Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia has garnered a lot of attention in the last few years as a manufacturer of cigars like Tatuaje and Padilla 8/11. So much so that El Rey de Los Habanos, his Miami factory in Little Havana, has become too small and he has begun operations in Nicaragua as well. The reviews have been uniformly excellent for all of Don Pepin’s cigars, even though they are admittedly not for everyone.
We are accustomed to hearing the stories of Cuban exiles who along with their families became the stars of cigar production in the Carribbean and Central America — Torano, Fuente, Oliva, Padron, to name only a few. Years later, we have these men to thank for developing a new cigar industry completely removed from the “Island South of Miami.” So it’s a little bewildering to think that Don Pepin has been working outside of Cuba for only four years, even if his experience is extremely considerable. His influence on the major Habanos blends is documented, and over the years he earned numerous accolades for his blending abilities and achieved the highest ranking as a cigar roller in Cuba. But in 2002 he left all that behind to try his hand as an independent operator in the free market, first in Nicaragua and soon after that in Miami.
Don Pepin’s blends are modeled on traditional Cuban cigars and exclusively made with Nicaraguan tobaccos because he feels that these render the flavor closest to the Habanos he has in mind. Mitchel Hirsh at the Cigar King in Scottsdale pointed out to me the various Pepin brands and what their Cuban counterparts might be:
Havana Soul — Montecristo
Habana Leon — Partagas
Nacionales W — Romeo y Julieta
Hirsh y Garcia — Cohiba
Another similarity to Habanos, and a practice I wish all premium cigar makers would follow, is that each box of Don Pepin’s production is date stamped. This is invaluable information for collectors and aficionados since age can be as critical to the quality of a cigar as the condition in which it has been kept.
The “Nation” in the Nacionales W is that of the cigar rollers, because reportedly the flavor and body of this cigar are what Cuban cigar rollers prefer. The smoke of choice among the best cigar rollers of the best cigars in the world… sounds good enough for me!
Nacionales W are made with all Nicaraguan tobacco and are furnished with a Corojo 99 wrapper. The El Mundo size is a long robusto at 5.5 inches by a 52 ring gauge. The head is triple capped in the Cuban fashion and finished off with a very small twist. The prelight draw is generous and the scent somewhat grassy.
The construction of this cigar is very good. It burns well with a good draw and builds a solid but flaky ash.
It starts out with a lot of pepper and a bite that grabs hold and doesn’t let up. The smoke is smooth but assertive. It has a pleasant aroma reminiscent of many other corojo cigars, leathery with some floral accents. The prelight impression carried through to the flavor of the cigar once lit — grassy, woody, and fairly tannic. It’s on the heavy side of medium in body, with a lengthy finish. This tastes like a young cigar that will most probably mature into something even better. It reminds me of a strong but young cabernet sauvignon. It needs some time to even out the tannins and let the true character of the cigar come to light. What I liked most about the Nacionales W is the aroma — the corojo 99 used here is sweet and expressive. And make sure you have something to eat before lighting these up. They pack a good punch, and this is one of Pepin’s lighter smokes.
As I said earlier, these cigars may not be for everyone. All of Don Pepin’s cigars are on the full bodied side, and there is a reason the boxes are dated. Smoke them now if you like a full flavored tannic cigar. Otherwise, put em away and revisit them when they’ve had some time to work out the tannins. Like full bodied Cuban cigars, I think these will be something different altogether after a year or two.