You Don’t Know Mexico

Mexican wines, mescal and other Mexican spirits are on the upswing with several cocktail craftsmen across New Jersey.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

When you think of Mexico, you don’t think of wine, but you do think of tequila and perhaps mescal. As it happens, the oldest winery in the Americas is in Mexico, and Mexican wines have turned up at the newly opened Barrio Costero restaurant in Asbury Park. Mescal, made from roasted agave grown in eight northern states (the largest being Oaxaca), is a complex, smoky cousin to tequila, made only from blue agave grown in the state of Jalisco. Mescal is on the upswing with small-batch spirits connoisseurs. You will soon be hearing about other agave offshoots such as sotol, raicilla and bacanora.

But let’s start with mescal. “Many different types produce wildly different beverages,” says Brian Rothbart of Jersey City’s Third & Vine, which is featuring mescal as its spirit of the season.

“The traditional way to drink it,” explains Jamie Dodge, beverage manager of Barrio Costero, “is neat, at room temperature, with a slice of orange and sal de gusano.” Sal de gusano? It’s sea salt mixed with chile costeño and—brace yourself—toasted, ground agave worms. But fear not. “It’s spicy, earthy, salty and delicious,” Dodge says. “Sprinkle it on the orange, take a sip and bite the orange.”

Sotol, made from an agave called the desert spoon shrub, loves pineapple juice and can be found at Stage Left and the Dillinger Room, both in New Brunswick.

“Sotol has a much more woody, fibrous, earthy flavor than mescal, and may have notes of peanuts, burnt hay or fresh-cut grass,” says Adam Schuman of Skurnik Wines, one of about three Jersey distributors carrying sotol.

Not yet available here, but sure to arrive soon, are raicilla, a relatively sweet and herbal mescal, and bacanora, a mescal that Bon Appetit describes as “dry, complex and peppery, with an earthy finish.”

As for Mexican wine, Barrio Costero’s Dodge stocks a medium-bodied red and a citrusy white. He likes the white with fish tacos and the red with grilled meats.

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