How to Taste Mezcal and other Agave Spirits
Tasting agave-based spirits needs to be approached with an open mind. There's an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to the aromas and flavors of an agave spirit. If you’re new to the exercise, it might help to use a tasting wheel (see below) to help guide your experience.
There are many kinds of materials that copitas are made from, including clay, marble, volcanic stone, and carved gourds. But in my opinion, the best vessel for tasting mezcal is a glass copita.
A clean glass copita will keep the essence of a quality mezcal (or other agave spirit) and not introduce any additional flavors that you may get from other, more porous or absorbent materials. Always smell your glass first to make sure it is clean before pouring a quality mezcal.
Next is the pour size. You want to fill the copita about one-third to one-half full. This allows the spirit to breathe and the opportunity to express itself. Now that your preparation is complete, it’s time to move on to the tasting.
Take the copita and bring it up to your nose. Tilt the glass on an angle and smell the spirit. How does your nose feel when you inhale? What aromas are you smelling?
Swirl or agitate the spirit for about 10 seconds, then smell again. How have the aromas and nose feel changed from the first smell?
If you come up with a new aroma each time you smell it, you potentially have a complex mezcal of good quality on your hands. Only two or three aromas detected may indicate a simple mezcal of lower quality.
Now it’s time to take your first sip. Usually the first sip is more like a kiss, as you’re just aiming to warm up your palate. After you swallow your first first sip, take a second, this one large enough to allow the spirit to coat your entire tongue.
How does liquid feel in your mouth? Does its taste and texture linger for a while? Is it pleasing or undesirable? What flavors are you detecting? Do the flavors also reflect what you were smelling earlier? Are you discovering a lot of different notes or only a few?
After you’ve pondered the spirit for a bit, ask yourself if you find it balanced and harmonious. Do the aromas and flavors work really well together, or does something seem off? Mezcal and other agave-based spirits can often be complex on the nose but will fall short on flavor complexity. But when the spirit is complex in the nose and the mouth and feels good in both places: Congratulations, you have found a great spirit!
—Gregorio Rutkowski, founder, Mezcal for Life