided to podcast their tastings.  When video production became a possibility, they moved Sipping off the Cuff to video.  They chose to keep it simple.  Share their tasting experience through an honest discussion.  Sometimes they offer mixing suggestions for tequilas that may be better for mixing than sipping.  Sometimes they disagree on whether a spirit is a good one or not.  Whatever the case, they share it with you openly and honestly and never accept pay-for-play.

Alex Perez and Mike Morales announce their new series of tequila discussions – we don’t rate tequila but we will tell you all about every one we taste!

Look for new episodes coming in 2013!

tequila aficionado newsletter, blooper, sipping off the cuff, monday madness
Subscribe to the Tequila Aficionado newsletter here!



Sipping off the Cuff(tm) began as an audio podcast in 2006 and is Tequila Aficionado’s first and longest running tequila review program. Sipping off the Cuff is broadcast every Friday (and occasionally Tuesdays) on YouTube and Tequila Aficionado. If you are a Tequila, Mezcal or Sotol brand owner or representative and would like your product(s) reviewed on an upcoming episode of Sipping off the Cuff, please contact Mike@TequilaAficionado.com.

Catch more of Tequila Aficionado on YouTube HERE.

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What If There Were No Duty Free Tequila?

In the December 17, 2009 issue of Drinks International online magazine, the headline reads:

WHO plans global duty free liquor ban

The story goes on to say…

“The World Health Organization (WHO) has shocked the duty-free industry by proposing a global ban on duty-free liquor sales, a business which was worth $6.3bn last year.”

The proposal to slow down alcohol consumption was actually published in December of last year, but will finally get onto the WHO’s Executive Board agenda between January 18-23, 2010. The Board is made up of health ministers from 34 leading countries, and if it approves the proposal, it will be presented to the WHO’s full annual General Assembly in May 2010.

Keith Spinks, secretary general of the European Travel Retail Council (ETRC) believes that the proposal will pass the Executive Board and into the General Assembly that is made up of 193 governments, and warns, “If this goes though, it will be a disaster for the industry.”

Should the World Health Organization ratify this proposal, there is an upside.  According to Spinks, this proposal on liquor would not be “binding.”

“It is going to be up to each member country to decide whether to implement the proposal or not.” But, he adds, “My fear is that some countries will and some won’t, leaving us in a big mess.”

In 2005, the WHO tried to ban duty-free tobacco sales through its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The FCTC was ratified by 165 countries worldwide, but has yet to be implemented by any country.

A quick review of the members of the World Health Organization may give a clue as to why.

Alcohol, Tobacco, and Tourism

All countries which are Members of the United Nations may become members of World Health Organization by accepting its Constitution.  So, which countries are members?

Australia, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Switzerland, UK, and the USA, to name just a few.  Most all of these countries have one or more international airports with duty free stores selling among other things, spirits, cigars, and cigarettes.

Not only do most of these member countries tout tourism as a major industry, but many also have their signature spirits (and cigars, in some cases) that define them.  Examples are rum from Barbados, limoncello from Italy, and of course, tequila from Mexico.

Where duty free merchants pay inventory/business or other taxes, customers usually pay none.  For these countries, tourism, and the profit made at duty free shops from alcohol and tobacco sales, is directly related to each other.

How much damage could the enforcement of this proposal do?

WHO vs. Patrón

As stated above, duty-free liquor sales from last year amounted to $6.3 billion in 2008.  That accounted for 17.2% of the total global liquor business according to the Drinks International article.

In the April 2008 issue of Impact Magazine, it states that Patrón tequila was also penetrating the travel retail sector overseas, long a key channel for high-end spirits but one in which tequila was underappreciated.  Patrón was aggressively growing its brand by sampling at very visible public relations events in key cities such as London, Athens, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney, all whose countries are members of the World Health Organization.

The Patrón Spirits Company, producers of Patrón tequila, claim on their website to be in over 100 countries and islands worldwide.  Given that there are only 193 members of the WHO, the chances are good that Patrón is available in the duty free stores of most of these member countries.

Assuming that the same 163 countries that ratified the duty free tobacco ban in 2005 also decided to ratify—and enforce–the duty free alcohol ban, the results could be devastating not just for Patrón, but also for Sauza, Brown-Forman (El Jimador brand), and Jose Cuervo, as well as all spirits suppliers, duty free retailers, and airports.

While it seems likely that the World Health Organization’s Executive Board will ratify the alcohol ban proposal, it seems unlikely that any countries will actually enforce it.

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Tequila: The Year in Review

year in reviewAccording to figures released by Herradura, the number of cases of tequila exported annually are…

  1. US 11.5 million

  2. México 7.5 million

  3. Germany 450,000 

  4. Russia 300,000

  5. Canada 250,000

  6. France 200,000

  7. Greece 190,000

  8. Japan 150,000.   

Of worldwide tequila production, Mexico bottles 33% while the United States bottles 51% as bulk mixto. 


However, figures released by the CRT (Consejo Regulador del Tequila) state that from January to October of 2009, there was a 19% drop in tequila production from 2008.  

A reporter for Excelsior Online recently commented in his column that despite Mexico’s economic drop of 7% during the recession, as of October 2009, sales of tequila have increased 10% over last year. While this columnist attributes the rise in tequila consumption to consumers trying to make the recession more bearable, others in the tequila industry are more optimistic about the future.

Juan Beckmann Vidal, president of Casa Cuervo, sees enormous worldwide potential in the exportation of the Spirit of Mexico, particularly into Asia.  He foresees the annual sales of 137 million liters of tequila to double in the next five years.

With the current instability of each country’s economy, it will be interesting to see what the final production figures are at the end of 2009.

