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I never got to meet Don Lorenzo Angeles Mondoza, but I had the great pleasure of meeting his daughter, Graciela Angeles Carreño, and being invited to a celebration of Don Lorenzo's life and work at the Real Minero palenque (distillery) a few weeks ago. A day of remembering, a feast, a wild dance party all rolled into one, Graciela was the consummate host, speaking directly from the stage to every single one of the hundred or so people who showed up and thanking them for coming, remarking on what those people mean to her, her family, and most importantly to the legacy of what Don Lorenzo built. Graciela is carrying on her father's immense work and running operations at Real Minero, while her brother Edgar has taken over distilling, and together they are pushing the brand to an incredibly bright future as a leader in the mezcal category. Keeping in the historic tradition of the town of Santa Caterina Minas, all the mezcales made here are distilled in clay pot stills; much more sensitive and time-consuming than the copper alembics used in other parts of Oaxaca. But while the distillation is done in a very traditional manner, everything else at Real Minero is about investing in the future.
The nursery operation, located close to the palenque, is the most extensive I have seen in Oaxaca. Real Minero has hundreds of thousands of agave in the ground, not only for use in the distillation of mezcal, but also to preserve the botanical and cultural diversity and tradition of Mexico. With the emergence of mezcal as a major spirits category in the world, there is a big threat of over-harvesting wild agave of various species; some of which take decades to reach maturity. A big goal of the nursery is to rescue and preserve these wild plants, and propagate them for future generations. The nursery doesn't only function as a tool for the distillation at Real Minero, but also to give back to communities all over Oaxaca, and to be a source for research and knowledge to help all mezcaleros and growers. To achieve that goal, Graciela employs horticulturist Isaac Arianes, and biologist, Matias Dominguez who work together to ensure the plants are viable, with genetic diversity and variability. To ensure this, everything planted is propagated from seeds instead of clones, and much of Matias's work is to ensure biodiversity on the property to entice pollinaters such as bats, birds and butterflies to thrive. Every single agave plant has a registry, and is tracked from the nursery to the field to the distillation process. No fertilizers or herbicides are used, though Isaac has come up with an concoction of chile, onion, garlic, oregano, pepper, cinnamon, and vinegar as an organic pesticide for the baby agave. Pretty delicious as a snack as well.
Along with the nursery, Graciela is flying a flag for the community of Santa Catetrina Minas. As one of the first people from the town to graduate from college, she is intent on creating opportunities for young people from the area. In the past few years she has invested in building a library, and providing educational seminars for the town. She is also fiercely protective of the brand her father built, ensuring ownership as well as the image of the brand is controlled by her and her family. Real Minero mezcales are expensive, but she makes sure that both the family, as well as everyone who works for the brand is fairly compensated. In a time where more and more mezcal brands are being bought out by large liquor conglomerates, this feels incredibly important, a way to show mezcal producers can participate in the global beverage economy on their own terms.
Señora Berta Vasquez lives in a blue house on the corner, in the small town of San Baltazar Chichicapam. She's been distilling mezcal for close to half a century, helping her father in the fields and in the palenque since the age of 10. When he passed away at a young age, she was forced to take up the mantle of the family business. She later married a fellow mezcalero from town, and when her husband also passed, she was once again distilling alone to provide for her family. Currently her 10-year-old grandson, Antonio, is helping her with every step of the process, learning, carrying on the family tradition. During our visit, Antonio was incredibly proud to demonstrate to us how much he knew, pouring mezcal, cheekily butting into his grandmother's conversation, and showing us around the various processes of the palenque. I'd love to return in a decade and see what he's up to.
Berta's production is miniscule compared to some of the larger palenques in the towns surrounding Chichicapam. She farms a few small plots of Espadin, has a tiny nursury operation in her daughter's front yard, and shares a palenque on the outskirts of town with several other producers. Her mezcales are uncertified (no one from the Consejo Regulador, the governing body of mezcal, comes to verify them) and the batches are oftentimes limited to one or two hundred liters. She sells mostly to the town, as her family has done for generations, and occasionally a restaurant or bar in Oaxaca or Mexico City will buy something from her to bottle under their own labels. Her mezcal is available for the first time in the States under the Rezpiral label, and we are incredibly happy to be able to offer some at the store. Oskar Kostecki
Please note, we cannot ship spirits out of state. Today's offer is available for in-store pick-up, delivery in NYC, or shipping within the state.
