2005 Holiday Host Guide: Cigars: A Three-Course Smoke
No one cigar complements every occasion. Even the most enthusiastic smoker would turn down a heavy-bodied Havana when teeing off at 10 am. And a delicately flavored Dominican cannot hold its own against a seared steak and a robust Barolo. We therefore present three courses of cigars, beginning with a selection of light aperitifs, moving on to heartier entrees, and wrapping up the evening with full-flavored digestifs blended to please demanding experts.
Just as a knowledgeable maître fromager starts his patrons with lighter cheeses before ascending to boldly flavored exotics, so does a cigar-savvy host begin an evening with subtler fare to prepare his guests’ palates for the more challenging tastes to come. Although many guests may never graduate to heavier smokes, in this collection, even the aperitifs are a cause for celebration—and worthy of repeated samplings over the course of a night.
Few medium-bodied cigars have the delicacy and finesse to pair with an aperitif such as a 1993 Dom Perignon rose. And yet all five shapes of the Zino Platinum Scepter Series possess remarkable complexity because of the meaty sweetness of the hybrid Cuban-seed Peruvian tobacco that composes 25 percent of the filler. Piloto Cubano and Olor Dominicano Dominican filler leaves complete the blend. The Connecticut broadleaf binder and an Ecuadoran-grown Connecticut-seed wrapper lend a hint of spice to these cigars, which are aged for 18 months. The new tubed, 5 x 54 Chubby and 5 ¼ x 52 Grand Master are especially convenient for giving to arriving guests.
Like a popular dinner guest, this small, flat cigar is a natural at starting conversations. The Felipe Gregorio 3 Tierras consists of two small cigars held together by a common binder and wrapper, evoking the appearance of a double-barreled shotgun. One cigar is rolled from mild Piloto Cubano from the Dominican Republic, the other from Cuban-seed Habana 92 Nicaraguan leaf. These divergent flavors are wrapped in a Connecticut shade binder and then bound with a Brazilian Arapiraca wrapper. The 3 Tierras is a surprisingly mild smoke, with the two separated filler tobaccos providing completely different tastes that the wrapper overtakes when, a few puffs after you light up, the ash reaches it.
The wrapper leaf is the most critical and expensive component of a cigar, because it not only determines the cigar’s appearance, it also influences the flavor. For the Cusano 10th Anniversary Blend, the company used four wrapper leaves in a single cigar: one as the binder, two in the filler, and one as the wrapper itself. Each of these wrapper leaves hails from a different region—Ecuador, Mexico, Honduras, and Connecticut—which further contributes to the cigar’s multifaceted taste. The addition of two different Dominican filler leaves—for a total of six different tobaccos—rounds out this cigar’s silky, sophisticated flavor.
GARDEN OF DELIGHTS
While visiting Honduras three years ago, Texas entrepreneur Michael Makens sought some premium smokes but learned that most of the country’s better cigars were exported. However, his diligent search eventually brought him to a small cigar factory in Danli that produces a well-constructed cigar with a triple cap, a Cuban symbol of a cigar roller’s skill. Makens christened this limited-production treasure Flor de Jardin. The Claro Classic, in particular, grabbed our attention and our taste buds. It is deliciously mellow, with a buttery spice and floral aroma.
MADE IN THE SHADE
The first thing you notice about Los Blancos Connecticut Shade is its packaging. The tightly lidded, lacquered box is actually a humidor; all it needs is a humidifier. A removable thick cedar box within the humidor conforms to each of five shapes. All cigars are aged six months before boxing and are made in Nicaragua under the supervision of Nestor Andres Plasencia, son and protege of noted tobacco agronomist Nestor Plasencia.
As the evening progresses, experienced smokers enjoy stepping up to heavier cigars that complement their dinner and drinks. These cigars pair particularly well with beef, robust red wines, and lighter spirits such as vodka and rum. Although these entrees are decidedly stronger than the aperitifs that precede them, they are accessible enough to serve as stepping-stones—unintimidating (and undoubtedly appreciated) means of introducing neophytes’ palates to new delights.
A NEW CLASSIC
It is difficult to improve upon the Montecristo, but Jose Seijas, the master blender behind the Dominican-made version of this cigar, has succeeded in doing so with the Montecristo Classic. Offered in ring gauges slightly larger than the regular line to provide a fuller flavor, the Classic flaunts a darker Connecticut shade wrapper—the result of longer aging, which adds depth and a hint of sweetness. The Dominican binder and filler further complement the wrapper’s smooth, medium-strength flavor. Packaged in boxes of 20 rather than Montecristo’s standard 24 count, the Classic is the ideal after-dinner smoke for those who want to accompany it with a little lighter libation in their snifters.
With its PG 15th Anniversary Belicoso Extra, Paul Garmirian Cigars, a company renowned for producing cigars with flavor delicate enough for novices yet full enough for experienced smokers, has produced a smoke that retains its sublime character despite being substantially heavier than its predecessors. This 6 x 52 torpedo recalls the intense, peppery taste and complex flavors of the finest Havanas; it ranks among 2005’s most impressive debuts. PG produced only 1,000 boxes of 15, so the Belicoso may be too dear to hand out indiscriminately at a party. But for expressing appreciation to a gracious host, we cannot imagine a finer gift.
