Extra Añejos — the most aged and expensive form of tequila — attracts all palates, from seasoned tequila drinkers to newbies who find their rich oak flavors reminiscent of other dark spirits.

This is still a relatively new category for tequila. The CRT officially established “Extra Añejo” (XA) as a fourth classification in 2006, for tequilas aged 3-years or longer. Fans of XAs often say they enjoy “the complexity and depth that an oak barrel can bring.”

But other than the oak, what are extra añejo drinkers looking for? Do they still want the presence of agave, or are they hoping that extra time in the barrel will bring more complexity? Or, is it something else entirely? We conducted a blind taste test with 29 members of the Tequila Matchmaker Tasting Panel to find out.

This blind taste test consisted of:

extra-anejo-tequila-bottles

(Prices for these products as of May 2015, from ZeeTequila.com.)

First off, we selected this particular lineup of extra añejo tequilas because they are of the highest quality, are well respected, represent a range of flavors and price points, and are worthy of attention.

THE RESULTS

blind-taste-test-final-scores

What surprised us the most was that the combined aroma, flavor, and finish scores were all relatively close to each other, and what seemed to matter the most was price, or value.

For instance, the top 2 rated tequilas, Alquimia Extra Añejo and Don Pilar Extra Añejo, were the most affordable at $100 and $140. But, these same tequilas were found to have dramatic differences. Panelists said that Alquimia had the most agave (and the least oak) of the samples, while Don Pilar had the most oak (and second least agave.) All six of the samples contained at least some agave, according to our panelists.

aroma-flavor-finish+value

Only 31% of the panelists consistently rated the samples with the most agave highest. The ratings of the other 69% indicate that agave wasn’t a requirement for their enjoyment.

When value was taken out of the equation, the sample that scored highest (and had the least agave, according to our panelists) was Gran Patron Piedra, a 100% tahona-crushed product made by Patron. But the $300 price tag dragged down its value score, making it land in 4th place overall.

The price tolerance was also something we tracked. There was a noticeable drop-off in value scores near $200, suggesting that there may be a psychological barrier at this price point.

To make sure that price wasn’t the only factor at play we also looked at complexity. What we found was:

    – Complexity actually decreased as oak increased
    – Complexity increased as agave increased
    – The less oak, the more other aromas and flavors (including agave) were detected

complexity-vs-oak

So, what can we concluded from this? Value and the presence of oak matters the most. And, since we also found that complexity decreased as oak increased, complexity is not something that extra añejo drinkers are necessarily looking for, despite these common claims.

Tequila is an amazingly complex distillate, thanks to the magic of the agave plant. But when oak is introduced, the agave can become a subtle accent instead of the main player. With this in mind, you may ask, why do extra añejos even exist? What purpose do they serve?

Since agave and complexity are not essential for most people in the extra añejo category, the strong presence of oak serves to introduce non-tequila drinkers (hello bourbon!) to the tequila category.

Our own tequila experience started with aged products. Añejos and extra añejos dominated our home bar, and we rarely drank blancos. As time wore on, and our experience with tequila increased, we naturally migrated to lesser-aged and more complex products. Today we spend most of our time with blancos and lightly aged reposados.

For us, extra añejos were a friendly (but expensive) onramp to this tequila highway we’re (still) traveling on. The beautiful thing about this ride is that there’s a destination for every palate.

Which extra añejo tequilas do you enjoy, and why? We’d love to hear from you in the comments area below!