The Brands that Stole the Show

For enthusiasts and aficionados, the Spirits of Mexico Competition held annually in San Diego is something like the Oscars and Olympics rolled into one. Now in its ninth year, the two-day blind tasting drew 113 of the best and the brightest 100% agave tequilas, sotols, bacanoras, raicillas and mezcals. Earning one of the event’s coveted gold medals has given scores of deserving brands a much-needed marketing boost, in large part because of the competition’s growing reputation for exceedingly high standards.

The entries were judged under strictly controlled conditions by 10 industry professionals, all of whom make their living buying, selling, producing or consulting about tequila. The Tasting Competition was co-hosted by Robert Plotkin of BarMedia and Jack Robertiello of Drinks Ink. The panel also included spirits and drinks authorities Charlotte Voisey of William Grant & Sons; Carlos Camarena, master distiller of tequilas Tapatio, El Tesoro de Don Felipe, Excellia and Ocho; Courtenay Greenleaf of Richard Sandoval’s La Biblioteca; Eric Hay of Wirtz Beverage Group; Levi Walker of Young’s Market; Phillip Soto Mares, president of El Duende Tequila, Inc.; Thomas ‘Mac’ McFarland Gregory III of Starwood Hotels, and Zack Romaya of Old Town Liquor.

“One thing that has impressed me after four years of judging at this competition is how much a particular tequila can change year to year,” states Jack Robertiello, industry writer and spirits authority. “We tend to think of tequila brands as static entities. But there are many variables that affect the character of artisanal tequila. Between microclimate issues that impact the agaves while they’re in the ground to the complexities of managing tequilas as they’re aging in oak, it’s exceedingly difficult to produce a consistent product.”

Robertiello contends it’s the changing nature of these spirits that makes this and other high-profile tasting events so meaningful to retailers and on-premise professionals.


Best of Show

Six brands stole the spotlight at this year’s competition by racking up 16 gold medals, 11 silvers and 4 of the 5 captions for “Best of Class.”

Topping the list of elite brands were two new names in 100% agave tequila. Pura Vida Tequila earned gold and tied for “Best of Class” honors for its blanco, gold medals for Pura Vida Reposado and Pura Vida Extra Añejo and a silver for their añejo. The judges were equally impressed with the Jose Cuervo portfolio of 100% agave tequilas, which earned a gold medal and tied for “Best of Class” honors for Jose Cuervo Platino, a gold medal for their Reserva de Familia Extra Añejo and a silver for Jose Cuervo Tradicional.

Recent arrival Luna Nueva 100% Agave Tequilas looks to have a brilliant future after earning gold medals for each of its three expressions. Newcomer Muerto 100% Agave Tequila also distinguished itself at the head-to-head competition. It received a gold medal and “Best of Class” honors for Muerto Reposado and a gold medal for its blanco.

The caption for “Best of Class” Añejo and a gold medal went to el Jimador 100% Agave Tequila, while the el Jimador Reposado earned silver. The gold medal and “Best of Class” caption for extra añejo went to Cava de Oro. Orendain earned gold medals for their blanco, reposado and Orendain Ollitas Blanco, while Orendain Ollitas Reposado was awarded a silver.

Don Julio earned a gold medal for its Don Julio 1942 Añejo and silver for Don Julio Reposado and Don Julio Real Extra Añejo. Milagro and Milagro Select Barrel Reserve was awarded five silver medals for their blancos, reposados and the Milagro Añejo.


Standout Performers

Several tequilas earned top marks and recognition for their achievements. Three brands finished the competition with two gold medals. Gran Dovejo 100% Agave Tequila struck gold for its blanco and añejo, plus a silver for the reposado; Apocalypto Reposado 100% Agave Tequila earned two gold medals, with one being for the “Best of Show” Packaging. Scorpion 100% Agave Mezcal captured “Best of Class” honors for its Tobala Varietal and a gold medal for its Joven.

A complete list of the results from this year’s Spirits of Mexico Competition is available at


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