A Smooth Sipping Tequila

Chic summer sips have a posh new friend with the recent premiere of Jalisco, Mexico's, newest sipping Tequila, Casa Dragones. Created by Bertha Gonzalez Nieves, the first maestra tequilera (Tequila master - similar to a master sommelier), and backed by MTV founder Bob Pittman, Casa Dragones is a small-batch producer that makes a style of Tequila called joven, distinguishing itself from the blancos, reposados, anejos and extra anejos already on the market.

The Tequila, which sells for $275 per 750-ml bottle, is clear with a subtle platinum hue and a satiny quality on the palate, minus the typical throat-scorching quality of bargain brands (no need for lime, salt or chasers here.)

It hits the market in time for an elegant Cinco de Mayo party, but is not meant for margaritas, said Nieves, who during a recent tasting at the St. Regis in San Francisco, recommended drinking it straight - preferably in a small Champagne flute - or on one or two rocks of ice, to prevent dilution. The agave plant has 600 aromas, Nieves says; Casa Dragones features scents of citrus and wood and flavors of pear, vanilla, hazelnut and spice.

To make it, the agave plants leaves are cut close to the heart of the plant at harvest, then steamed to extract the juices. The Tequila is column distilled, blended with extra anejo (aged) Tequila, filtered to retain the platinum hue and aged in new American white oak barrels. Said Nieves, "We wanted to take the alcohol notes out and bring the diversity and complexity forward."

Packaged in an eye-catching azure blue box, its lead-free crystal bottles are made by hand, with pepita seeds etched around the perimeter. Each label is hand-numbered, reflecting attention to detail in the product. Only 12,000

bottles were made in its first year; the company is now starting it second round of production.

Casa Dragones is served at Spruce, Jardiniere, the Slanted Door and Balboa Cafe restaurants in San Francisco, and sold at D&M Wine & Liquor Co., 2200 Fillmore St.; K&L Wines, 638 Fourth St., San Francisco and 3005 El Camino Real, Redwood City; Blackwell's Wine & Spirits, 5620 Geary Blvd.; and Cask, 17 Third St., San Francisco.

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