I'll cut right to the chase: Riazul just might be bar-none the sweetest tequila I've ever tasted. Even for those generally familiar with the range of flavors a tequila can offer, this is a baffling kind of sweet.
We begin with the story of Riazul itself, which takes being underwhelming to a level that almost becomes comical. Founder Inaki Orozco comes from a family that owns some 600 acres of land smack dab in the middle of Jalisco. One day, Orozco approaches the family elders and says, "Hey: we're smack dab in the middle of tequila country. Tequila can only be made here. Apparently the soil is good on this land we've never used for generations. Maybe we should try planting agave." And five years later, they were selling tequila.
Through whatever combination of geography and temperature in this part of Jalisco, the agave plants Riazul uses for production are known for having a high sugar content. From what I've read, Orozco says that the temperature fluctuations cause the plant to release more nectar as an adaptation to the weather. Those plants must really be sensitive to what counts as a cold snap in Mexico, a country which can charitably be described as being in the middle of a perpetual heat wave.
Now—to be fair—Riazul isn't like drinking agave syrup straight. However, the kind of sweetness characteristic of agave is front and center. To me, the dominant flavor in Riazul is cinnamon. Waves and waves of it, like childhood memories of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. Mixed in with that cinnamon-sugar attack are yet more sweet tastes, including vanilla, pineapple, cherry, and most definitely milk chocolate.
How sweet is the combined effect? I literally had to check the label and scour the internet after my first glass. I was sure that someone had added sugar to this spirit. To my palate, it is equally as sweet as many of the rums I've had that have no bones about adding up to three quarters of an ounce of sugar per liter. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is up to your individual palate.
I will say this: taste preferences aside, Riazul is well-made stuff. The anejo is aged for two years in ex-cognac barrels apparently chosen to further accentuate the vanilla. As a result, Riazul treads different ground than a lot of the anejos that are finished in ex-bourbon casks. Also, the way Riazul got on my radar was that Common Man Cocktails rated Riazul within their top 4 in a blind tasting of several blanco tequilas, but lead dude Derrick said that as good as the blanco was, the anejo beat the pants off of it.
I vacillated on the score for this one, in fairness. At first, the cinnamon bombardment was just a little much. The bottle, while not bad, lingered on my shelf for a few years simply because there didn't seem to be a right time to have it straight, and I reasoned that being so unique (and slightly pricey), I couldn't justify throwing it into a rack-grade margarita or paloma.
It grew on me as I revisited the bottle. By accepting Riazul on its own terms, I eventually appreciated the experience of tasting a product that maxed out the natural sweetness that agave has to offer. Personally, I think I still trend toward more savory tequilas like Fortaleza and mezcals that are earthy and robust when it comes to my agave-based spirits, but sometimes it's nice to branch out.