WINE TALK: Talking tequila

CJ's on the Bay

Spring is here and the weather in our Paradise is just about perfect. Spring crops are coming in: sweet corn, strawberries, blueberries and a plethora of other vegetables are being harvested.

We are fortunate that our access to fresh fruits and vegetables is year round. Spring cookouts are casual affairs that conjure thoughts of juicy grilled burgers and steaks.

This is definitely fodder for ice cold beer and maybe a wine spritzer. But I am thinking of yet another spring favorite – especially with Cinco de Mayo nearly here – a refreshing margarita.

A bit of Cinco de Mayo background: It is often thought of as the Mexican Independence Day. In fact, Mexico celebrates its Independence Day on Sept. 16.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico's victory over France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. This is significant because France was the world's superpower at that time and the Mexican army (4,000 strong) was outnumbered by a force of 8,000 Frenchmen. Subsequently, this was the last time a European country attempted to invade any of the Americas.

Maybe that is why we celebrate Cinco de Mayo here, too. Or maybe it is the opportunity to drink Mexican beer (think Corona, Dos Equis, Negra Modelo) and the aforementioned margarita.

About that margarita: Please do not use a bottle of mix that is mostly sugar and lime-flavored water. If you start with quality tequila and fresh-squeezed lime juice your chances of making the perfect spring cocktail are very good.

Tequila is where is all begins. Definitely find a tequila that has "100 percent agave" on the label.

My favorite tequila is Partida. This is crafted from specific blue-agave fields in the Tequila Valley of Mexico. Blue agave that is mature (anywhere from seven to 10 years old) is best for fine tequila production.

The large, bulbous center of the plant is harvested and trimmed, then cooked and distilled. The Maestro Tequilero (Tequila Master) adds some natural ingredients and carefully monitors the production process to create the finest, smoothest tequila. Blanco is the result of the second distillation. This has well defined characteristics of tequila – crystal clear with flavors of the agave, a touch of citrus and herbs.

Tequilas are also aged in barrels to create deeper, smoother flavors that are less harsh and very nice to sip. Partida actually ages in Jack Daniels barrels to produce their Añejo tequila. The barrel aging lends a pleasant nutty aroma with hints of caramel and vanilla flavors.

Partida Añejo served with just a few cubes of ice and a snickerdoodle or spice cookie is magic!

The best way to make a margarita? For me, I like to pour the tequila in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with the juice of half a lime, about an ounce and a half of Partida Blanco and a bit of agave nectar to your taste (available at the grocery store).

Give that a good shake and pour over lots of ice. Salud.

Laura Owen is executive chef at CJ's on the Bay, and is a wine connoisseur. Along with Adamo Serravalle of Marco Prime and DaVinci's; and Marco Porto of chop239, she is a regular contributor to this column.