At the Premier Group, one of the reasons we like to visit wineries and distilleries it to get a feel for the place our products come from as well as get to know the people and traditions of the region. This philosophy of discovery has made us a top retailer and has also lead to some relationships with great people over the years.
My meeting with Paco Garcia from Wahaka Mezcal was supposed to be a short tour and tasting. As he sensed my desire to really know his Mezcal and my love of Oaxaca, he asked if I would open my whole day to him. I jumped at the chance.
I had the opportunity to see all three types of Maguey (a type of Agave plant used for Mezcal) up close, to touch them and see where they are grown. I would later get to taste the delicious and unique Mezcal that each plant produces.
The farmed Espadin (I think this is what most people picture when they think of Agave plants)
As well as the two wild Maguey
• Tobalá (very close to the ground) from the highlands
• Madre-Cuishe (they look almost like trees) from the lowlands
My trip to the fields also opened up a deep conversation with Paco about Oaxaca's Mezcal, his personal philosophy, Mexico and sustainability (thankfully we were joined by Dave Miller from the Multi Cultural Cooking Network who served as a translator and offered great, expert perspective as well). Wahaka Mexcal is certified USDA Organic, it is grown sustainably with a strong sense of “the land has given us Mezcal, we need to treat it with kindness”. Paco explained that although he was a businessman, he also had a love for Oaxaca's Mezcals. He told me of great Mezcals throughout the region, fine Mezcals that deserve a place alongside of great Spirits of the world. My favorite quote of the day was “To understand Mezcal, you must understand Mexico- To understand Mexico you have to understand Mezcal.”
One thing that was driven home to me, as a “wine guy” was the sense of “terroir” or place the finished Mezcal possesses. He took me to a large mineral spring that is fed by an underground river in his valley. The water was clean, pure, delicious and extraordinarily minerally (yes, I drank the water and it was great). The Maguey plant will also pick up the flavors and aromas of its surroundings (flowers, citrus, trees)
When you taste the Wahaka Mezcals you can find a hint of mineral character to them (not unlike a fine Riesling). Speaking of tasting, we went back to the distillery where Paco conducted a tasting seminar for us. My Notes:
Joven Espadin:Sweet nose with very little heat, signature mineral character joined by pleasant citrusy notes with a touch of smoke on the aftertaste that went on for several minutes. The taste was pleasant and full, mostly concentrated in the front of the tongue.
Joven Tobalá (King of Mezcal!): More aromatic and less sweet than the Espadin (we were subsequently told the wild growing Tobalá can be found growing among flowers and trees). Very powerful, explosive flavor (it’s the King of Mezcal for a good reason) flavors of anise, citrus and more mineral.
Joven Madre-Cuishe: a bit of smoke and orange zest on the nose, a bit more subtle than the Tobala, the flavors of citus, earth and mineral slowly evolve in your mouth.
Joven Ensamble: A blend of 50% Espadin, 25% each Tobalá and Madre-Cuishe – blended before they were even roasted, mashed as one. A full experience (I was allowed to bring one bottle home and this was it!!) a little smoky with a subtle nose and a strong mineral component.
Reposado con Gusano: spends four months in oak, by far the smokiest of the bunch with a very unique flavor. It includes the Gusano (worm) Paco let us know “that unique flavor that you cannot describe? – it is the Gusano!).
Paco then asked if we would like to meet the authority on Mezcal, his friend Ulises Torrentera. Ulises wrote the book on Mezcal (literally- you will soon be able to buy it on Amazon). The afternoon turned into an intense seminar and tasting on "Terroir and Mezcal"- Ulises did not disclose the names of the Mezcals he demonstrated- only their Maguey and geography! A “wine nerd” such as myself was in Mezcal heaven. I was told some of the offerings were the fine Mezcals Paco spoke of earlier in the day. I will forever be grateful to Paco and Ulises (pictured with me below) for their teaching and hospitality!
The Multi Cultural Cooking Network did a short interview with me as well that you can see here.