Best Tequila for Margaritas. Is Price really so Important?


Best Tequila for MargaritasIn a perfect world, the best tequila for margaritas would be the one that tastes best by itself. Enjoying those kinds of margaritas on a consistent basis, however, is outside most of our budgets. When searching for the best tequila for margaritas, one key is to find the brand that tastes the best at an affordable price. There are other considerations for margarita drinkers.  While we would all agree that smoothness is important, the taste and character of tequila are subjective things that may or may not add to the overall enjoyment of a margarita. It might be that the best sipping tequila in the world has qualities and characteristics that are too bold to make the perfect margarita. It is also likely that the unique taste of world class tequilas is completely lost and unappreciated.  Before I provide my Best Tequila for Margaritas list, I would like to provide some general criteria.

 

Rating Criteria

The Best Tequila for Margaritas

I have come up with three categories that I think are important for margarita drinkers:

  • Smoothness – A smooth tasting tequila obviously makes a smooth tasting Margarita.
  • Price – For the vast majority of us, it doesn’t make sense to use expensive sipping tequilas for Margaritas.
  • Neutrality – This category sort of works hand-in-hand with price. Very pricey tequila full of bold character and flavor will either be underappreciated or over-shadow the margarita mix. Speaking of margarita mix, I believe the simpler, the better. I will share with you my own recipe.

 

Recipe used to rate Best Tequilas for Margs

Even an affordable and good tequila will go to waste in a bad mix. I am not a fan of the overly sweet or sour cook-aid type mixes that most restaurants serve. I use three simple ingredients: 1 part fresh-squeezed lime juice, 2 parts tequila, and a splash of Contreau or Stirrings triple sec.   I like to shake the ingredients vigorously for about 30-40 seconds and serve up (or neat) in a glass with salt around the rim. One thing to beware of is that a bad lime can spoil everything. Good, fresh limes are usually shinier on the outside with bright green color and have a thick skin when they are sliced. Getting a good lime can be tricky, but it is well worth taking the time to find a grocer where they are consistently good. A sour lime will pretty much drown out everything that is good about the drink, including the tequila.

About my Tequila Ratings

I’ve decided to use a few of the familiar tequilas that I’ve tried and rated here on Product Review Ratings. Each tequila is rated in each criteria on a scale of 1 – 10. Of my two favorites, I will warn you that the Rancho Alegre does give me a headache. I didn’t think it would be fair to use that criteria in my ratings since so far, I am the only one I know that complains of this unwelcome phenomenon. I have not done nearly enough research to make this a thorough review, but hopefully these ratings on the best tequila for margaritas will lead you in the right direction.

Best Tequila for Margaritas

Rated by Smoothness, Price, and Neutrality

Tequila Smoothness Price (750ML) Neutrality RATING
El Ultimo Agave Reposado  8 9 ($14.00 – $15.00) 8 83%
Rancho Alegre Plata 7 9 ($13.00 – $15.00) 9 83%
Rancho Alegre Reposado 7 9 ($13.00 – $15.00) 8 80%
Olmeca Altos Plata 8 8 ($16.00 – $18.00) 8 80%
Olmeca Altos Reposado 8 8 ($16.00 – $18.00) 8 80%
El Charro Reposado 7 9 ($14.00 – $17.00) 8 80%
Camarena Reposado 7 8 ($17.00 – $19.00) 8 77%
El Zarco Silver 8 7 ($14.00 – $17.00) 7 73%

 

El Ultimo Agave Tequila. Low Price, but how Good?


El Ultimo Agave Tequila
El Ultimo Agave

El Ultimo Agave Tequila joins my short list of reviews on excellent tequilas that most of us can afford. I bought the 750ml Reposado El Ultimo Agave Tequila at a local liquor store for around $14.00. This puts it in the same price range of one our favorite marg-making standby’s over the last couple of summers, Olmeca Altos Tequila. The price on Olmeca ranges from $27 – $31.00 at my local liquor stores for a 1.75 liter bottle. Another favorite, which is far cheaper than both of these is, Rancho Alegre. All three of these tequilas are 100% agave. There are a couple of reasons, I prefer the El Ultimo Agave to either of these other bargain-priced tequilas:

Taste Comparison

El Ultimo Agave Tequila

Compared straight-up to Olmeca Altos Tequila, both my wife and I preferred El Ultimo De Agave in a blind, taste-test. I was really surprised. Both are smooth tequilas that mix well for margaritas, but the El Ultimo Agave just seems to have more flavor and character.  I noticed hints of honey, fig, banana, butter, orange and ginger. The Olmeca Altos just doesn’t offer as much flavor. For the money, I’d rather pay a little extra for the El Ultimo Agave tequila. Other tequila websites seem to agree with my opinion on El Ultimo Agave. Users and tequila critic snobs alike, have rated it very highly. I did not have the Reposado version of Rancho Alegre, but while I was in the mood, I did do another comparison.

