This article is sponsored by Don Julio

Although it seems like a ridiculous notion nowadays, there was a time when many people thought that tequila was a spirit best consumed in shot form. You probably remember: Pour about 1.5 ounces of mixto into a glass, and basically pour it down your throat without really tasting anything aside from sugar. Of course, the people who were and are serious about tequila, both producers and aficionados, have always considered this agave spirit best enjoyed by sipping like whiskey or Cognac. This is not a pretentious notion — it doesn’t mean you have to sit by a roaring fire, swishing and contemplating every sip for 30 seconds, coming up with the most esoteric tasting notes you can fathom. After all, tequila is first and foremost meant to be enjoyed. But it is indeed a complex spirit that reveals a range of flavors that develop as you taste. One might say that taking your time with tequila, and sipping it neat to allow the journey across your palate to unfold, is really the best way to get to know it.

There are a couple of things to take into consideration when sipping tequila, but of course, these rules (suggestions, really) can be adjusted as needed. First, consider your glassware. Many experts in the category recommend a flute-like shape reminiscent of a Champagne glass rather than a tumbler, but a tulip-shaped whiskey glass would work as well. The point is to allow the aromas to concentrate while still keeping the alcohol from overpowering the nose, which subsequently ensures that you are fully able to pick up all the notes on the palate. Second, make sure your bottle is at room temperature, not too cold or too warm. If you’re drinking a high-proof spirit, go ahead and add a drop of water or two in order to open the palate and reduce the ABV, but make sure to at least try it neat initially. Even if the proof is on the higher end, a high-quality tequila should not pummel you with alcohol on the palate. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, enjoy yourself, because that is what the whole experience is about.

A great place to start, end, or continue your tequila journey is with Don Julio. This premium brand has a long history that dates back to 1942, when namesake founder Don Julio González decided to create his own tequila at just 17 years old. Nowadays, Don Julio is known throughout the world as being a bastion of quality, with various expressions of different ages that tell the story of distilled agave through a remarkable range of flavors. The winter months in particular are a good time to explore the aged tequila category, as the oak and vanilla flavors infused in the spirit from months or years spent in casks are so evocative of sweater weather. Here are four Don Julio expressions to try, each unique in its character and maturation method, and each a tequila that should be sipped and pondered neat to unlock its secrets.

Don Julio Reposado

Reposado means that the tequila is aged between two months and a year. Don Julio Reposado spends eight month in American white oak barrels, picking up color and flavor along the way. The nose opens up with classic agave notes of spice and citrus. This is followed by chocolate, baking spice, and vanilla custard on the palate, with a soft earthiness and notes of grass buttressing the flavor profile. The finish is smooth and has a bit of caramel apple at the very end. This is, of course, an excellent sipping tequila, but it happens to make for a pretty delicious Margarita as well.

Don Julio Anejo

Anejo tequila must be aged between one and three years, and Don Julio Anejo spends 18 months in American white oak casks. This gives the spirit ample time to absorb the flavors from the wood, something you will notice immediately on the palate. The nose is still spicy with pronounced citrus notes, but the palate is where flavors of butterscotch, oak, and vanilla make themselves known. The finish has pops of hot honey, which fade into a pleasant earthy sweetness.

Don Julio 1942

1942 is known around the world as a special-occasion tequila, created as an homage to the man who started it all. It’s aged for a minimum of two years, so expect a sipping tequila that really has some oak notes but isn’t at all tannic. The nose is full of rich caramel and dark chocolate, with baked agave, vanilla pudding, and soft wood notes on the palate. The agave is not lost here; on the contrary, floral, grassy flavors are amplified by the infusion of oak and vanilla notes.

Don Julio Ultima Reserva

If you’re looking for a truly luxurious sipping tequila, Ultima Reserva is a delectable spirit that will keep you coming back for more. It’s made from agave harvested from the last field that Don Julio and his family planted, in 2006, and aged using the solera method. This means that tequilas of different ages were blended together, resulting in an extra anejo tequila aged in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in Madeira wine casks. Stone fruit and dried apricot explode on the palate, with notes of smoldering oak and crème brûlée on the nose.