Handle The Proof: Partida Tequila

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Gary Shansby directed brands such as, oh, Clorox and Maguire's Car Polish. So what do he know about tequila?

Well, he knew Mexico's most famous legal export ranked as the fastest growing product in the spirit category and that American consumers led the way. He also had a pretty good handle on the nation's tastes. Otherwise, not much.

But he sent someone south of the border to investigate, worked a deal with an old agave farmer and set about distilling one of the best tequilas I've tried.

Partida--the name defers to the old farmer, Enrique Partida--shows a lot of maturity for such a young product line. The reposado sends salted caramel and floral notes to the nose and develops into spice, dry grass and fruit on the palate. Yet it is an extraordinarily smooth sipping spirt, aged six months in American oak that previously contained Jack Daniel's. Apparently the sweet residue calms agave's desire to burn.

The anejo's aroma promises very little, carrying the same floral notes above a hint of sweet grass. But it really opens to the taste: Butterscotch fading into banana with hints of bitter chocolate and a long finish resembling candied pineapple--none of which upsets the equally powerful sensation that you are drinking tequila.

Only the smoky flavor is missing...although you don't really miss it.

Partida cooks the agave pinas in a stainless steel oven rather than the traditional hearths for a cleaner base character, one that allows the taste of agave through. Using oak barrels from Jack Daniel's imparts a burnished sweetness that seems to blend nicely into this base.

Shansby and his cohorts put five years and $30 million into the product before bringing it to market. And they make everything from the stopper to the tequila in Mexico. There's a downside, but it resides outside of the spirit itself.

The team went through 600 examples of potential bottles before selecting one they thought would appeal to American tastes. That's right, 600--which makes it yet another visibly pretentious brand.

But it tastes like one great tequila, so you might not mind.

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