Rancho Alegre Silver vs Olmeca Altos Tequila

A 1.75 bottle of Rancho Alegre is only around $21.00 and for taste-alone, remains the best deal there is. In another blind taste-test, my wife and I much preferred the cheaper Rancho Alegre over the Olmeca Altos tequila and I suspect it would give the El Ultimo Agave a run for its money if I had the same, two types to compare. However, this is a moot point for me. It has been painfully proven to me time and time again, that Rancho Alegre gives me a headache. My wife doesn’t have this problem, so it could just be me. If you haven’t tried Rancho Alegre, I encourage you to try it. Once the secret gets out on a good, cheap tequila, they become much easier to find, though the price tends to rise accordingly. At any rate, I will continue to try bargain-priced, 100% agave tequilas as I find them. The question is where can you find it?

Where to Buy El Ultimo Agave Tequila

Here is where things get tricky. El Ultimo Agave Tequila is listed as an uncommon tequila on the UndertheLabel website. I located El Ultimo Agave at Sams Warehouse Liquor in Westminster, Colorado. Though Sams is one of my favorite liquor stores, they are not in the most convenient location for me. Sams had an excellent selection of tequilas and trying a new one for the first time is a difficult choice. It turns out I made the right choice after fondling bottle after bottle of unknown tequila brands. The problem is, I have not been able to find El Ultimo Agave in any of the other liquor stores near my local neighborhood. If you can find El Ultimo Agave tequila at your local liquor store, I highly recommend it.

Olmeca Altos Tequila




Olmeca Altos TequilaIf you don’t want to pay good money for good tequila, you will want to read this full, review on Olmeca Altos Tequila. Before I get into the specifics of the brand and its qualities, I want to make a point about ambiance. Let’s face it, when it comes to enjoying a good tequila, atmosphere makes a huge difference. I think the reason many of us are so fond of Tequila in the first place is that the taste reminds us of our most recent vacation where we once enjoyed refreshing, margaritas near a crystal clear swimming pool or white-sand beach in the middle of an ordinary work week in the middle of an ordinary January day. During those cold winter months, if we’re lucky enough to make that trip to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Cozumel or the many other dozens of beautiful vacation spots of warmth and sunshine, the taste of a fresh, lime-squeezed margarita will leave us with an indelible memory of relaxation and care-free paradise. Obviously, even the best tasting bottle of tequila in the world won’t replace the enjoyment we get from a week of paradise, but it goes a long way in improving our attitude,  even if it is only for the memories. So, for this reason, I have to be honest by admitting that my most recent review of Olmeca Altos tequila is a bit influenced by the beautiful weather and surroundings in which it was enjoyed.

Olmeca Altos Plata is Perfect for Cocktails

Olmeca Altos PlataThe bottle pictured above is of the Olmeca Altos Plata 100% blue agave tequila. As you can see by the photo of the empty bottle, the very last drop was enjoyed in the cocktails pictured above. A May, 70-degree, calm, sunny, early evening in Arvada, Colorado on a southern-exposure deck with a nice view is about as close as you can get to being on a beach in Mexico in January. So, I have to confess that my review, here, may be slightly biased by the outstanding climate, good feelings and vibes of my immediate surroundings where I enjoyed making this critical analysis. For starters, let me state the obvious: Olmeca Altos Plata is a very smooth liquor – much smoother than any bargain-priced tequila I’ve ever tried. There is no need to drown its flavor with sugary lime-aid mixes. The Plata tequila is actually good enough to be sipped on its own. This is an exceptionally smooth tequila which easily rivals some of the more popular brands which cost twice as much or more. Don Julio and Petron, both come to mind. While I am a big fan of Don Julio, I think Patron is an over-rated brand with a big marketing budget. To be honest, I don’t think it is even as good as, Olmeca Altos. In fact, I don’t think I would even pay 3-times the price for Don Julio knowing how good this one is.  If you’re a true tequila aficionado, don’t expect the Altos Plata to give you those over-tones, substance and character of more expensive, award-winning brands. However, this tequila definitely gives you that full, sweet taste of agave nectar. I also note a fair hint of white pepper, vanilla and just a hint of smoke. The initial taste has a it of a burn, but it quickly tapers off to a very sweet and smooth agave finish. This is the perfect tequila for dry mixers such as the cocktails pictures above. Here is the recipe in case you’d like it:

