Labels distill truth: Tequila makers cutting pricey agave
BY MORRIS THOMPSON
Herald World Staff
MEXICO CITY -- Many tequila drinkers like to knock it back with
a bit of salt. Now
the labels on many premium tequila bottles need to be read with a few grains of
That's because soaring prices for the agave cactus used to make
prompting many distillers to cut the amount of distilled agave in some of their top
labels from 100 percent to as low as 51 percent, supplemented by other distilled
Premium prices for these once-premium tequilas haven't dropped.
labels have dropped the words ``100 percent agave'' and say just ``tequila.''
Aficionados disdain the new brew, calling it ``blended tequila.''
brands, whose labels have always said just ``tequila,'' haven't changed.
``The 51 percent stuff is what most Americans drink, and it's
veterinary science Professor Antonio Verdugo as he sampled one of his favorites
in La Tequilera, a restaurant and bar that carries 66 tequilas.
``But a connoisseur knows that really good tequila is 100 percent
agave,'' he said.
``I read the labels on everything, and I've had to stop drinking some tequilas that
used to be good. It's sad.''
Ramon Valdés, president of Tequila Herradura S.A. de C.V.,
second-oldest commercial tequila distiller, is not happy. His firm came in for
criticism recently after a reporter noticed that the label on its El Jimador brand
now says just ``tequila.'' It used to be 100 percent agave.
Valdés says his company made the change in El Jimador's
formula last May.
Otherwise, he said, his firm would have had to double El Jimador's price, about
$13 a bottle in Mexico, because agave prices have risen 3,000 percent since
1995. That's when U.S. demand started to surge and just as it did, a freeze and
disease cut agave crops sharply.
Premium brands that have changed their formulas -- and labeling
-- include 100
Años, La Querencia, Tahona, Puente Viejo, Corralejo, Jornalero and Quitapenas.
The 100 percent agave tequilas accounted for one-fourth of the
industry's output of
181.6 million liters last year.
Americans consumed slightly more of the total production than
Mexico's Tequila Regulatory Council doesn't know how much of the exported
product was pure agave and how much was the 51 percent variety.
Valdés and others say the pricier premium brands tend to
be exported to the