After falling from its pandemic high, spirit sales remained flat in the United States last year with a mere .2% increase from 2022, according to last week’s Distilled Spirits Council of the United State’s economic briefing.
Amidst the not-so-impressive news, however, there was one particular bright spot—the continued rise of agave-based spirits. In 2023, tequila (and mezcal) sales skyrocketed 7.9%, up $476 million, to a total revenue of $6.5 billion. The increasingly popular category is running hot on the heels of vodka, America’s longstanding favorite spirit.
Tequila drinkers are spoiled for choice these days. There are thousands of options on the market, from popular bottles to mix into a margarita or Mexican martini to celebrity-owned brands and aged reposados at a wide array of price points. It seems there’s an ever-constant influx of tequilas debuting on U.S. liquor store shelves, including a surge of “premium” bottles intended for savoring slowly.
You May Also Like: A Step-by-Step, Beginner’s Guide to Tequila
Some of these higher-end selections are aged or filtered to maximize smoothness, while others are rare or otherwise special in varying ways. According to the drinks market analysis firm International Wine and Spirits Record (IWSR), consumers have been gravitating toward this so-called “sipping tequila” for a while now.
“Over the years, tequila has evolved from being a low-price shot to a more premium option used in cocktails and high-end sipping,” says Brandy Rand, chief strategy officer at IWSR. “Tequila has an association as an affordable luxury, and many brands are aligned with celebrities, leading to lifestyle-oriented marketing.”
More imbibers have been placing value on tequila’s connection to Mexican heritage, creating a sense of place, she adds, which has prompted their desire to learn more and experiment with different expressions. All of this has led to even more growth in the category.
While this expansion is great news for lovers of all things agave, it does make it difficult to figure out which bottles are worth stocking in the liquor cabinet. But there’s no need to stress: We’ve tapped our expert reviewers to narrow down the best tequila for sipping right now. Take a look below.
Best Estate-Grown Sipping Tequila
El Sativo Tequila Blanco Organic
A whiff of fresh spearmint introduces the lightly herbaceous aroma. The light palate echoes the fresh herb note, mixing it with lemon peel and fresh jalapeño, plus a hint of vanilla. Each sip finishes bracing and crisp, with pleasantly peppery heat. Sip or mix. 96 Points— Kara Newman$ Varies Total Wine & More
Best 100% Blue Agave Tequila
Don Vicente Tequila Blanco
The aroma suggests fresh-cut jalapeño, with a spicy hint that makes the nose prickle. Peppery notes follow on the palate. Jalapeño as well as bell pepper and black pepper are framed with hints of tarragon and graphite. Grapefruit-peel astringency and white-pepper sparks complete the lively finish. Sip or mix. 96 Points — K.N.$ Varies Del Mesa Liquor
Buendia Tequila Blanco
This tequila has a tropical touch, opening with coconut, citrus and pineapple aromas. The complex palate offers coconut and bracing hints of rubber and graphite. Almond sweetness smooths the exit, sprinkled with clove and cinnamon heat. 93 Points— K. N.$49 Folsom Wine & Spirits
Best Budget Sipping Tequila
Best $50 and Under Sipping Tequila
Siete Leguas Tequila Blanco
Bold, zesty, savory aromas hint at fresh and pickled jalapeño. The palate is equally robust and complex, adding lemon peel and a steely, minerally midpalate. It finishes clean with an enticing mouthwatering saline note and flicker of cayenne heat. 93 Points — K. N.$48 Total Wine & More
The mild scent hints at agave and basil. Meanwhile, the palate shows vanilla sweetness up front, warming to a traditional agave and jalapeño midpalate, and finishing with black pepper sparks and echoes of vanilla and cinnamon. Seems like it would lend itself to barrel-aged expressions. 90 Points— K. N.$ Varies Total Wine & More
Best Still-Strength Tequila
Codigo 1530 Tequila Blanco
This limited edition is bottled at still strength, meaning plenty of flavor intensity and alcohol power. Look for a roasted jalapeño scent and a hint of rubber. The memorable palate opens with graphite, fading into coconut sweetness framed by baking spice and a mouthwatering saline hint. 94 Points — K. N.$ Varies Remedy Liquor
