The Easter Bunny slipped a bottle of Fortaleza reposado tequila into the bright blue English watering can that doubled as my wife’s Easter basket this year. He deigned to plunk a bottle of Casa Noble into the flimsy plastic affair that served as my basket, because he is kind, and because he judges the heart and not the exterior trappings. And my heart loves tequila. Once, Santa managed to cram a bottle of Corzo into my stocking, despite its broad, angular bottle.
All three of those tequilas are on the shelf at Patron’s Corner, a restaurant at the corner of 4th and J downtown, but I’ve never ordered any of them. I first discovered the place the end of a mildly frustrating date with the wife; a police car had blocked my old Prius into its spot, and the officers appeared to be gathering material for a biography of the deeply drunk transient who had caught their attention. We found ourselves with time to kill, so we wandered away from the crush of Fifth and found the Corner. The wife liked the painting on the back wall: a wooden cart carrying a freshly harvested agave. It reminded her of Andrew Wyeth’s Cider Barrel.
The place was quieter than it deserved to be, but that was okay, because it gave owner/operator Paul Garduno time to chat and make suggestions. Garduno, a 20-year veteran of the San Diego restaurant scene, began by asking what I usually drink. I mentioned the Corzo. I also allowed as how I’ll sometimes splurge on something older than reposado. He nudged me in the direction of the Arette extra añejo — a personal favorite for the money. “I nitpick the tequilas I carry,” he said. “It’s like when I go to Sonoma and find a wine I’ve never heard of that is not $300 a bottle, but is comparable to one that is. That’s like finding gold.”
Before tasting, a consideration. After Patron exploded the tequila market in the United States, other makers started eyeing the big new customer base up north. “But most Americans have a different palate from Mexicans. They like it creamier instead of rougher. They’re used to bourbons, they like vanilla notes, things on the sweeter side. Tequila makers started experimenting — charring the oak, using bourbon or wine barrels to age the tequilas, using French oak instead of Mexican or American.” They went further, fermenting the agave at warmer temperatures, “which gives a little sweetness. Tequila is like wine — all these factors change the flavor profile.”
The Arette was not an experimental tequila. “It’s very traditional; a little more dry than most people like in this market. Eighty percent of people who try this side by side with, say, the Don Abraham, are going to like the Don Abraham, and most of them are not Mexican.” Sipping each, I could see why. The Abraham was floral where the Arette was nutty, pure where the Arette was complicated. I thought of sherry. Garduno thought of tasting flights. I concurred.