Tasting: 3 Tamaulipas Tequilas from Chinaco (2023 Lineup)

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Tasting: 3 Tamaulipas Tequilas from Chinaco (2023 Lineup)

When it comes to the U.S. spirits market, what is “new” is always a matter of perception just as much as it is black-and-white reality. A brand can technically have been available in the U.S. for years, or decades, before it finds a particular niche to inhabit. Perhaps it’s only now being introduced to your market, or a new line extension changes the overall perception of the brand. Perhaps the recipes are refreshed, or the packaging and marketing. So it is for a brand like Chinaco Tequila, produced since 1972 at Tequilera la Gonzaleña (NOM 1127) in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. It calls itself the first premium tequila–a difficult thing to quantify–ever released in the U.S. market way back in 1982, but with a recent brand refresh, there are likely many tequila consumers only now encountering Chinaco’s bottles for the first time. And so, the odd distinction of being an old, storied brand and a shiny new one, all at once.

Chinaco is a decidedly unique product, however, for a handful of reasons, starting with where it is made. It’s the only tequila made in the state of Tamaulipas, thanks to an effort from founder Don Guillermo González Díaz and the local community, which resulted in select parts of Tamaulipas being included as part of the general declaration of Denominación de Origen Tequila. The vast majority of tequila is made in Jalisco, but the differing climate, soil and blue agave that grow in Tamaulipas inherently lead to a different product. Chinaco also favors some different aging methods from what is most common in the industry, using scotch whisky casks in addition to American bourbon barrels in its aged tequilas. On the distillation side, things are a bit more common, with copper pot stills and traditional roller mills used in addition to the more modern roasting of agave via pressure under autoclave. Tequila purists will of course hold by roasting via brick ovens, but at least there’s no diffuser involved here.

Most Chinaco products also undergo unusually long aging periods, which is another aspect setting the brand apart, and part of what contributes to its somewhat higher MSRPs, relatively speaking. The current, eye-catching teardrop bottles, meanwhile, were introduced last year as the brand refreshed its image on the U.S. market. So with that said, let’s get to tasting the core lineup as it exists today. All are bottled at 40% ABV (80 proof).

Chinaco Tequila BlancoMSRP: $43

The classic blanco tequila from Chinaco presumably shows the most varietal character from their own specific blue agave, grown and harvested in the area, though I will readily admit that the subtleties of this kind of terroir are probably lost on a spirits generalist like myself, and better appreciated by the hardcore agave spirits geek. What I can say is that Chinaco Blanco strikes me as initially quite roasty and herbal on the nose, with cooked agave and something akin to toasted marshmallow, sprinkled with orange zest.

On the palate, this one is on the vegetal side, with notes of cooked agave and floral flavors, along with more resinous qualities and some citrus zest. It’s pretty dry overall, with plenty of peppery spice and a significant drying sensation on the palate. Some drinkers might be put off by that astringency, while others might find it ideal for classic tequila cocktails. I often see tequila fans complaining about many modern blancos being perceived as too sweet; that definitely doesn’t seem like it would be a concern here. It leans pretty hard into the vegetal side of the agave spectrum.

Chinaco Tequila ReposadoMSRP: $55

This reposado is aged 11 months in European oak, close to the maximum amount of time one can keep a reposado (one year) in the wood. The nose is certainly dramatically different right off the bat, with a profile of candied orange and caramel candies, with some toasted oak and hints of sweet herbaceousness.

On the palate, this one is actually quite peppery in a pleasant way, with a moderate caramel sweetness that takes the edge off nicely. The astringency of the blanco may still be here, but it’s been rounded away by significantly higher sweetness. At the same time, I don’t know that the average drinker would register this is actively, overtly sweet, but it certainly seems so in comparison to the blanco. I’m getting a little chile-like spice and a pleasant suggestion of bruleed grapefruit, to go with extremely gentle ethanol in this expression. Overall this certainly feels like an accessible crowd pleaser.

Chinaco Tequila AnejoMSRP: $65

Like the reposado, Chinaco Anejo is aged in a variety of European oak, with some American ex-bourbon oak included as well. It receives a heady 30 months of aging, which is on the extreme end for anejo tequila at 2.5 years. From 3 years onward, many modern tequilas often carry the “extra anejo” label, which puts this one in something of a conceptual middle ground, being nearly old enough to qualify. Compared with anejo aged for the minimum of 1 year, that theoretically would make this a pretty significantly different product in most respects.

And indeed, the nose on this anejo is vastly different from either of the other expressions, with much more wood presence–an aromatic suggestion of dry woodshed, along with more spice–toasted clove and hints of cinnamon. There’s a resinous quality on the nose, with dried herbs and a touch of dark chocolate. On the palate, things quickly get interesting, with a heavy oak profile that brings a lot of barrel spice into play. There’s a lot of baking spice here, with sweet cinnamon and cardamom, and a touch of mocha mingling with dried herbs and fainter vegetal notes. Definitely on the sweeter side here on the palate, I still find myself enjoying the spice and char notes, even if they arguably cover up most of the company’s terroir. Some would definitely say the oak is overdone here, but I am liking the profile it brings.

It’s a bit of a trope at this point that anejo tequilas like this are often marketed in the U.S. as being “good for bourbon drinkers” in an attempt to court American whiskey geeks, but I dare say that what this one reminds me of in many respects is actually aged rum, and I’d be curious to see some overlap between those consumers. The spice and earthier characteristics make it a novel aged tequila at the very least–if you’re typically a fan of anejo, it’s an expression I would check out.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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