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The Best Tequilas for Gifting Right Now

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Tequila has been on a tear: the agave-based spirit from Mexico has held fast as one of the most-popular spirits categories in the nation, if not worldwide. And why not? It’s associated with celebrations, can be mixed into margaritas and numerous other drinks and offers an astonishingly wide range of flavors. It hasn’t hurt that numerous celebrities have attached their names to tequila brands.

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Needless to say, it makes a fantastic gift. Here’s everything you need to know about tequila.

How Is Tequila Made?

While agave plants grow all around the world, tequila is specifically made with Blue Weber agave grown in Mexico—specifically Jalisco, the famous home of tequila, as well as certain municipalities (Guanajuato, Michocàn, Nayarit and Tamaulias). This differentiates it from mezcal, which can be made with a broader range of agave species.Harvested blue agave (Agave tequilana) piña or hearts ready to be roasted in industrial ovens to begin the process of making tequila

The root of the agave plant—the piña, which indeed resembles a large pineapple—is dug from the ground and transported to a distillery. There, the piñas are cooked with steam to extract sugars from the agaves. (This may be done with an aboveground oven called a horno, an autoclave, or a diffuser.) The cooked agaves are then pulverized, fermented with yeast and distilled.

From here, some tequilas are aged; others are filtered, flavored or sweetened.

What Are the Different Types of Tequila?

Blanco or plata: Meaning “white” or “silver,” this is essentially unaged tequila. The spirit must be bottled within 60 days of distillation. Look for a crisp, bright flavor with just a hint of agave sweetness. Some purists believe that blanco is the only “real” tequila, and the best, purest expression of the agave plant.

Reposado: Meaning “rested,” this is aged at least two months in oak, but often longer. Reposado tequila can express a myriad of personalities, from barely oaked to showing lots of deep, rich flavor. Many fall squarely in the middle, with peppery notes tempered by mellow honey. This age range works well to sip or mix.

Añejo: Meaning “aged,” añejo tequila is aged at least one year in oak barrels; many are aged much longer. Rich and complex, all that time in the barrel yields plenty of vanilla, dried fruit and spice, all meant to slow down and savor. Think of these as sipping tequilas.

Extra Añejo: This “extra aged” tequila spends at least three years in oak, in barrels no larger than 600 liters. Often these are available in limited quantities and aimed at the luxury market. The extra time on oak can develop deep toffee and cocoa notes, akin to some Cognacs or longer-aged whiskeys.

Cristalino: A reference to a “crystal clear” appearance, this is made by aging tequila, then charcoal-filtering out the color and flavor so it’s clear (or close to it) and has a lighter flavor. Some versions have sweetener added, usually agave nectar. Cristalino tequila is a relatively new style for the tequila category, and worth getting to know.

Joven and other blends: Of note, some tequila bottlings find their way around these proscribed classifications by blending distillate from one or more official categories. Joven (“young”) is a blanco blended with some aged tequila. Others are more experimental, such as a reposado blended with a touch of longer-aged extra anejo.

Shots glasses of reposado tequila , some empty, with limes on metal surface. Shot from above.

What Makes for “Good” Tequila?

Obviously, that’s a matter of taste. But the best tequilas all have one thing in common: they’re made from 100% blue agave.

Though it’s legal for tequila to be made with as little as 51% agave, that’s called “mixto.” The remaining 49% might be made with anything from grain-neutral spirit to corn syrup. “Gold” or “oro” is also best to avoid; it’s usually unaged and given a “golden” hue from caramel coloring or other additives. Do yourself a favor and pass on the mixto/oro.

In general, blanco and reposado are best for mixing into drinks, while añejo and older is best enjoyed neat. But there are no hard-and-fast rules; the “best” tequila is the one you’re enjoying.

What’s the Best Way to Drink Tequila? 

Again, this is subjective. Perhaps the best-known ways to drink tequila are as a shot or mixed into a margarita. But it’s a matter of personal preference.

For those who favor tequila shots, consider adding a chaser, whether that means beer (preferably a Mexican or Mexican-style beer) or a sangrita, a mix of juices, hot sauce and spices (here are two versions to try).

