ADVERTISEMENT

Who doesn't love a good margarita?

It's such a simple drink. All it takes is a good shot of tequila, some orange liqueur and freshly squeezed lime juice.

Shake it all up, pour it into a salt-rimmed glass, garnish with a lime wedge and sip away.

But sometimes heavy hands add too much sweet, too much sour or too much alcohol. A good, well-balanced margarita requires good tequila and properly measured add-ins.

Some bartenders also have upped the ante by using high-end tequilas and other mix-ins to concoct great-tasting margaritas and other drinks.

At Taqueria Mi Pueblo in Detroit, manager and bartender Salvador Gutierrez says the restaurant serves up plenty of its signature premium margaritas.

"It used to be most were made with Jose Cuervo, but more people are more interested in having them with top-shelf tequilas," says Gutierrez.

He says the huge assortment of tequilas available today can make a margarita unique.

Mi Pueblo's premium version is made with Don Julio tequila, Triple Sec, Grand Marnier and fresh-squeezed lime and orange juices. It's $10 for an 18-ounce drink.

As tequila has gained in popularity, prices have soared.

Ron Barkho, owner of Casa del Vino in Trenton, Mich., says he carries much more tequila than he did several years ago. His premium tequilas range from $40 a bottle up to $400.

"The $400 one is aged at least 30-some months," says Barko.

Consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about tequila and seeking out more varieties and uses, says Danielle Eddy, spokeswoman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

In 2010, the number of cases of tequila sold in the United States -- 11.5 million -- rose 3.6 percent from 2009.

One drawback of margaritas made with mixes is that they are laden with extra calories. An 8-ounce margarita can have about 450 calories, depending on the mix.

For my favorite summer drink, I cut the calorie count down by adding cucumber water to the mix. (See instructions in the recipe on this page.) The mild cucumber pairs well with tequila.

Salud!

>Classic Margarita

Coarse salt, optional

Lime wedges

1 1/2 ounces favorite tequila

1/2 ounce Triple Sec

1 ounce fresh lime juice

1 ounce fresh orange juice

Place the coarse salt on a plate. Rub the rim of a cocktail or margarita glass with lime. Gently roll in the coarse salt and set aside.

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, pour the tequila, Triple Sec and lime and orange juices. Give it a shake and strain into a glass.

Serves one.

You can add more lime and orange juice, to taste.

173 calories (0 percent from fat), 0 grams fat (0 grams sat. fat), 12 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams protein, 2 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber.

-----

>Frozen Sangria Margarita

Salt or sugar for rimming glasses, optional

Ice cubes

4 ounces sangria

6 ounces prepared margarita mix

3 ounces tequila

2 ounces lime juice

2 ounces simple syrup (see note)

Lime and orange wedges for garnish

Rub the rims of two glasses with lime wedges to moisten. Dip the moistened rim of the glasses in salt or sugar, if desired.

In a blender, place about 1 cup of ice cubes. Pour in the sangria, margarita mix, tequila, lime juice and simple syrup. Pulse until mixture is slushy. Pour into prepared glasses, and garnish with lime and orange wedges.

Cook's note: To make a simple syrup, in a small saucepan, heat equal parts of water and sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is slightly syrupy. Store, refrigerated, up to five days.

Serves two.

Adapted from several recipes.

243 calories (0 percent from fat), 0 grams fat (0 grams sat. fat), 29 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams protein, 6 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber.

-----

>Cucumber Margarita

Lime wedges

Salt, sugar and lime zest for the rim of the glass, optional

Ice cubes

1/2 cup cucumber water

1/2 cup margarita mix

1 1/2 ounces silver tequila

1/2 ounce Triple Sec

2 tablespoons lime juice (or more to taste)

If desired, rub the rim of a cocktail glass with a lime wedge. Place the salt, sugar and lime zest on a plate. Dip the lime-rubbed rim of the glass into the salt mixture. Place some ice cubes in the glass.

Place some ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Pour in the cucumber water, margarita mix, tequila, Triple Sec and lime juice. Give it a few shakes and then strain into the prepared glass and serve.

Serves one.

Cut calories by using half margarita mix and half cucumber water. To make the cucumber water, add 1/2 medium peeled and sliced cucumber to 2 quarts of water. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

155 calories (0 percent from fat), 0 grams fat (0 grams sat. fat), 7 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams protein, 1 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber.

-----

>Know your tequila

Gold or silver? Reposado or anejo?

Here's some help in deciphering tequila labels from Richard McDonald, 62, of Huntington Woods, Mich., and www.tequilasource.com. McDonald is a certified specialist of spirits, a designation that's similar to that of a wine sommelier.

Spirits labeled tequila come primarily from the Mexican state of Jalisco, the tequila capital of the world. They must contain at least 51 percent distilled blue agave, a succulent plant. The remaining percentage can be made up of other sugars, and these tequilas are referred to as "mixto."

McDonald says to look for tequila that says 100 percent agave on the label.

Here are common types:

Blanco or silver: Clear tequilas that are not aged or aged no more than two months in wood barrels. McDonald says they typically have strong vegetal flavors (think green pepper) and are spicy or peppery.

Joven or gold: Silver tequilas that are honey-toned from added caramel coloring. Most are mixtos but they also can be made from 100 percent agave. They taste smoother.

Reposado: Tequilas aged from 2 months to a year. McDonald says these are usually aged in old bourbon barrels. "The color is light tan, and it's the aging in wood that softens that vegetal bite of the blanco and makes it a little smoother."

Anejo: These are aged one to two years in wood. They're much darker and have softer flavors and a toned-down peppery bite. McDonald says anejo is usually sipped and seldom used in cocktails.

Extra-anejo or ultra-aged: These are relatively new to the market and are aged more than three years.