With celebrities ranging from Dwayne Johnson to Michael Jordan to Bryan Cranston all getting in on the tequila and mezcal game, you’d think a mass migration from Hollywood to Mexico was underway. Nope, turns out that’s just where the money is. After George Clooney and pals got $1 billion for their sale of Casamigos a few years ago, everyone and their mother is trying to carve out the own private Jalisco. And hey, some of them are actually good. Below we look at the best bottlings of tequila and mezcal that we sampled in 2020 — most are new offerings launched this year, but a few expressions that we were a bit late to also appear on the list. Salud!
1. El Mayor Tequila Cristalino – The surging cristalino category – anejo tequila filtered so it’s clear in color – got a hell of a contender from El Mayor this year. The nose balances fruit and agave, while the palate spreads the sexy vanilla, caramel, and cinnamon notes on thick. It all comes together beautifully on the lightly lemony finish. Best of all, El Mayor isn’t gouging shoppers like you’ll find with many other tequilas in this category. At just $40, it’s cheaper than the typical anejo, and worth every peso. $40 -CN
2. Avion Tequila Reserva 44 Extra Anejo – We’ve reviewed several excellent examples of the increasingly trendy extra anejo style in recent years, but a clear standout is Avion 44. It’s a carefully constructed tequila, aged 43 months in standard ex-bourbon barrels and one month in specially selected small barrels that are rotated daily to concentrate the flavors. All of that attention to detail pays off in a big way, producing a rich and balanced tequila that preserves traditional, earthy agave notes while also highlighting plenty of barrel-driven, bakery shop complexity. $120 -DB
3. Expresiones del Corazon Barrel-Aged Tequila William Larue Weller Anejo 2020 – This annual collaboration between Corazon and Buffalo Trace hit a high point in 2020, with this gentle and balanced bottling, which spends 15 months in William Larue Weller bourbon casks. Subtle sweetness and pepper intermingle deliciously, hitting the perfect spot on the lustrous finish. $85 -CN
4. Cincoro Tequila Blanco – This ostentatious Michael Jordan-backed tequila brand isn’t just a celebrity gimmick, but the blanco expression is the one to snap up. It’s a peppery powerhouse with some interesting floral and berry notes, chewy on the palate with a racy, lingering finish. Plus you can use the outsized bottle as a weapon should the need arise. $70 -CN
5. Vamonos Riendo Mezcal – Our favorite new mezcal of the year, this ensamble of espadin and tobala agave is triple-distilled and clean, gently oaky with orange notes, both on nose and palate. A build-up of bright tangerine, milk chocolate, and vanilla sweeten up the delightfully approachable finish. $60 -CN
6. Nosotros Tequila Reposado – Following up on its solid blanco in 2019, Nosotros recently dropped this unique reposado, which is aged for 11 months not in bourbon casks but in French oak. It’s a showcase for the barrel, complex with fruit, florals, and dessert-like notes, its spice kept carefully in check. $45 -CN
7. Tanteo Tequila Blanco – Tanteo has long been associated with flavored tequilas, so it was a surprise to see a standard blanco from the brand hit in 2020. It’s a soft – and slightly overproof – expression offers a classic blanco experience, herbal and lightly lemony with hints of spice on the finish. There’s lots of fruit here, but ample nuance, as well. $40 -CN
8. Los Vecinos del Campo Mezcal Ensamble No 1 – Crafted from a blend of 90% espadin, 5% barril, and 5% madrecuishe agave, this ensamble mezcal is clean and approachable, balancing sweetness with sultry smokiness and a finish that offers notes of caramel, black pepper, and some chili powder. Lots to explore here. $55 -CN
9. Acre Mezcal Cenizo Joven – Don’t get distracted by the cool presentation, Acre is a dazzling new mezcal made from cenizo agave grown in the Durango region. Beefy and spicy, with notes of orange peel and white pepper all in a wild mix, this is a layered offering with tons of versatility. $60 -CN
10. Cazadores Tequila Extra Anejo – Cazadores produces a lot of reliable and affordable mid-range tequilas, so the familiarity with the name can make you overlook its top-shelf products. This extra anejo has been aged three years in new American oak barrels, and these give it lots of vanilla and butterscotch on the nose, alongside notes of orange and a hint of coffee. The palate provides chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, dried fruit, and almonds, with a satisfyingly spicy finish. $55 -MG
Additional writeups by Drew Beard and Mike Gerrard.