When we heard that winemaking behemoth E. & J. Gallo was getting into the tequila business, our interest was piqued. How would Gallo — best known for its omnipresent, lower-priced tipples approach the over-crowded tequila market? Well, they started on the right foot when they aligned themselves with the Camarena family, which has been making tequila in the highlands of Jalisco for six generations. This gave their brand clout, and they took it one step further by naming their tequila Familia Camarena.

Then they came up with the brilliant idea of sending a Camarena taco truck around to various cities, offering free tacos infused with their tequila. They knew they couldn’t give out free liquor samples, but they could give away liquored up Mexican fare.

Grover and I were in Mexico when the taco truck was launched, so unfortunately we missed it. But, we did drive by two very prominent Camarena billboards on Interstate 80 while driving to and from Lake Tahoe the other weekend.

Grover expressed concern when he saw that the billboards spelled out 100% (as in 100% agave) using a shot of Camarena as a “1” and a salt shaker top and lime as the “0”s.

“Uh-oh, they are advertising this tequila as something you should pound? That’s not a good sign.” he said.

Soon, a BevMo (Beverages & More – Gallo does have a great distribution network) appeared on the horizon and we swerved off the highway to pick up a bottle.

Within minutes we stood in the tequila aisle of BevMo, gaping at the price of the Familia Camarena blanco and reposado – $15.99 for each!

“Wow! They are really aiming to dominate the low end!’ I said. In my mind, I had imagined they’d shoot for the competitive $20-$30 range. After all, their tequila is made in the Highlands (known for sweeter agave and better soil) and has the Camarena name behind it.

We grabbed a bottle of the reposado and took it home to try. It’s a nice, simple bottle and the repo is a light honey color. It’s aged just 60 days in American oak.

The reposado has a pleasing nose of raw apple, butter and vanilla, and does not have the telltale alcohol fumes of some lower-priced tequilas we’ve tried. The taste was an intensification of the nose – slightly sweet, but with a definite burn that ended up in strange places, such as between my upper palate and throat.

Bottom line – it wasn’t something I would sip on, but it wasn’t nearly as unbalanced and astringent as many bargain tequilas. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to make a mixed drink with it, but I imagine that it would be suitable for a margarita or paloma. If you’ve used it as a mixer, let us know how it went. Otherwise, the salt and lime they advertise may be necessary.

-Taste Tequila