The aging process of reposado tequila can be so jaw-dropping that it deserves a bit of commentary before we actually get to the bottle in today's review. Be warned: there's some math involved here.
You may already know that reposado and añejo tequilas need to be stored in oak casks in order for them to arrive at a signature flavor. They're not at all dissimilar to brandies or whiskies in that regard. For reasons too lengthy to get into here, oak aging produces a range of beneficial chemical interactions with the new-make spirit. Sometimes we get sweetness or smokiness. Sometimes harsh chemicals are broken down. Sometimes the bracing nature of ethanol is reduced. Generally, more aging is better.
For this to take place, however, the spirit needs to actually interact with the oak cask. This brings us to the mathematical concept of a surface area to volume ratio. Think of this as a numeric measure of the amount of wood touching the amount of alcohol floating around inside of the container.
To ensure an adequate SA/V ratio, Añejo tequilas have a maximum size limit of 600 liters placed on the casks used for storage. That size puts it about on par with the barrels a lot of wine producers use to make port, which in turn are used pretty often in scotch production. Converted to US measurements, that's about a 145 gallon barrel.
But what about reposado tequila? Well, a lot of the bigger distillers use a gargantuan barrel called a pipon, which holds—get ready for it—10,000 gallons. Ten. Thousand. Gallons. If Donkey Kong dropped a barrel of that size on Mario, they'd need to identify the guy by his dental records.
Through some quick back-of-the-envelope calculations, I estimate that a reposado made with a pipon (such as our example today, the Hornitos Reposado) has about a fourth of the surface-area-to-volume ratio of most other spirits, including añejo tequilas. With this method of production, I'd argue there's two issues. First, there's not a lot of wood to go around, and second, there's not a lot of time for it to interact with the tequila—especially if it's being yanked from the cask after only a couple months, as is the case here.
As a result, the Hornitos Reposado tastes and smells a lot more like a middle-level blanco tequila. On the palate, it's agreeable, buttery, and a little peppery. The finish ends with some very faint vanilla and caramelized sugar, but it's mostly a show of white pepper and the grilled vegetables from the agave.
Hornitos is (thankfully) a 100% agave product, making it a step up from the "gold" tequila offered by its parent company, Sauza. At about $18, the reposado is a perfectly fine bottle to have on the shelf for margaritas, but this is not what I'd reach for if I wanted a good sipping tequila, especially when there are some very decent options on the shelf for not very much more money. To me, this represents the type of reposado that tastes like a weak compromise between the freshness (and value) of a blanco and the boldness of an añejo. Not bad, but totally skippable.