Whites on the Rise and Ports on the March

Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – November 2015
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

White spirits are on the rise in Canada and it doesn’t seem to matter what season. The reasons for this are multifold. The growing number of micro-distilleries popping up tend to at least start with white spirits as they can be released unaged and thus quickly bring in cash. The overall quality and variety of white spirits such as tequilas, vodkas and gins has improved considerably. And the cocktail craze encourages the proliferation of all spirits.

The tequila category is growing in almost every province across the country with Ontario and BC leading the charge and premium 100% Agave tequila driving this growth. According to statistics from the Cámara Nacional de la Industria Tequilera (CNIT), the national chamber of the tequila industry in Mexico, in 2014 the volume of tequila exported to Canada was up 14% compared with 2013. More tellingly the value of the tequila exports to our country was $5.4million USD up 36% compared to 2013.

“Canadian consumers are asking for more added value tequilas, so the increase of the exports value,” said Christian Rosas, Análisis Estratégico (Strategic Analyst) at CNIT. “Not only in Canada, the global trend for our industry is to offer each time more and more brands of tequila in the high end and super premium categories, which is the result of years of education to the consumers who now are looking for this kind of tequilas, specially tequila 100% agave,” said Mr. Rosas.

Tequila is produced from the fermented sugars of the Tequilana Blue Weber agave plant primarily in the Mexican state of Jalisco, and within limited regions in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. By law all tequila must be produced from no less than 51 percent of sugars from the blue agave, with the rest from other natural sugars, most commonly corn or sugar cane. If the label doesn’t say “100% Agave,” or a similar statement, the product is a 51/49 tequila (the correct name for the category, not mixto as is commonly used).

All authentic, 100% agave tequilas will have a NOM (Norma Oficial Mexicana) identifier on the bottle, which represents governance of agave harvesting, production, bottling and exporting.

Cabo Wabo Reposado Tequila Casamigos Tequila Blanco Casamigos Tequila Reposado Maestro Dobel Diamante Tequila

More than 140 companies are currently authorized for the production of tequila of which 68 producers are members of CNIT (and responsible for 80% of the total production). The combined companies offer more than 1,300 different brands bottled in Mexico and 250 brands that have been created and/or developed outside of Mexico.

The major styles are Blanco (white) the traditional tequila that started it all: a clear spirit that is most often bottled straight from distillation, although it can be aged a maximum of two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels. Reposado (rested) is aged in any size oak barrel, from 2 months to one year. Añejo (aged) is produced from aging a minimum of one year to no more than three years, in a small oak barrels. Extra Añejo (extra aged) is a relatively new category, for any tequilas aged over three years.

A number of the newer brands to come on stream have a real cachet. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Sammy Hagar launched Cabo Wabo tequila inspired by his Cabo Wabo nightclub which opened in 1990 in Cabos San Lucas. (It’s a rocking party place that’s a must go for everyone who visits the Baja California peninsula in Mexico.) The tequila was born in 1996 on the back roads of Guadalajara when Hagar went searching for a tequila exceptional enough to serve inside his cantina.

1800 Silver Tequila 1800 Reposado Tequila Don Julio Blanco Tequila

Casamigos is an independent brand owned by the three founders, Rande Gerber, heart-throb actor George Clooney and Mike Meldman. Casamigos uses the highest quality highland blue weber agaves, roasts them for 72 hours (very much longer than the industry average), uses extra-slow fermentation and ages the tequila in small American oak barrels – no corner cut or expense spared. The Blanco and Reposado are in our markets.

Maestro Dobel Tequila, is a new product in Canada, arriving only earlier this year. It’s the world’s first clear multi-aged tequila: a rule-defying blend of Extra-Añejo, Añejo and Reposado tequila, aged in the European oak barrels and double filtered to remove all colour. Only the most traditional production methods are used.

Putting money behind the cocktail trend is 1800 Tequila (Silver and Reposado), a major sponsor of Made with Love – Canada’s Most Extravagant Cocktail Competition. 1800 Tequila’s marketing strategy in Canada focuses on integrating the product into exceptional and creative cocktails. Another good 100% agave brand nice in cocktails is Don Julio Blanco.

White Owl Whisky Ginger LimeDillon's The White Rye Rendle's Original Gin Wódka Zoladkowa Gorzka

White whiskies such as White Owl Ginger Lime Whisky and white ryes including Dillon’s The White Rye are among the other neat white spirits in our market. Rendle’s Original Gin debuted in Canada this year – a pink hued charmer with exotic notes. Wódka Zołądkowa Gorzka, an herbal Polish vodka based on a 1950 recipe is another interesting spirit to reach our shores. Two other flavour packed liquors are Varnelli L’Anise Secco and Varnelli Amaro Sibilla. 

Finally ports are on the march as winter is coming. The Association of Port Wine Companies came through Toronto in October with a big contingency of producers. I was able to taste some wonderful old whites such as Dalva Porto Colheita 1963 Golden White that was nutty, lengthy and amazing but alas not available in Canada. (Unless you can persuade Dalva’s agent, The Case for Wine to private order it.) However the much younger but still aged in barrel, Taylor Fladgate Fine White Port is available at a bargain price. Warre’s LBV Bottle Aged Port 2003 and Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage 2012 are two new releases to stock up on.

Varnelli Secco Speciale Anice Varnelli Sibilla Amaro Taylor Fladgate Fine White Port Warre's LBV Bottle Aged Port 2003 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port 2012

Have white, pink or red – whatever it takes to keep you warm this winter.


Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

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