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Best Triple Sec

Best Triple SecThe best triple sec is one that doesn’t cost a fortune and won’t ruin a good margarita. So, where can you get a great bottle of triple sec that won’t cost you an arm and a leg? Triple sec is basically an orange liqueur which is often a popular compliment to margaritas.   Unfortunately, many of the cheap brands of triple sec I’ve tried do more damage to margaritas than good. Gran Marnier  and Contreau are costlier liqueurs. I’ve never cared for the flavor of Gran Marnier in Margaritas. I think it makes them taste soapy which coincidentally is the same problem with cheaper brands of triple sec. Contreau is a great liqueur which compliments almost any mixed drink, but who can afford it? Surely, there must be a good compromise when it comes to finding a better Triple Sec, right?

Don’t Ruin a Good Marg with a Cheap Triple Sec

I’ve experimented with inexpensive brands of triple sec such as Hiram’s, Finest Call and DeKuyper, but none of them help make a better margarita. In fact they make it worse. I kept wondering why I couldn’t get a good marg even with a good quality, 100% blue agave tequila.  I don’t actually believe in using expensive brands of liquor like tequila for mixed drinks, but there are several good ones that don’t cost an arm and a leg that make infinitely better tasting margaritas. For that reason, I was determined to find the best triple sec at an affordable price.

Stirrings Triple Sec – All Natural

When it comes to getting the most-bang-for-the-buck, Stirrings is the best triple sec I’ve ever tried. Actually what makes Stirrings better is that it has less – less of what makes those cheaper triple sec brands so unappealing. As it’s label implies, Stirrings is all-natural. There is none of that soapy taste that I’ve noticed with cheaper brands. Stirrings is a 100% natural triple sec made from sun-ripened oranges. The moment I opened the bottle,  I could tell Stirrings was far superior to the cheaper brands.

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El Charro Tequila

El Charro TequilaEl Charro Tequila is an extremely affordable Reposado made from 100% agave nectar. I don’t know about you, but when I find a 750 ML bottle of 100% Agava tequila for under $15.00, I buy it right off the shelf with no questions asked. The El Charro Reposado was only $13.98 at my local, Westminster Total Beverage Liquor store, which is a fabulous place, by the way, for discovering affordable brands of tequila. There were a couple of other choices I considered before I spotted the El Charro tequila which was labeled, 100% PURO DE AGAVE.  One of them happened to be my wife’s previous favorite tequila, Epsolon. Epsolon Reposado tequila normally sells for around $20.00, but it was only $17.98 at Westminster Beverage and the shelf was adorned with a very impressive rating of 92 points. I agree with my wife that Epsolon is a decent Tequila for the price, but I’m not sure I agree with the expert rating. Perhaps, it is good marketing and public relations to get these ratings from the so-called tequila snobs.

The shelf holding the El Charro Tequila came with no such rating label, but at $14.00, there is very little risk in trying it. Many times before, I’ve bought inexpensive, 100% Pure Agave tequila and have been very impressed with it. Tres Alegres Blanco and Rancho Alegre (both Silver and Reposado) are a couple of great bargain-priced tequilas that come to mind. These tequilas became a couple of my staple brands for making margaritas. Only two problems: The liquor store stopped carrying the Tres Alegres and I’ve been able to find it elsewhere at an equally low price. And, the Rancho Allegre gave me a headache for some odd reason.  So far, no signs of a headache from El Charro, but is it any good?

