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Since establishing Casa Noble, José “Pepe” Hermosillo has been a pioneer in the super premium tequila category. He took some time recently to share some of his reflections with us.
What was your inspiration for founding Casa Noble in 1997?
After my father passed away, I had the concept of creating something unique, something that would honor my heritage. Back then, tequila wasn’t regarded as a premium spirit in the U.S. I wanted to showcase it in a more upscale, elegant and contemporary way---and of course, I wanted to be the absolute best in terms of quality.
I gather Casa Noble was a family estate?
The land actually belonged to my partner, Carlos Hernandez. My family had a long tradition of making tequila, and they had been involved with different distilleries since the 1700s.
What made you hope that Americans could perceive tequila differently?
We were focused on educating people little by little, so that they saw tequila in a different light. We wanted them to appreciate the nuances and possibilities. Now we’re seeing the aging component come into its own---similar to bourbon, where you have many possibilities in terms of types of barrels and length of time in oak.
Patrón was started in 1989, and it’s generally regarded as the first super premium tequila. Did that have an influence on you?
Patrón wasn’t an influence, because it wasn’t that well-known at the time---it really took off later. Back then, the most important brands were Porfidio and Don Julio.
How do you go about educating the public?
I was in five different cities last week doing tastings, and we have brand ambassadors around the country who travel constantly and conduct staff training in restaurants.
You mentioned bourbon before: It has a very strong following among the older demographic, while tequila primarily appeals to younger drinkers. How do you get them to refine their palates?
I think it’s a natural transition. It’s a great advantage to have the younger generation drinking tequila, and the challenge is stimulating them to move from basic margaritas to a better spirit. As they mature, that tends to happen naturally.
Do you think it would help to have an alternative to the margarita---a simple, two or three-ingredient cocktail that isn’t shaken, that would allow the quality of the tequila to come through?
Margaritas are great for casual situations. As we transition, we’re trying to focus on simpler cocktails that put more emphasis on the quality of the spirit. A good example is the Paloma, which consists of only two ingredients: tequila and grapefruit-flavored soda. It’s very popular in Mexico, and starting to catch on here in the U.S. For me, the best margarita is a simple one---just some good tequila, agave nectar and a lime wedge, so the flavor of the tequila isn’t overwhelmed.
Tell me about your connection to Carlos Santana.
We met about seven years ago---he was a fan of Casa Noble, and his people called and said he wanted to meet us. So we went up to his suite in the Hard Rock Hotel and did a tasting for him, and I was impressed by the intensity of his focus; he’s from the region, and has a lot of connection with the history. At the end he stood up and gave me a big hug and said, “You and I are about the same thing.” Later he came to the distillery, and he became an investor in July 2011. He’s a good friend and a wonderful person.
How do you see the future? Where would you like Casa Noble to be in ten years?
Hopefully, we’ll have more recognition of Casa Noble as a complex and beautiful spirit. Our sales have tripled in the past three or four years, and we’ve become a relevant brand. We’d love to become one of the top three brands in the super premium tequila category. It’s a big dream, and hopefully it will come true.
Super premium tequila is hot: According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., category sales have increased a staggering 805% since 2002.
There was very little luxury tequila back then. The category was created in 1989 by Patron, who charged an unthinkable $40 per bottle at the time. Prior to that, tequila in America had been the drink of bikers, frat boys and bums. In fact, the standard method of ingesting it---downing a shot quickly, along with a dose of salt and lime---had been developed specifically to mask the aroma and flavor of the stuff.
Fueled by interest and affluence from the baby boom generation, the wine industry has been having a very good run. A bottle of Harlan Estate, if you’re not on the mailing list, will now cost you $1300. This is the equivalent of $340 in 1978 dollars, but back in 1978 no wine was selling for $340---and no one imagined that it ever would.
Nor is the madness confined to California: The 2015 Chateau Margaux will run you $1600 per bottle. I bought the 1988 vintage of that wine for $60. These are extreme examples, of course, but it’s not uncommon for a Napa Cabernet to fetch $150 today, compared to an unheard-of 1978 price of $40. You don’t need a degree in economics to realize that there has been a prolonged gold rush in the wine business.
In the broadest possible terms, the universe of the grape can be divided into two categories: serious wines and quaffers. There’s little overlap between the two. Serious wines tend to be expensive, complex, vineyard designated and estate-grown (and thus heavily dependent on vintage and weather conditions). Quaffers are not only affordable, but they are made from fruit purchased from dozens or hundreds of growers, so they tend to taste the same year after year.
A roundup of the most interesting food, wine and spirits stories on the web (because even Al Gore, who invented it, doesn't have time to read them all)
Eileen Crane has been called the doyenne of California sparkling wine. After studying at the Culinary Institute of America and taking courses in enology and viticulture at U.C. Davis, Crane took a job as a tour guide at Domaine Chandon in 1978 and worked her way up to assistant winemaker. She was hired away by Gloria Ferrer in 1984 to supervise the construction of their sparkling wine facility in Sonoma. Three years later, the Taittingers selected her to build and supervise their operation at Domaine Carneros. She has been there ever since, establishing both a palate memory and sense of continuity.
The world of French sparkling wine ventures in California began in 1973, when Moët et Chandon established Domaine Chandon. This was followed by Mumm Cuvée Napa (1979) and Roederer Estate (1982). The idea was no longer novel by the time Domaine Carneros came along in 1987, but they had several things going for them. The Taittinger name was familiar to many Americans, and the graceful style of the wine was comfortable to them as well; when it was transplanted to California, it became even riper and more appealing.
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Our roving correspondent looks at a culinary trend going mainstream
Did you know that olive oil can reduce the risk of many types of cancers? It can make you less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. It can slow the aging of your heart, lower your bad cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of stroke and of getting Alzheimer’s. Such are the claims made by the Olive Oil Times, (yes, there is such a publication), as well as many, many other sources. There is a lot of evidence that the monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil can have a very real and positive effect on your well-being.
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I have been to Vietnamese restaurants in the United States,
France, and several Asian countries. I
recently spent two weeks eating my way from one end of Vietnam to the other and
quickly realized that before I got here I had absolutely no clue what
Vietnamese food was all about.
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Eating his way through Asia, our correspondent has reached Vietnam. Here is his report on the street food vendors of Hanoi.
Like many foodies I have a Tony Bourdain addiction. I have followed him through three networks, actually ran into him filming in a butcher shop in Tuscany, and have seen every show he’s done from his favorite country, Vietnam. According to a recent New York Times Magazine story he seriously considered moving to Vietnam, specifically Hanoi, a few years ago. So Vietnam went to the top of my bucket list and I finally got there recently.Read more
By Ken Schechet
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Singapore is probably the most food obsessed place I’ve ever been. It is a constant topic of conversation. Cab drivers ask you where you’ve eaten. It’s a place where WTF stands for “Where’s the Food” (I didn’t make that up. It was on a billboard.) Being a major trading and banking center there are no end of fine restaurants, but what Singapore is famous for is street food.Read more
By Ken Schechet
This is the first in a series of dispatches from our correspondent Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.
If you’ve ever been to South Philadelphia and are a foodie, you have probably been to the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue where the two signature cheese steak joints, Pat’s and Gino’s, are directly across the street from each other and staring each other down constantly. Of course, you need to try them both. Rivalries like these are so delicious to me, on so many levels, that when I heard about two similar situations in Singapore I had to see them on a recent visit.