Napa Valley, California. Jalisco, Mexico. Do you know what these two regions have in common? Wine? Tequila? How about both? Late in 2016 I had the unique opportunity to travel to Guadalajara, Mexico to be a part of something very special. The unveiling of one of (if not the) world’s finest tequilas. Crafted by Casa Noble’s Founder and Maestro Tequilero, Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo, Alta Belleza is the first edition of an exciting new project: Colección del Fundador or “Founders Collection.” What makes this ultra-premium tequila unique is the process that Casa Noble, and Pepe, have perfected over the years. The unveiling event took place over the Dia de las Muertos weekend in October, and with it, an exciting opportunity to participate in the activities that make up the local culture-tequila included.
My first experience in Mexico for the unveiling event was lunch at the beautiful restaurant Casa Luna in the small town of Tlaquepaque, Jalisco just outside of Guadalajara. Sitting down to the table I was greeted with a traditional cocktail of sorts, a mixture of tequila, cloves, cucumber, and other spices along with a splash of squirt soda-made with Casa Noble Blanco, of course. It was explained that the cocktail is designed to be refreshing and enjoyed before a meal, and enjoy it I did. A glass of Casa Noble Reposado was also served alongside our lunch with a side of juice and citrus. I had been told this would be a tequila trip, I began to realize in this moment that I may not be properly prepared for the level of tequila consumption that would soon ensue. Following a delicious lunch, the Casa Noble team led us throughout Tlaquepaque where we enjoyed the sights and sounds of Dia de la Muertos; dance ensembles, street side vigils, and exotic makeup were just a few pieces of the rich culture and history that is evoked by this holiday. As we finished up our shopping in Tlaquepaque, we stopped in at Nuestros Dulces, which holds the Guinness World Record for the most varieties of tequila commercially available in a single location (928) though shopkeepers stated that they now have over 1000 different varieties in the store.
As we arrived at the hotel after our jaunt throughout Tlaquepaque we were told to be prepared for dinner within the hour, and that there would be a special treat awaiting us. Little did we know that this special treat would turn out to be a wine tasting experience with Master Sommelier Antonio Laveaga at the restaurant Hueso in Guadalajara. Antonio is well renowned and a true master of his craft-particularly wine. Antonio, along with Pepe, explained how the expression of Casa Noble that we would be enjoying the next day at the distillery, Alta Belles, had been produced using T5 Wine Barrels which once held To Kalon (pronounced Toe-Cah-lone) Cabernet from Robert Mondovi. To Kalon is one of the most sought after appellations in Napa Valley, and from it, Robert Mondovi creates several of his award-winning wines. Antonio went on to discuss that there are specific notes and flavor characteristics from the wine which are absorbed by the oak casks, only to release those notes and characteristics back into the tequila as it ages. Thoroughly enjoying the seminar, I found myself looking through my travel humidor for a cigar that would pair elegantly with such a wine. For what it’s worth, I decided on a Tatuaje Noellas Reserva, which was phenomenal with the full bodied To Kalon Cabernet.
Finishing up our tasting seminar, we moved as a group into the dining area, which is a sight to behold. The entire restaurant of Hues is open, with a few closed rooms upstairs for private parties. The restaurant itself takes up an old home, and is filled with bones. Over sixteen-thousand bones to be precise. Fossils, bones, antlers and more from different animals adorn the white walls, telling a story of how the restaurant began and those who started it. Dinner itself was a journey into the world of gourmet fusion cuisine; Slow cooked duck, filet mignon, and shrimp cooked in squid ink were just a few of the delectable dishes we enjoyed, all the while pairing dinner with our glasses of To Kalon cabernet. It wasn’t long before dinner was over and everyone was ready for some shut-eye after a long day of traveling and, ahem, “spirits tasting.”