Particularly for reposado and older tequilas, consider sipping rather than shooting, whether neat or on the rocks. Think about how you enjoy whiskey. Barrel-aged tequila deserves similar attention, all the better for appreciating all the layers of honey and spice barrel aging can give to agave spirits. Further, for those seeking the “smoothest” tequila, it helps to know that longer-aged bottlings are usually less fiery than unaged versions. Sipped over a cube of ice, that aged tequila will feel even smoother.

What Are the Top Cocktails Made with Tequila?

Tequila is also versatile for mixing into a wide range of drinks. The most popular include the margarita and variations (don’t sleep on the spicy margarita or frozen margarita); the refreshing Paloma; the Ranch Water, an easy highball that’s been having a moment in recent years; or the old-school Tequila Sunrise. Want more tequila cocktails? We’ve got plenty for you.

Top-Rated Tequilas

Ready to dive in? Here are some of our top-rated tequilas to seek out and enjoy.

The Best Blanco Tequilas

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. 94 Points  — Kara Newman 

$58 Total Wine & More

Fortaleza Still Strength Blanco Tequila

The savory, spicy aroma hints at fresh tomato. The drying, astringent palate opens with a savory, herbal blast, rounding into sun-dried tomato earthiness, mouthwatering lemon peel and bright lemon-pepper on the long finish. The producer chose to go with the extra-proof “still strength” because “this is how Tequila was enjoyed over 125 years ago by my Great Great Grandfather.” The bottle, topped with a hand-painted agave piña, was hand-blown by bottle artisans in Mexico. 94 Points  — K.N.

$70 Total Wine & More

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.

$62 Frootbat

4 Copas Organic Overproof Tequila Blanco

The light vanilla scent includes hints of zesty citrus and bell pepper. A lightly sweet note opens the palate, followed by lots of bright lemon peel and vegetal hints of pepper and tarragon. The finish is clean and drying. 95 Points  — K.N.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

The Best Reposado Tequilas

Ocho Single Estate Reposado Tequila

This lively, bright tequila will please purists. A light hand with the oak means a straw hue and brisk aromas of jalapeño and citrus. The palate melds flavors of bell pepper, fresh rosemary and roasted jalapeño that lead into mild coconut and graphite notes on the midpalate, finishing with a fresh herb exhale. 96 Points  — K.N.

$50 Total Wine & More

La Gritona Reposado

Look for a pale straw hue and fruity/funky aromas. The palate offers distinct tropical fruit notes, opening with lychee and a faint floral hint, plus a faint waft of ripe-banana funk midpalate. The finish is long and drying, showing grapefruit peel and pink peppercorn. Sip or mix into Palomas. Best Buy. 95 Points  — K.N.

$45 Total Wine & More

Tapatio Reposado Tequila

This is a lean take on reposado, with a light straw hue and a perky fresh jalapeño aroma. The minerally palate opens with hints of citrus and sage, leading into white pepper, a faint whisper of vanilla and mouthwatering salinity. It’s lively, with just enough oak to mellow this into a sipping tequila. 93 Points   — K.N.

$42 Total Wine & More

Partida Reposado Tequila

The citrusy, zesty aroma suggests grilled lemon and dried oregano. The palate opens lightly with coconut and almond, leading into a verdant finish laced with tarragon, sage and lemongrass. A faint jalapeño sizzle and lemony acidity yield a mouthwatering finish. 94 Points   — K.N.

$62 Total Wine & More

Kostiv Reposado Tequila

Aged 6 months in charred barrels that previously held Cabernet Sauvignon, this drinks almost like a Tequila-whiskey hybrid. The liquid is tawny and bright, with aromas that suggest fresh apple drizzled with honey. The palate continues the orchard fruit, reading more like baked pear, leading into a distinctly nutty midpalate that starts with almond richness, then drying walnut. The finish is wonderfully bracing, with citrusy acidity and faint jalapeño heat. 94 Points   — K.N.

$66 Frootbat

The Best Añejo Tequilas

Patrón Sherry Cask Aged Añejo Tequila

This is a limited-production Tequila matured for more than two years in oloroso Sherry barrels. The end result is a deep honey hue and fruitcake-like aromas: think golden raisin, dried fig, and roasted nuts. The palate mingles dried cherry with cranberry tartness and lemon peel acidity, plus hints of brown sugar and molasses, with a drying, lemony-tart finish. 90 Points   — K.N. 

