During the past five years, tequila has been transformed. It used to be a cheap way to get an alcohol high. Now, there are high-end brands that are meant, like fine cognacs, to be sipped.
That same, top-of-the-line marketing strategy has hit mescal, another south-of-the-border spirit that's getting the upscale treatment. At the superpremium end are the mescals from Del Maguey. It's a new company that makes four single-village mescals in the state of Oaxaca, the home of mescal. Don't shoot these mescals; they're not designed (and too expensive) to produce a quick buzz. Instead, take your time and linger over them.
There are only two ingredients: water and the heart of the agave. The agave hearts are roasted over hot stones for three days in an earth-covered pit. Then they're ground to a mash using horse-powered stone mills. Finally, after a long period of fermentation in wooden vats, the liquid is distilled twice, either in wood-fired clay or copper stills. They're all just under 100 proof.
The company produces only 3,200 bottles of each variety a year, and each of the four mescals is very distinctive. Here's a rundown:
Minero: My favorite. It's light, almost fruity and flowery, and the taste lingers long after you've sipped it.
San Luis del Rio: Similar to the minero, but the citrus notes are a bit smoky.
Chichicapa: Very smooth, very deep, very powerful finish.
Santo Domingo Albarradas: What you want on a cold evening--strong, earthy taste that instantly gets you warm all over.
If you're curious about trying these mescals, Old Town Tortilla Factory (6910 East Main, Scottsdale, 945-4567) offers a taste-flight quartet. You get quarter-ounce pours, served in ceramic bowls, for $10. Del Maguey mescals are also available at the Phoenician and Boulders resorts.
And AJ's Purveyor of Fine Foods at Pima and Pinnacle Peak roads carries each mescal, at $64.39 for a 750-milliliter bottle.
Restaurant News: You need a scorecard to follow this town's restaurant openings, closings and movings. Here are the latest:
Opening: As if we don't have enough Scottsdale Italian restaurants, here are two more entries in this crowded field. Rustico, operated by the folks behind Maria's When in Naples, is doing business at 15688 North Pima Road. You can also check out Rigoletto Ristorante Italiano, at 10155 East Via Linda. And Caffe Boa, with branches in Tempe and Ahwatukee, is going big-time with Boa Restaurant, at 15680 North Pima Road.
Moving: Lalibela, the Ethiopian restaurant, has finally found a new home in Tempe, at 849 West University. The menu is the same, and so are the low prices.
Closing: We've already said arrivederci to Aldo Baldo, at Fashion Square in Scottsdale; now it's goodbye to North Valley Grill, at Arrowhead Towne Center.
Suggestions? Write me at [email protected] or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,