The term classic margarita got my vote for best oxymoron, at least for one night at the World Margarita Championship in Tucson two weeks ago.
Let’s face it. We live in one of the margarita capitals of the world, and a visit to Tucson wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of our city’s finest. That classic fusion of tequila, lime juice, and some sort of sweetening agent is a foundational element of our culture.
But classic just won’t cut it when the stakes are this high, a sentiment which nearly 20 local mixologists shared when they showed up for this competition sponsored by the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance and Tucson Originals.
Consider Coralie Satta’s French Rose and Raspberry Margarita, which took home the event’s People’s Choice Award.
The cocktail began with a blanco tequila, followed by house-made limeade, a fresh raspberry puree, Chambord black raspberry liqueur, and a splash of French rose wine.
While Satta lives and works in Tucson, she hails from Marseille, France, and saw this cocktail as the perfect expression of herself and her roots.
“Raspberries were on my brain when I was thinking about what to make at this event, and I had to put a French rose in there somewhere as well because I feel like that’s truly me and what we do,” said Satta, the self-described “queen” at Ghini’s French Caffe, 1803 E. Prince Road.
Satta believes that a cocktail like this should also come with its own imagery, and the scene that this award-winning margarita conjures up for her is “sitting and sipping by the ocean.”
“It’s a pretty little taste of the South of France,” she said. “And that’s what Marseille is to me, Tucson with a beach!”
Another margarita that was shaken for event goers included one with lavender from Rigo’s Restaurant, featuring a delightful fragrance reminiscent of Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Brother John’s came with buckets of smoked shishito peppers to enhance their entry with a subtle spice, and the margarita from Gourmet Girls brought flavors of pickled beets, carrots, and ginger to the party.
Perhaps the most fascinating entry of the evening was from Casino Del Sol, a margarita called the Sol of Tucson with blanco tequila, orange liqueur, and fresh lime juice, shaken with a cordial made from hibiscus honey and Mexican cinnamon. The cocktail was then topped with a thin layer of “salted air,” a delicate foam produced by emulsifying soy protein, citrus juice, citrus oil, and salt.
I know what you’re thinking. Classic shmassic, right?
The coveted Judges’ Choice honor went to Pastiche this year for their Mesquite Margarita, a Sonoran Desert-inspired cocktail with blanco tequila, a smoky mezcal, agave nectar, lime juice, orange aromatics, and a tea made from mesquite pods.
Satta was clearly in good company, and she joined many of the competitors in a pledge to put these margaritas on their menus for the public to enjoy.
So what’s the secret to Satta’s success?
“I wouldn’t call it a secret, I just do everything with my heart, and I think people like that we’re so open and honest with our menus, our food, and our beverages,” she said.
Speaking openly and honestly myself, I was one of the judges at the World Margarita Championship, and I can say without hesitation that we have some of world’s most creative mixologists right here in Tucson—salted air and all.