Discovering TequilaI love wine, but I don’t love it everywhere. I learned that lesson the hard way during a sweltering week in early August when I visited Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Shimmering whites and rose` may be perfect drinks at mealtime during summer travel in Europe and California, but in Mexico, only Tequila will satisfy, and specifically when it is part of an icy Margarita, blended like a snow cone, not on the rocks and not too sweet. I learned to give directions to the server like cocktail drinkers do in the States. And oh what glorious drinks those Margaritas were when temperatures hit the mid 90s and humidity promised rain any second. In a word, alcoholic beverages are made from plants that are particularly suited to the soils and climatic conditions of the place as are the humans who have also adapted. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when you find yourself anywhere else, take a good look around and drink what the nationals drink. They probably have good reasons for their choices.

The preferred alcoholic drink of Southern Europeans is wine for the simple reason that the geography was rife with wild grape vines in millennia past when only small tribes roamed the terrain. California is dense with vineyards, because the descendants of those tribes migrated here with vines in their trunks, beginning with the warrior priests of Spain who first colonized California in the mid 18th Century. Grape vines grew happily in their new California habitat. Two hundred and fifty years earlier, Spanish conquistadors began their colonization of Mexico, but the European grape vines that they carried with them were poorly suited to most of that part of North America. The climate was too warm for grape vines that need cool nights during the growing season to slow ripening.

But Tequila tells a different story. This delicious distilled beverage is made from the indigenous Blue Agave plant. Related to the lily, Blue Agave is grown mostly in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Tequila somewhat resembles wine in that it is derived from a plant, unlike spirits that are made from grains. So Tequila can have more complex flavors like wine and show fruity, floral, and vegetal notes. When aged for a short time in stainless steel tanks or neutral oak casks, Tequila is fresh tasting and clear, but when aged in oak barrels for three years or more, it darkens and takes on richer and more complex flavors. And like wine, the best Tequila is made by small family-owned businesses instead of by large multinational corporations that mass-produce well-known brands. Even the Spanish conquistadors appreciated Tequila, especially after they ran out of brandy.

In Puerto Vallarta, which is in the State of Jalisco, at least one Tequila shop is located on every block with tastings that educate customers and with employees on the sidewalk, beckoning the visitor. But to tell the truth, I betrayed the beauty of the drink and preferred to consume it in Margarita form so that I could diminish my dangerously high internal temperature. I discovered a whole range of Margaritas, some of which passed for a complete meal, like the one served in a glass bowl, thick with blended, locally grown mango and strawberry and who knows how much Tequila. But the one I turned to most often was a snowy white tower of ice, blended with a dash of Cointreau and a squeeze of fresh lime juice that the server brought to the table. He then poured Tequila from a bottle with a silver spout, rotating it around the mound of snowy ice until I told him to stop. Since most Tequila is just 40% alcohol, I probably told him to stop sooner than I needed to.

Now back in California, I am happily drinking wine. The geography and climate requires it, and so do I.