As I’ve been studying tequila, I initially learned from one source that legal Tequila, as decreed by the Appellation de Origin Controllee” (AOC), also known as Denomination of Origin Tequila (DOT), could only come from one location, and that place is the city of Tequila.

While history points to the origin of Tequila emanating from the valley of Tequila, close to Guadalajara (at that time known as mescal wine from Tequila), Tequila is only one of five states where tequila can be produced and called Tequila in Mexico.

Fernando, a reader of wine-blog, wrote the following comment, in order to expand my knowledge base, “Agave plants can be grown in five states in Mexico, not only in Tequila. There are only 180 cities where the blue agave can be legally grown, within these five states. Jalisco leades the way with 97 percent of all the tequila that’s produced with 124 cities. the four remaining brake down in the following way: Michoacán  ~ 30 cities, Tamaulipas ~ 8 cities, Guanajuato ~ 7 cities, and Nayarith ~ 8 cities.” It is statistics like these that make it easy for people to assume that Jalisco is the major producer; however, it’s not the only producer.

This revelation is now making me dig much deeper.

So, what of these other four regions, besides Tequila… Where are they? I had already forun Jalisco on the Pacific, and about half way down the peninsula.

  • Michoacán
  • Tamaulipas
  • Guanajuato
  • Nayarith

Michoacán is the sixteenth largest state in Mexico, and borders Jalisco to the south.

Guanajuato (black state with number 2 barely visible) is a state in the central highlands of Mexico, and borders Jalisco to the east.

Nayarith is a state located on the central west coast, bordering Jalisco to its north.

Tamaulipas is located in the central-northeastern part of the Mexican federation. It borders the the U.S. state of Texas to the north, the Gulf of Mexico is to its east, Veracruz to the south, San Luis Potosí to the southwest, and Nuevo León to the west. Unlike the other regions, it’s not physically connected to the other four states that are allowed to produce Tequila.

Then I thought, what about Mescal? Someone’s sure to bring that up, if I don’t, so off I’ve gone.

If an agave plant is cooked, then extract and ferment its dark brown liquid until a must is formed, next distilling that juice, that’s called a mescal.  The ethyl alcohol content of this beverage is about 12 percent. It’s not wise to drink this beverage at this stage, because the alcohol is too toxic.

The name “mescal” now only applies, according to NOM-070-SCFI-1994 from about 12 speicies in cities authorized to produce: Durango, Guerrero, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Tamuaulipas, Zacatecas; and, is differentiated in the following way, mescal from Durango, mescal from Guerrero, etc.

From the In Search of the Blue Agave Website, which is an excellent resource:

Mezcal wine – tequila’s grandparent – was first produced only a few decades after the Conquest that brought the Spaniards to the New World in 1521. No one has ever come up with an exact date, but it was likely around 1535. It was variously called mezcal brandy, agave wine, mezcal tequila and finally, after a couple of centuries, one variety was simply called tequila – appropriately named after Tequila, a small town in a valley west of Guadalajara, in Jalisco state, Mexico.

NOM (Norma Oficial Mexicana, TRANSLATED: Mexican Official norm) states that tequila must be produced using Agave tequilana Weber Azul species, and must be grown in the federal states and municipalities indicated in the Declaration. (In 1902 or 1903, German botanist Franz Weber registered the family name of Agave tequilana azul, and the “Weber” was added by the new world in his honor.) In Mexico, there are more than 400 species of agaves that can be found.

Taxonomy of the specific agave that becomes tequila through distilllation (Source: Tequila ~ The Spirit of Mexico, published by Revimundo Mexico, text Enrique Martinez Limon, ©2004, p.25):

  • Family | Agavaceae
  • Genus | Agave
  • Species | Tequilana (named for the City of Tequila in the state of Jalisco)
  • Variety | Weber
  • Form | Blue

There are distinct differences in flavors between tequila that’s produced from both the lowland and highland agave plants. Agaves grown in the highlands have more of a fruit flavor, due to their west-facing slopes for a primary growing condition. This facing allows for them to receive the most abundant sunlight throughout the day. Plants are subsequently taller, wider, and juicier. Agaves grown in lowlands are smaller and have more earth notes.