Did you know tequila has a protected status? Yes, just like some of our other fave food and beverage choices such as champagne, parmigiano regiano cheese, and pub staple – the Melton Mowbray pie.
Tequila, the delicious agave spirit from Mexico is just as protected as the Cornish pasty in terms of food heritage and location-based provenance.
This means that tequila, as a product, cannot be reproduced, or marketed as being from anywhere other than the exact region from which it originates. Again, much like champagne can only be called champagne if it was produced in the Champagne region of France. All other white sparkling wines have to be marketed and sold under a different name.
Therefore, when you buy tequila you know that there is a particular provenance to the product, it’s definitely from Mexico, and it has had to meet a number of criteria before it can be sold to you.
What does protected status actually mean?
Protected status for food and beverage essentially means that item has to be certain geographical or traditional practices assigned, usually by the national government, and is enforced throughout that country and through bilateral agreements with other countries.
In the EU for instance, where we are from, quality agricultural and foodstuffs can be given protected designation of origin (PDO), protected geographical indication (PGI), or traditional specialities guaranteed (TSG).
The purpose for protected status foodstuffs is so that the reputation of regional food is preserved, along with ensuring authenticity for consumers.
To protect consumers, and producers livelihoods, it is also prohibited for products to have an indication (name) with other words such as ‘style’, ‘type’, ‘imitation’ or ‘method’. For instance a product is not, by EU law, allowed to be marketed as ‘champagne-style’.
But what about tequila’s protected status?
Tequila has protected status in over 40 countries. The NAFTA agreement protects tequila in the USA and Canada. There are bilateral agreements with several individual countries such as Japan and Israel. And tequila has protected PDO status in the European Union.
On the 20th March 2019 tequila received EU level recognition and protected status in the EU register of geographical indications (GI) as approved by the European Commission. The Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Paul Hogan said:
“Tequila is the most emblematic alcoholic beverage produced in Mexico and it forms an important part of the Mexican cultural identity. We know very well in Europe how the international success of a regional spirit drink can help to create high-quality jobs in rural areas and generate a strong sense of local and national pride. I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to our Mexican colleagues. The addition of Tequila to the EU GI Spirits is the latest step on the EU-Mexico journey of cooperation.”
What are the tequila status guidelines?
Tequila is strictly protected in Mexico with Mexican laws stating that the alcoholic beverage can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and limited municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.
There are a number of other strict guidelines governing tequila production in Mexico, governed by the Tequila Regulatory Council. Some of them are pretty complex. But they include:
Tequila must be made with at least 51% blue weber agave nectar.
Any tequila using 100% agave must be labelled as either 100% agave or 100% pure agave.
100% agave tequila must be bottled at the production plant by an authorised producer within the declared territory.
They must include a NOM number – this is a specifically assigned number carried by each distillery.
Reposado, Añejo, and Extra Añejo must be aged with oak wood for at least 2 months, 1 year, or 3 years respectively.
The use of additives (such as caramel, glycerin, oak extract, sugar syrup) must be less than 1%.
The tequila must be assigned the characteristics acquired in processes subsequent to distillation. These are classified into:
- Joven or Oro
- Extra Añejo
For the international market, the classification can be substituted by the translation into the corresponding language, or by the following:
• “Silver” instead of Blanco
• “Gold” instead of Joven or Oro
• “Aged” instead of Reposado
• “Extra aged” instead of Añejo.
• “Ultra aged” instead of Extra Añejo.
How do you know you are buying real tequila?
Take a look at the tequila bottle you want to buy. Check some of the guidelines mentioned above to consider. You want to see the bottle state that:
- 100% Pure Agave, or 100% Agave
- Made in Mexico
- Classified as Blanco, Joven, Reposado, Añejo, or Extra Añejo.
- NOM number
So there you have it, tequila has quite a bit in common with champagne, parmigiana regiano, and Melton Mowbray pies.
Tequila is a protected product from Mexico that helps both the producers in its home states pursue their food culture and livelihood, as well as assuring consumers of the authenticity of their product.
Further reading: What is tequila?