MARK OF EXCELLENCE
Tatuaje means “tattoo” in Spanish, and Pete Johnson, creator of this stylish range of cigars, is covered with tattoos depicting his favorite brands. It is refreshing to find such an obscure brand so full of refinement, in both construction and taste. The cigar, which is triple capped, uses Nicaraguan criollo for the wrapper, a Nicaraguan criollo and corojo double binder for complexity, and Nicaraguan filler. The blends are altered for the 10 different shapes, giving each a distinctive flavor and strength. Our favorites are the elegant and creamy Especiales (a 7 x 38 lancero) and the heartier Reserva J21 (a 5 x 50 robusto), which leaves a hint of chocolate on the tongue.
PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS
The dark Ecuadoran wrapper of the Carlos Toraño Virtuoso may strike fear into the hearts of occasional smokers, but beneath this cigar’s covering lies a placid blend of Honduran, Costa Rican, and Nicaraguan tobaccos that will delight smokers of all levels. The cool, robustly flavored smoke stream that emerges from the 8 x 52 Presidente begs guests to linger long after dinner has finished. Few cigars we have tried are so versatile; the Virtuoso’s flavor can hold its own against the most intense wines and spirits, yet it never overpowers them.
TURN UP THE HEAT
The familiar but faded Don Diego brand has received a face-lift, with a new look and new sizes. Although the company suggests that the blend has been fine-tuned, it still comprises a Connecticut shade wrapper with binder and filler tobaccos from Brazil and the Dominican Republic. The combination produces a notably piquant flavor; the cigar’s accessible, just-right balance of substance and spice reminds us of perfectly prepared Cajun cuisine. And like the gastronomy of the Deep South, the Don Diego complements beer and bourbon. The 6 x 50 Grande is sufficiently stout to delight smoking enthusiasts.
As the evening winds down, expert smokers yearn for cigars that challenge their palates, with flavors powerful enough to assert themselves alongside the smokiest Scotches and stoutest microbrews. Be forewarned that these cigars possess intense aromas and hearty tastes that can overwhelm the senses of less-experienced smokers, who may not tolerate them past the first puff. Reserve these for guests who have proven their muster with an entree or two—or for hosts with extensive smoking experience.
As the owner of the five-star Graycliff restaurant in Nassau, the Bahamas, Enrico Garzaroli knows quality. And after you finish a meal as exquisite as those that Garzaroli’s venue serves, nothing settles the system better than the Graycliff Chateau Gran Cru, an elegant, thick-tasting Kobe steak of a cigar worthy of a snifter of Richard Hennessy or a 30-year-old Macallan. The Gran Cru has a proprietary Costa Rican wrapper with none of the coarseness normally associated with this leaf. It is thick and silky, with a pungent aroma reminiscent of a musty prairie fire, and with one of the longest finishes of any cigar. The Ecuadoran binder adds spice to the intricate flavor of a four-part filler that is composed of top tobaccos from Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, and the slightest hint of Zimbabwe leaf.
Connoisseurs sometimes search their hosts’ humidors for powerfully flavored frontmarks—for their own selfish desire and sometimes to gauge the sophistication of their hosts’ palates. Few cigars could impress them more than a box of Camachos, a brand synonymous with heavy, savory smokes. The Camacho Special Limited Reserve Maduro wraps potent corojo binder and filler tobaccos in a sumptuous Connecticut maduro wrapper that mellows the flavor so that the SLR can be savored rather than endured. Combined with a smoky Islay single malt, the 4 x 50 Rothschild makes the perfect nightcap.
A SHOT OF FLAVOR
Television’s most notorious cigar smoker is honored in CAO’s The Sopranos Edition, a collection of cigars as dark as their namesake’s soul. Each of the three sizes—the 5 x 52 Associate, the 6 x 54 Soldier, and the 7 x 56 Boss—comes in a box that resembles the trunk of a 1950s American sedan. But feel no trepidation when you lift this lid: The box is filled with smokes that, like Tony Soprano himself, combine compelling brawn with an unexpected smoothness. Filler tobaccos from Nicaragua, Columbia, and the Dominican Republic blend with a Honduran binder and a Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper for a chocolaty taste with a hint of pepper.
Latin Americans know Bolivar as a revolutionary leader, but smokers may recognize the name as a pedestrian cigar brand. However, General Cigar has relaunched Bolivar with one of the finest formulations of 2005. The new cigar, created by General’s cigar master Daniel Nuñez in collaboration with three other master blenders, verges on perfection. Its spicy Honduran Ligero wrapper conceals a Connecticut maduro binder (the same tobacco used as the wrapper for the acclaimed Partagas Black Label) and Dominican and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. The cigar’s flavors are complex yet beautifully balanced; we suspect that further aging will elevate the new Bolivar to the legendary status that its name implies.
A WOMAN'S TOUCH
The name MATASA (Manufactura de Tabacos, S.A.) may not be well known outside the cigar industry, but 30 years ago this firm established the first cigar factory in the Dominican Republic’s free zone. To celebrate the milestone, company president Manuel Quesada created the MATASA 30th Anniversary, using 1995 Cuban-seed ligero filler (the strongest part of the tobacco plant) grown in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. Quesada paired this with a shade-grown Dominican wrapper and Central American binder. Quesada’s daughter, Raquel, and production manager Lourdes Veloz de Rodriguez then tweaked the blend, adding milder seco (from the center of the plant) and earthy Nicaraguan Cuban-seed ligero. The result is a powerhouse that smokes like a chocolate souffle.