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El Zarco Tequila

el zarco tequila reviewI’ll confess that the cool looking bottle at my local liquor store is what conned me into buying and trying a 750ml bottle of El Zarco Tequila (Silver). I went to the liquor store to get a bottle of Taaka Vodka. Being that I already had some Camarena left at the house, I wasn’t really shopping for Tequila. The El Zarco silver tequila comes in a cool-looking, blueish-clear bottle. It is obvious from the print on the bottle that says, “Made with Blue Agave” that El Zarco is not made a 100% Agave tequila. It might also be obvious from the $10.99 price tag if I hadn’t had other good, 100% Agave tequilas in the past like Tres Alegres. Even most persnickety tequila snobs will admit that Tres Alegres is an excellent value. Unfortunately, Tres Alegres is very hard to find.

El Zarco Silver vs Reposado

I bought the Silver bottle of El Zarco thinking it was something different than the unimpressive reposado, Camarena I already had sitting at home. In general, the silver tequilas taste smoky and dry to me where-as the reposados have a sweeter, buttery, more caramel-like flavor. I’m not sure I like mixing a silver tequila with any type of margarita mixes because it might over power the flavor. I prefer the reposado or blancos for making margaritas – but putting a really good tequila into a mixed drink seems like a waste of money to me. There are plenty of partial-agave tequilas that are perfect for making mixed tequila drinks with and any of them that I have ever tried are much better than Jose Cuervo Gold or Silver. Okay, so the silver, El Zarco might be an exception. Since it is not a 100% Agave tequila perhaps, I thought, it might go pretty good in a strong, margarita with real lime juice and only a splash of triple-sec, Cointreau, Gran  Marnier or whatever else any of us might prefer in our margs. I was anxious to taste it by itself to see if I could tell it was not made from 100% agave. The bottle advertisement claims that the El Zarco is double-distilled, making me hopeful that this might be a pretty smooth sipping tequila even if it is a made-for-mixers, partial-agave, silver.

El Zarco Tequila Tasting Notes

From my first sniff of the El Zarco Tequila Silver, I instantly suspected it might have more of an alcohol-burn than the pleasant, smokiness of a good, 100% De Agave, silver tequila. My first taste didn’t prove me wrong. There is some nice smoke and agave flavor once you get past the alcohol burn, but it is clearly inferior to a 100% agave nectar tequila. Though there is a little butteryness to it, the El Zarco tequila just lacks the thickness and cream of the real thing. I decided to put some of the El Zarco into my stainless steel shaker. I squeezed some lime juice and put a couple of lime slices in with the tequila and a few ice cubes; shook and made a martini with it. The result was a decent, not great silver tequila martini. Last, I decided to try El Zarco with a complete, marg using the lime juice and triple sec. The result was a mediocre margarita. El Zarco is an average silver tequila; good, not great – but nothing bad or offensive about it either. I’d certainly try El Zarco reposado for making Margs if I could find a 1.75 liter bottle of it at a sub-$20 price. I’d give El Zarco 3 stars for the price. El Zarco is not so bad that I won’t enjoy drinking it. I would imagine that the bottle of El Zarco will be gone by the time I get around to reviewing my next tequila.


Camarena Tequila




camarena tequilaCamarena tequila might not be a premium tequila brand, but it is not a discount, bargain-basement tequila brand either. I paid about $30.00 for a 1.75 liter bottle of Familia Camarena Reposado tequila at the famous and massive Apple Jack liquor store in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. For a huge liquor store, Apple Jack only has a good, not great tequila section. The name Camarena isn’t familiar to me and I”m surprised I haven’t seen this tequila somewhere else.  When shopping for margarita-making brands of tequila, my budget is usually $20.00 and under. I’ve found some very good tequila, including the Rancho Alegre Silver and Reposado which are made from 100% agave and sell for around $19.00 per 1.75 liter bottle. Unfortunately, most liquor stores don’t carry Rancho Alegre tequila, thus an opportunity arose for trying a new brand. Most stores don’t carry the Camarena tequila either. In fact, I was not going to find a tequila made from 100% agave at Apple Jack in my price range, so the Camarena was the next best thing. The attractive Camarena tequila bottle caught my eye because it had a bright orange tag with a 94 rating by Wine and Spirits.  If the rating is accurate then a tequila with a score that high should be good enough for sipping by itself, while cheap enough for consuming large margaritas. Could the Camarena hold up to that promise? I usually prefer the less expensive reposado over the similarly prices silvers or blanco tequila because they have a fuller, woodier flavor. I had to admit, though, the Camarena seemed very light for a repasado tequila – almost yellow and certainly not the dark, amber color of some of the other reposado tequila brands I’ve drank, much less something like a 3-year old extra anejo tequila. Well, every now and then, it is worth it to go beyond my budget by as much as 33% or more, just to try something new and supposedly better than the other tequila brands I’ve reviewed. So, onto my actual impressions of Camarena tequila.

