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¿Qué Pasa - No Tequila? What to Drink in Mexico

by Kristen Siebecker
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Mar 24, 2017

When it comes to Mexican booze, we all know that tequila permeates the American drinking scene. Nearly everyone starts there (avoid the hangover by going for a high-quality tequila made from 100 percent blue agave). But why not try tequila's cousins, mezcal and raicilla? Or how about Mexican wine? Not surprisingly, these fermented and distilled beverages have a long history in Mexico with a new and refreshed interest in the U.S.

Here are three tequila-free options, which I had the pleasure of sampling firsthand on a recent visit to Riviera Nayarit, Mexico.

Let's start with wine: Mexicans have been making vino since the 1500s. Historically, Mexico was the first country in the Americas to grow grapes specifically for winemaking (sacramental wine for religious ceremonies). There were stops and starts due to wars and Prohibition, but the last 10 to 15 years has seen a dramatic push for quality wine production and distribution. Most Mexican wines are produced in the Baja region, located just a couple of hours by car from San Diego. If you enjoy flavorful whites such as chenin blanc and bold Bordeaux blends, Mexican wines will find a comfortable place on your palate.

Where to drink it: If you got pesos to burn, head to Imanta Resorts in Punta de Mita. The luxurious and secluded five-star property holds their own private label.

If you like a smoky spirit that reminds you of a peaty scotch, try mezcal in lieu of tequila for your margarita, or even just for sipping. Mezcal uses many variations of agave, unlike just one (blue) for tequila, and most come from Oaxaca. The biggest difference with mezcal is that the heart of the agave is methodically slow-cooked in an underground pit, which gives it that smoky quality. Try an aged añejo, and mezcal may become your after-dinner drink of choice.

Where to drink it: It's not always what you drink, but where you drink it, and for my Mexican mezcal fix I saddled up to the bar at the newly opened W Punta de Mita. The lobby bar (which they call The Living Room) features a soaring chandelier sculpture featuring 450 LED lights meant to look like church candle votives. I was in heaven!

For something a bit more esoteric (at least in the U.S.) that is also made from the agave plant, try raicilla (rye-see-ya). Some historians claim its natural agave processing was established well before tequila, and it definitely has a different taste profile. It can be more robust and flavorful but high in acidity and intensity. The styles can have added sweetness as well. Raicilla uses two types of agave plant that are found in Jalisco. It takes about seven to eight years from the planting of the agave to finished production, which has not been modernized.

Where to drink it: While Sayulita is known for its surf and nightlife culture, I went rogue and discovered raicilla at Sayulita Wine Shop. You won't find mass-produced raicilla, so be sure to leave room in your luggage to bring a bottle home!

Kristen Siebecker is a Certifed Sommelier and lover of cocktails. She is the co-host of I Feel Vine, a weekly podcast about the power of positive drinking. She also hosts recreational wine classes under the title, Popping Your Cork. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter at @WineWithKristen.


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