Over the years there have been several different cigars marketed under the name Vega Fina, mainly because the companies owning the brand name have merged or been acquired or simply changed hands: the brand name appears to have first been owned by Havatampa, an old manufacturer around since the early 1900′s. When Tabalera S.A. de España bought Havatampa in 1997, Vega Fina passed to them and was produced by Benji Menendez in Honduras with an Indonesian wrapper. Two years later, Tabacalera S.A. merged with the French tobacco giant SEITA to form Altadis, S.A. Soon after this, production moved to the Dominican Republic and Vega Fina was produced primarily for the Spanish and Western European market as an affordable Dominican premium (but also as a mass market machine mini cigar very popular in Spain.)
Vega Fina continues to be Spain’s most popular Dominican cigar, so Altadis decided to introduce it to the much larger American market early this year. Today they’re made in La Romana’s Tabacalera de Garcia under the supervision of José Séijas.
The VF robusto is graced by a creamy claro-colored Ecuadorian grown Connecticut Shade wrapper that looks good enough to eat. Beneath this, however, is a binder which causes me a little concern: Indonesian TBN. (I have to remind myself that the wrapper on the Dominican Romeo y Julieta 1875 is also TBN, and it’s not bad stuff.) The VF employs filler from Columbia, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras.
I tend to think of Indonesian TBN as the carpetbagger of cigar tobacco — it seems to turn up only when the “real thing” is no longer available. When Consolidated couldn’t get quality Cameroon in the late 80′s, they turned to TBN. When wrapper leaf of any quality was scarce during the “boom” years, TBN was there. And this is at least partly why it has a such a sullied reputation — it’s often been the alternative, not the prime choice. And unfortunately the alternative, especially during the boom years, was actually bottom-of-barrel tobacco billed as TBN when it may have been something else entirely. So what we were taking in general as “Indonesian” was actually the worst tobacco the region had to offer.
TBN stands for tobaco bawah naungan, which means “tobacco under sheet,” or shade-grown tobacco. Top quality TBN is a cross between native besuki tobacco and Connecticut Shade. It’s a nice looking leaf, so in addition to its blending qualities it can also serve well as a wrapper. Strangely it is also prized for its lack of aroma. I can’t think why this would be appreciated in a wrapper, but used as a binder here perhaps it makes more sense.
The VegaFina robusto is a suave looking cigar. The wrapper is smooth and supple with very few veins. The construction is very good from the start, with a cool even draw and a nearly straight-edge burn. There’s just a hint of pepper at first light. This quickly disappears and is replaced by a very mild bodied smoke with a creamy texture. Up until the half-way point the flavor is mildly woody with some herbal tea accents. The aroma is exceptional — it blends well with the flavor of the cigar and adds a spicy floral component. (Incidentally, there are none of the metallic overtones that I’ve noticed with Indonesian leaf in the past.)
The flavor picks up at the mid-point, not a lot, but enough to be noticed. Another dash of pepper is added to the mix and the finish goes from non-existent to moderately short at this point. The last third stays the course, and finally a discreet bitterness announces that the finish line has been crossed.
Overall the VegaFina robusto is an excellent mild blend: a fine mid-day smoke, great after breakfast. The price is right on these babies as well: I picked up a few for under 3 USD on the reservation, and it looks like boxes can be had for under 75 online. Factoring price into the equation, I think this is my new mild one. (Especially since it’s getting hard to find Nestor Reserve Connecticuts these days…)