$90 Total Wine & More

Teremana Añejo Tequila

The newest expression from the brand backed by Dwayne Johnson offers zesty jalapeño and vanilla aromas. Honey and butterscotch coat the palate, enlivened by bracing clove, cayenne and white pepper on the exit. The overall impression suggests a butter cookie rolled in spices. Best Buys. 93 Points   — K.N. 

$45 Total Wine & More

Don Fulano Añejo Tequila

Aged in a mix of casks that previously held Burgundy, Bordeaux and Loire wines, this complex Tequila is one to savor. Bell pepper and jalapeño aromas mingle with mild honey and cinnamon sweetness. The plush palate echoes that sweetness and spice, leading into a long finish tinged with cocoa and vanilla, plus a final zing of jalapeño heat. 97 Points   — K.N. 

$110 Total Wine & More

The Best Affordable Tequilas

Kirkland Tequila Añejo

Though relatively light-hued and subtly–flavored for an Añejo, this still is a pleasantly honeyed tequila with cooked agave and vanilla, pepped up with just a hint of jalapeño heat on the finish. The price point means it won’t hurt to use it as a cocktail base. Best Buy. 90 Points   — K.N. 

$43 Total Wine & More

El Jimador Reposado Tequila

Complex aromas of wet earth, vanilla, jalapeño and campfire ash entice the nose. The palate opens with vanilla, transitioning to a peppery midpalate and finishing long, with delicate violet, coconut, black pepper and cinnamon notes. Best Buy. 93 Points   — K.N. 

$27 Total Wine & More

Don Sergio Tequila Blanco

The bright aroma mixes citrus and floral notes. Meanwhile, the palate opens with sprightly mint, leading into a lingering grapefruit and lemon-peel finish plus white-pepper sparks. Best Buy. 93 Points   — K.N. 

$55 Total Wine & More

Painted Donkey Tequila Blanco

Herbaceous notes lead the nose and palate, with a bouquet of mint, tarragon and lemongrass that head to a mentholated finish. Fennel seed, bell pepper and lime peel exit with a final, sneaky burst of heat. Best Buy. 92 Points   — K.N. 

$25 Total Wine & More

Azteca Azul Tequila Plata

Overall, this is a mild, delicate tequila. Floral notes introduce the palate, tinged with grapefruit peel, ginger and coriander. The drying finish shows ginger and white-pepper heat. Best Buy. 91 Points   — K.N. 

$26 Total Wine & More

Familia Camarena Añejo Tequila

Look for a bright, golden appearance and light aromas that mix coconut and fresh jalapeño. Lively and distinctly fruity, the palate opens with honey and coconut sweetness. Fleeting hints of pineapple and lime lead into a juicy, mouthwatering finish perked up with jalapeño and white pepper heat. Sip or mix into a luxe margarita variation. Best Buy. 93 Points   — K.N. 

$38 Total Wine & More

The Best Splurge Tequilas

Tequila Don Julio 1942

A stunning limited-edition añejo. The golden color and caramel scent hint at what’s to come: sweet agave flavor, a lingering whisper of smoke and mellow notes of tropical fruit, Sauternes and butterscotch. 98 Points   — K.N. 

$165 Total Wine & More

Seleccion Suprema de Herradura Extra Añejo Tequila

Vanilla, almond and baking spice aromas entice. The silky palate opens with vegetal jalapeño and bell pepper, sliding into a long, honeyed finish sprinkled with fiery cayenne, cinnamon and clove. Aged 49 months. 94 Points   — K.N. 

$300 Total Wine & More

Partida Roble Fino Añejo Tequila

This is finished for five months in casks that previously held single malt whisky, and Sherry before that. The end result is a golden hue and subtle agave and baking spice aromas. The mouthwatering palate shows broad strokes of vanilla, oak and roasted nuts. Faint smokiness wafts into the finish, transforming the citrusy exhale into burnt grapefruit peel. 96 Points   — K.N. 

$145 Total Wine & More

Casa Komos Añejo Cristalino Tequila

This Tequila was aged in French oak white wine barrels, filtered for clarity, then aerated in clay amphorae. All this yields a liquid with a faint straw tinge and slightly floral aroma warmed with cooked agave. The silky palate is lightly sweet, with toasted coconut and almond leading into a gentle, mouthwatering finish accented with lemony acidity and pink peppercorn. 96 Points   — K.N. 

$125 Total Wine & More