Best Small-Batch Sipping Tequila
Mijenta Tequila Blanco
Hints of bell pepper and fresh mint perfume this blanco. The palate opens with vegetal bell and jalapeño peppers, leading to a mouthwatering saline hint on the midpalate. The exit blazes with alcohol heat, melding with cayenne, ginger and jalapeño, soothed with cooked agave and rich honey on the way out. 93 Points — K. N.$ Varies Total Wine & More
Best Celebrity-Owned Sipping Tequila
Teremana Tequila Blanco
Owned by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, this crystalline tequila resounds with zesty bell pepper and poblano aromas. The light, crisp palate entwines lemon peel with gentle almond and marshmallow sweetness, finishing with white-pepper sparks. Mix in margaritas or palomas. 92 Points — K. N.$ Varies Total Wine & Spirits
Best Splurge-Worthy Sipping Tequila
Best Single-Vintage Sipping Tequila
Lagrimas del Valle Tequila Palo Verde Plata 2022
Savory and smoked—but not smoky—hints mean this complex blanco is a wild ride. Lively lemon, sundried tomato and tarragon open each sip, leading into a zesty, savory blast of smoked paprika, mesquite, ancho chile powder and a fleeting hint of bacon, finishing with black-pepper fumes. Note: each bottling will be a single vintage (2022 is the first), harvested from a single field (in this case, Palo Verde). 94 Points — K. N.$ Varies K & L Wines
Is Reposado a Good Sipping Tequila?
In brief, reposado (“rested”) tequila is aged at least two months in oak, añejo is aged at least one year and extra añejo is aged a minimum of three years. Usually, the longer barrel time equates to deeper color and more intense flavor.
Some purists staunchly believe that reposado is the ideal sipping tequila because barrel-aging smooths out some of the tequila’s natural peppery notes and amplifies honey notes, without hiding the character of the agave. But others appreciate the rich complexity of añejo, as longer aging coaxes out vanilla or even deep toffee notes alongside dried fruit and spice, which can unfurl further flavor as it sits in the glass.
In addition, some producers experiment with special cask finishes on top of standard aging times. Barrels that previously held sherry might add nutty or dried fruit tones, while ex-bourbon casks can layer on more intense vanilla and spice. These finishes add complexity and nuance, which can add to sipping appeal.
In other words, it’s about flavor, not age. The best sipping tequila is one that’s multi-dimensional enough to enjoy slowly.
Which Type of Tequila is the Smoothest?
When talking about whether a spirit is “smooth,” that usually indicates that it’s less fiery or less harsh than others. Alcohol heat isn’t necessarily always bad, and it can be tempered by adding ice or even a splash of water.
Those seeking a “smooth” tequila likely will want to bypass overproof bottlings, which are fiery by nature, and may want to seek out tequilas in the reposado and añejo range, where soothing honey, vanilla or caramel can make alcohol burn seem to recede a bit. Extra añejos can be delicious, but extended barrel time can draw out extra tannins. If overdone, that can create the perception of a little more harshness on the palate.
Perhaps the smoothest of all is cristalino, a relatively new tequila category. Named for its “crystal clear” appearance, cristalino is made by aging tequila, then charcoal-filtering out the color and flavor so it’s clear (or close to it), creating a lighter flavor. Some versions have sweetener added, usually agave nectar, which also helps take the edge off alcohol burn.
Why You Should Trust Us
All products featured here are independently selected by our team, which is comprised of experienced writers and wine tasters and overseen by editorial professionals at Wine Enthusiast headquarters. All ratings and reviews are performed blind in a controlled setting and reflect the parameters of our 100-point scale. Wine Enthusiast does not accept payment to conduct any product review, though we may earn a commission on purchases made through links on this site. Prices were accurate at the time of publication.
Published: February 12, 2024