The next day was slated for us to experience the all new Alta Belleza Extra Anejo by Casa Noble, but not before we received some welcome education on Casa Noble, and their process for distilling the world’s best tequila. Now, before I get too far along on just how unique Casa Noble’s process is- it’s important to understand what “Tequila” is, and how it’s made on a standard scale. Per the General Declaration of Protection of the Appellation of Origin of “Tequila,” commonly referred to as the “Declaration”, the following highlights apply directly to the process:
Mellowing- A procedure to soften the flavor of the tequila. This can include the addition of one or more of the following ingredients: Caramel coloring, natural oak or Encino oak extract, Glycerin, Sugar-based syrup.
Agave- The only species allowed is the Blue Weber Agave varietal, grown and harvested in the Appellation of Tequila, Mexico.
There are two “types” of Tequila available, “100% Agave” Tequila, which is a product that may not be enhanced with sugars other than those obtained from Blue Weber agave. The other, “Tequila” may contain up to 49% of the sugars from sources other than Blue Weber Agave. If you like premium tequila, 100% Agave is what you should look for, and is the only type of Tequila that Pepe and the Casa Noble team believe in making.
The process used by Pepe and the team at Casa Noble is one of the most labor intensive processes on the market for ultra-premium tequila, “In 1997 we started Casa Noble. We wanted something very unique, very special with the experience.” states Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo, as he begins walking us through the timeline and process of Casa Noble. “Our philosophy is two very basic, but important things. Patience and care. Care for every single detail… that care starts with the Agave, that is our only source, besides water, for Tequila. And the patience to do everything right.” Pepe continued that with over 1.5 Million Agave plants in the ground, “We are waiting 10 to 12 years instead of 7 years for the agave to grow to full maturity until we are ready to harvest.” After the agave is harvested, it is trucked to the factory where it is weighed, and then cooked in traditional fashion. “We do all our cooking in stone ovens, instead of using autoclaves or diffusers, which is much more efficient and technology oriented. We like to do the traditional ways- 48 hours of steam cooking – instead of autoclaves, which would be pressure cooker, or diffuser which is the next technology, which is extremely efficient but then you have to use chemicals, acids, and a bunch of other stuff.” Pepe further explains that this is because Casa Noble is not only an ultra-premium tequila, but also certified organic and kosher, which is something very few tequila companies can claim. The traditional process not only allows for the organic and kosher designations, but is part and parcel of what give Casa Noble it’s unique flavor and exceptional quality.
Fermentation is completed using a proprietary yeast strain, but is paired with open fermentation tanks which allows natural yeasts to also engage in the process, further providing depth and character to Casa Noble’s Tequila. Taking a moment to taste the fermenting mixture, you immediately recognize the flavors of cooked agave, but now there are additional notes; some green apple, a touch of sugar, and hints of bread.
Upon finalization of fermentation the mixture is then triple-distilled into Tequila using column stills, where only the hearts of the spirit are taken for Casa Noble tequila. Coming out of the still, the spirit is 114 proof, or 57% ABV. “It’s not what you would expect at 114 [proof],” states Pepe, “You can still taste that sweetness, that beautiful aromas, you can still taste a little bit of that agave.” Start to finish, the distillation process takes about 13 hours, and from the time the agave is cooked until it is a distilled spirit typically lasts one week. When you begin to add up all the different parts of the process, an ultra-premium aged tequila like Alta Belles can take nearly 15 years to realize, which is indeed an impressive feat of patience.
The finished product of Alta Belleza is truly a sight, smell, and taste to behold. What sets Alta Belleza, the first volume of Colección del Fundador (or Founder’s Collection) apart from the competition is the final 6 months of rest that it spends in T5 Tonnelleries Taransaud French Oak wine barrels, previously used for aging the exclusive Robert Mondavi To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon. Fittingly enough, To Kalon is Greek for “highest beauty” and Alta Belleza is Spanish for “high beauty.”
Tasting aromas begin with hints of green apple, cinnamon, toasted almond and sweet cooked agave. The depth of flavor is immense, lingering on your palate for several moments before slowly fading. The spirit is bright, sweet and perfectly balanced, and we invite everyone with the opportunity to savor this delicious tequila. With only 563 bottles available in the world, you may have difficulty locating it, and the $1,200 price tag may put it out of reach for many- but if you’re truly searching for the best, look no further than Alta Belleza, and Casa Noble.