Is Camarena Over-rated?

Is the Camarena reposado tequila as good as Wine and Spirits lofty, 94 rating? In a word, no. I think a 94 rating is much too high for any tequila in this price range, much less the Camarena which I’ve had better. The best thing I can say about Camarena is that it is dry and smooth . Certainly light years better than Cuervo Gold Tequila which doesn’t even deserve to be called, tequila.  Camarena is almost too dry. The first sip of this light gold tequila gives me just a little tease of the agave and smoky wood than quickly fades into the flat, disappointing burn of the alcohol taste. I notice little or no sweetness from the nectar. The Camarena seems to lack a little soul, but it also lacks the unpleasant punch of some of other tequila brands in this price range. If you’re not overly fond of the complexities of tequila flavor, but enjoy margaritas or sunrises, the Camarena will suit your tastes and budget just fine.

Rancho Alegre Tequila

Tequila Drinker’s Best Kept Secret?

Rancho Alegre
Rancho Alegre Tequila

A Tequila this good and cheap has got to be one of the best kept secret on the planet (at least until this article). Yesterday afternoon, when I checked the ratings websites for bargain priced, decent 100% De Agave Tequila the name, Rancho Alegre, was no where to be found. I found some other brands that were rated very high and cost around $30 for a 750ml bottle. Some examples of these great value priced tequilas include names like Don Eduardo Silver, Hacienda Del Cristero, Marquez de Valencia Reposado, Oro Azul Blanco, just to name a few. With prestigious, Mexican brand names like these, it’s not hard to believe they are quality tequilas, even at a bargain price. But, if I had seen a name like this one on the list for $30.00, I’d be skeptical to say the least. That was before I knew what I know now.

100% De Agave

Armed with my top-shelf, $30-a-bottle, tequila shopping list, I stopped by my local liquor store on the way home from work. My hope was to find a good bottle of sipping tequila like the Don Eduardo and also buy a good mixer-tequila like Sauza for Margaritas, which my wife enjoys. Despite a very nice display and selection of Tequilas, I was unable to find any of the names on my wish-list. I was about to grab the $22.99, 1.75L Bottle of Sauza Gold, when the $17.99 price tag with the unusual name, Rancho Alegre, caught my eye. Underneath the Ranch Alegre label, read 100% De Agave. Now, I’ve had tequilas that claim to be 100% agave before that weren’t any good, so I was skeptical to say the least. Some of these lower priced tequilas claiming to be 100% De Agave remind me of Cuervo. They are very dirty and foul tasting, and don’t make a smooth margarita. Still, at $17.99 for a 1.75L bottle, I thought it might be worth the risk. I loaded the Safari App on my iPhone and searched for a quick review and found some very favorable comments. The ratings stated that Rancho Alegre is not only a good mixer, but very tasty sipping tequila. Either the Reposado or Silver Rancho came highly recommended by the first online review. Deciding I no longer needed the Sauza, I picked up a 1.75L bottle of Reposado.

Rancho Alegre Taste

The first sip of Rancho Alegre lived up to and maybe even surpassed its online rating: Buttery toffee, Agave nectar finishing up with pecan and walnuts. The finish has a bit of a nutty bite, but not at all unpleasant. It was almost too good to use for Margaritas. Before mixing a batch, I let my wife take a couple of sips. She immediately approved and absolutely savored the Margaritas. I couldn’t decide if wanted to drink the Margs or sip on it all by itself, so I did both. I probably drank way too much tequila last night, but had absolutely no headache this morning. I’ve reviewed some excellent bargains in Vodkas and Gins, but this newly discovered tequila is the clear winner of them all when it comes to bargain priced liquor. Now that I’ve let the secret out of the hat, I’d better stock up on Rancho Alegre while it’s still available at such an astoundingly, low price.

How do you rate Rancho Alegre Tequila?

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