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Tequila Timeline: A Different Perspective

fast company, tequila timelineTequila Timeline: From Agave to the Worm

For some reason this article Tequila Timeline: From Agave to the Worm was reposted in Fast Company Magazine on Friday, November 20, 2009 from an earlier post on October 15, 2009.  (Maybe it was because the editors forgot to add the cute tequila graphics the first time?)

Anyway, most of the timeline is historically accurate, except for this factoid:

1873:  Don Cenobio Sauza exports three barrels to El Paso, Texas, the first tequila in the United States.  Today, the U.S. is the No. 1 market for tequila.  Mexico is second.  Third?  Greece.”

tequila timelineThe reference to Sauza exporting mezcal wine into El Paso in 1873 is incorrect.  I’ll explain why momentarily, but first…

Texas’ long history of laying claim to being the home of tequila in the United States can be credited to W. Park Kerr of the El Paso Chile Company fame.  Not for anything that he may have said, but for what he did.

Kerr was the first Texas entrepreneur to distill a private label tequila (Tequila Naciónal) in Mexico to his specifications, thus opening the floodgates of recent tequila brands based in Texas such as RiAzúl in Houston, El Grado in Corpus Christi, Republic Tequila in Austin, Buscadores in San Antonio, and Dos Lunas in El Paso, among others.

republic tequilaSorry to break this to tejanos, but Texas was not the final destination of that first delivery.

The Rest of the Story

In his book La historia del tequila, de sus regiones y sus hombres, author Rogelio Luna Zamora recounts:

“‘…con destino a Nuevo Mexico sale una partida de 3 barriles y 6 botijas….’  El punto fronterizo por donde salió fue el Paso del Norte (hoy Ciudad Juárez) en aquel entonces, paso obligado a las mercaderías exportadas por tierra al mercado estadunidense.”

[“‘…with a destination of New Mexico there is a lot of 3 barrels and 6 jugs….’  The border town point of entry was el Paso del Norte (present day Juárez) that in those days was the required land passage for commodities exported into the American marketplace.”]



In 1873, New Mexico was a territory of the United States, but still considered part of Mexico.  The final destination of Sauza’s shipment is believed to have been to the oldest capital city, Santa Fe.  Being also the terminus of the legendary Santa Fe Trail, the route that opened the Southwest to trading with the Eastern United States, this conclusion only makes sense.

Thirty-nine years later, New Mexico joined the Union.  Flash forward to today, and there is only one New Mexican owned brand of tequila (Silvercoin).

silvercoin tequila

Perhaps now is the time for more New Mexico entrepreneurs to step up with tequila labels of their own?




Originally posted November 22, 2009 by TequilaRack.

Click the image to buy TequilaRack online.

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Are Rating Systems Flawed?

Wine Spectator reveals top 100 Wines of 2009, but…are all wine rating systems flawed?

Source: Los Angeles Times

November 20, 2009 | 5:16 pm

Now that Wine Spectator has finished dragging out the reveal of its Top 100 Wines of 2009 — a 2005 Columbia CrestCabernet Sauvignon was ranked No. 1 — over a yawn-inducing three days, we have to ask: Are wine ratings an accurate and useful guide for consumers? Or are they merely a series of wildly subjective impressions based more on context and expectation than the actual qualities of the wines?

That’s the question Leonard Mlodinow explores in a recent Wall Street Journal story, “A Hint of Hype, A Taste of Illusion.”Given the high price of wine and the enormous number of choices, a system in which industry experts comb through the forest of wines, judge them, and offer consumers the meaningful shortcut of medals and ratings makes sense. But what if the successive judgments of the same wine, by the same wine expert, vary so widely that the ratings and medals on which wines base their reputations are merely a powerful illusion?

That is the conclusion reached in two recent papers in the Journal of Wine Economics. He’s referring to findings published by Robert Hodgson, a retired statistics professor and the proprietor of Fieldbrook Winery. A few years ago, Hodgson joined the California State Fair wine competition advisory board, which allowed him to run a controlled scientific study of its tastings.The results, published in the Journal of Wine Economics, showed that the judges’ ratings varied by ±4 points on a standard 100-point rating scale. And “only about one in 10 [judges] regularly rated the same wine within a range of ±2 points.”

In September in the private wine newsletter the California Grapevine, Hodgson discussed his analysis of the complete records of several wine competitions. “The distribution of medals,” he wrote, “mirrors what might be expected should a gold medal be awarded by chance alone.'” Ouch. Many winemakers feel vindicated by Hodgson’s findings, while wine experts generally dismiss them.

If you want to try a similar, albeit much less scientific, experiment on your own, serve a group of friends the same wine in different bottles: first as a humble table wine and then as an expensive, award-winning wine. You’ll likely get a very different set of responses. When we know that something is highly valued by others, we tend to value it more highly. When we know that something is expensive, we’re more inclined to enjoy it. Almost nobody is immune from that. Apply that knowledge to the powerful tastemakers of the multi-billion-dollar wine industry, and where does that leave wine buyers?

At recently opened wine shop Domaine LA on Melrose near Highland Ave., owner Jill Bernheimer, who has run an online wine store for years, holds an annual contest for consumers to guess Wine Spectator’s No. 1 zinfandel. The winner receives a six-pack of wines that are rated 85 points or less, “just to prove a point,” she says. Namely, that there are plenty of underrated wines that are worth drinking. For Bernheimer, it’s about figuring out whose palate you trust.”You have to start somewhere and the easiest place is reading wine publications and scores,” she says. “But as people gain more experience and confidence in themselves, the best thing consumers can do is find a sommelier, a retailer or a critic who they feel they share a palate with. That can often be a better guide than scores on their own.”



Originally posted November 20, 2009 by TequilaRack.

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