The clay pot shows incredibly well in this particular batch, not overbearing but present, and harmoniously integrated. Savory notes of hazelnuts, raw cacao, and barbecue mesh with sweeter hints of dried apricots, raisins, brown sugar, and cocoa butter. I also find mint, dried oregano and wet gravel. During the Real Minero fiesta, in between all the dancing bodies, pounding music, and smell of charred meat, this was the bottle I found myself most often reaching for. Oskar Kostecki
A spectacular batch of Espadin, distilled in 2008 by Don Lorenzo and rested in glass until it was bottled last year; this a rare chance to both enjoy some of the last distillates made by the late maestro and also experience the effects of glass aging on mezcal. Commonly, most producers will rest their fresh distillates for a few months in glass to help them settle, balance the flavors and alcohol, and generally round them out. To rest for this long in glass is extremely rare, but Real Minero does it to great aplomb.The mouthfeel of this mezcal is insane. It is rich and unctuous, with layers of fruit and mineral tones interweaving in viscous waves. There is a honeyed edge, and also a slight savory presence, a combination of the age and the clay pot distillation. The hint of salinity that I find as a hallmark of most Real Minero mezcal becomes a beautiful textural experience. This is the last of the 2008 harvest available. Oskar Kostecki
Barril is usually one of my favorite agave species used in the distillation of mezcal, and this example from Real Minero is no different. Tremendously expressive, this shows notes of papaya, guava, pineapple, purple flowers, apple, pear drop, candied orange, earth, and saline minerality. This is a very joyful and generous mezcal, with incredible complexity. Oskar Kostecki
Largo is part of the Karwinskii family of agave, and while it shares similar characteristics with its relative, Cuishe, it is distinguished by its much larger and longer shape, as well as its scarcity. This batch of Real Minero Largo is made with 100% wild agave (though they have some growing at the nursery!) collected from the hills near Santa Caterina Minas. It is incredibly rich on the palate, exploding with notes of spice and pepper, tropical fruit, purple flowers and an herbal undercurrent of mint and sage. Very complex, with layers of flavors that keep on building. There is noticeable minerality and salinity, with a velvety and unctuous mouthfeel, and an incredibly long finish. The Largo bottling is one of the most special releases from Mezcal Real Minero and we feel fortunate to even be able to offer the handful of bottles we were able to secure. Oskar Kostecki
The mezcals of Berta Vasquez (one of the few women mezcaleras!) have a beautiful common thread running through them: a mark of clay and baked earth. Old-school and rustic, they are lean and taut, like a runner keeping low to the ground, speeding over hot stones. Her Espadin (the most commonly planted agave varietal) holds true to that vein, and a rocky minerality interweaves through the notes of tropical fruit and roasted pineapple that are tell-tale signs of the species. There is also an herbaceous character of green chiles and green papaya, and a faint note of cacao. Very well-rounded and complex, this a standout Espadin. Oskar Kostecki
An ensamble, or blend of several different agave species all co-roasted, co-fermented, and co-distilled, is a historic style with a long tradition. With different species taking various lengths of time to mature, making an ensamble was a mezcalero's way of pulling from the available bounty of the land and creating a special, oftentimes unique batch. These are some of our favorite styles of mezcal, carrying great complexity. This is a blend of Espadin, Tepeztate, Tobala, and various Karwinskiis, and explodes on the palate with notes of tropical fruit, melon, roasted pineapple, evergreen, resin, violets, hot stones and remarkable salinity. Oskar Kostecki
Tobaziche is part of the Karwinskii family of agave, and is characterized by a long piña (heart of the agave) and long leaves that shoot out high off the ground. For me, Karwinskii agave almost always exhibit a higher toned, more floral character, and tend to have more pronounced acidity as well. Berta's 2017 batch of Tobaziche is an interplay of red and green chiles, dried violets, orange and grapefruit flesh, orange rind, mango, and hot stones. Balanced and complex, with a long clean finish - this is a mezcal to savor. Oskar Kostecki