CAO Colombia Tinto

CAO Colombia Tinto

Using unusual tobaccos from countries not known for their tobacco production is a good way to appeal to the novelty-driven cigar smoker. Use fire-cured pipe tobacco in a cigar? Sure, I’ll try it. I might hate it — and I did hate it — but I had to try it. CAO’s Colombia blend relies on a similar device. They claim on the Cigar World website that the CAO Colombia is the “first cigar to prominently feature Colombian tobacco.” Well, it isn’t.

Not only is it not the first cigar to prominently feature Colombian tobacco, but it isn’t even CAO’s first Colombian. Only a few years ago, the CAO Escaparate Colombia was made for Serious Cigars, though admittedly in limited numbers for a limited time. The Escaparate was a Colombian puro, as was the Colombian Gold made by Bravo Cigars that I reviewed many years ago. I loved the Colombian Gold and I’m happy to see a major cigar producer using Colombian tobacco, however it gets to market.

CAO’s Colombia is not a puro like the Escaparate Colombia — not even close, actually. To get to the Colombian we first have to visit the Jamastran valley of Honduras, where the wrapper originates, take a side trip to Cameroon for the binder, swim the Atlantic to Brazil for some Mata Fina long filler, and then finally we arrive the tiny village of Masinga in the Magdalena Department of Colombia. Here is where the ICA Mazinga comes from.

I was a little concerned about this “Ica Mazinga.” Slide the a in “Ica” over to the next word and it’s “IC Amazing”. Uh, yeah. So I had to dig around a bit. ICA turns out to be the acronym for the Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario, the Colombian Agricultural Institute. It seems they are the the ones who developed this variety of black tobacco.

I ran across a document in Spanish that explains a little about ICA Masinga:

ICA-Masinga, an improvement on the Cuban Prieto, produces thin leaves with an abundance of fine veins, good color, texture and aroma; the plant has an average height of 2.20 meters, 40 leaves, and a growth cycle of 150 to 160 days.

The Cubita variety has been cultivated on the Atlantic coast since 1870 using varieties brought from Cuba with the initial goal of catering to the German cigar market. At first it was cultivated in the Departments of Sucre … and later expanded to Magdalena. The principal varieties cultivated have been ICA-Masinga, Cubita 12, Peraltero. Today they are exported to Germany for the production of cigars, and to France, Spain, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco for the production of cigarettes.

— “Acuerdo de competitividad de la Cadena Productiva del Tabaco en Colombia”

Suffice it to say that ICA Masinga (or Mazinga) is a real thing.

Four sizes are in production:

  • Magdalena – 6.25 x 54
  • Bogota – 6 x 60
  • Vallenato – 5 x 56
  • Tinto – 5 x 50

CAO Colombia Tinto 2

Construction Notes

The CAO Colombia Tinto (robusto) is an attractive cigar with a glossy wrapper the shade of milk chocolate. There are some fine veins, but nothing to detract from this robusto’s uniform appearance. The roll is solid, the draw is easy, and it burns beautifully.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

As the curtain rises the Colombia Tinto goes into a soft-shoe routine that won’t offend anyone: mild notes of cedar overlay a grassy foundation. My first thought is that this is going to make a nice morning companion to my coffee on the patio. After a few puffs I’m impressed by the viscosity of the smoke: by the mid-point of the cigar I’d even call it buttery.

The flavor of this robusto does not undergo a dramatic metamorphosis in its journey to nubdom, but there is a gradual transition across the spectrum of sweetness. The herbal base flavor becomes a little earthier, almost musky, while another dimension of spice is added to the aroma: it’s a sweet woody aroma less sharp than cedar, almost like sandalwood joined by a touch of caramel.

Conclusion

If olfactory memory serves, the CAO Colombia is a lot like Bravo’s now-extinct Colombian Gold. Like that cigar, CAO’s blend is a mild but earthy Cuban-style smoke with great aroma and a nice body. This is a medium-to-full bodied blend but it is mild in strength and flavor. A great breakfast smoke and a perfect choice for the mild cigar enthusiast. To cap it off, the price is surprisingly affordable: $4 to 5 USD per stick (box price).

CAO Colombia Tinto 3

Final Score: 90

Rocky Patel Decade Cameroon

RP Decade Cameroon

Friends and family who know I am a cigar smoker were very excited for me when the news of restored relations with Cuba was reported earlier this year. I wanted to be excited too, but instead I had to explain that this diplomatic thaw does not mean the gates to the promised land have been flung wide open. As of today, Cuban imports are still on the U.S. Treasury Department’s hit list.

But what surprised them even more was when I said that legal access to Habanos was not what I’m looking forward to most. What I’m really excited about is the possibility that top Nicaraguan cigar blenders may soon have access to Cuban wrapper leaf. I’ve smoked some fine Habanos, and I’ve smoked some really disappointing Habanos. What gets my heart pumping now is the thought of what a cigar blender like Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia or Arsenio Ramos might do with Nicaraguan fillers and a Cuban capa. A wrapper leaf can change everything.

As an example, Rocky Patel’s Decade utilizes a dark Sumatran leaf grown in Ecuador. The core of the original Decade is Nicaraguan, giving it a nice acidic bite, but the wrapper lends it a maduro-like temperament: it’s rich and sweet with chocolate and cocoa. What happens when that wrapper is switched out for something a little different?

That’s just what Rocky did with the Decade Cameroon. The core of the cigar is the same as the original Decade, and it is made in Plasencia’s El Paraiso factory in Honduras, just like the original. The core blend is still undisclosed (though it is reportedly Nicaraguan.) The difference is the wrapper, and the difference is substantial. The Decade Cameroon was released at least year’s IPCPR convention and is available in three sizes:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Toro – 6 1/2 x 52
  • Torpedo – 6 1/2 x 52

RP Decade Cameroon 3

Construction Notes

For the review I smoked the RP Decade Cameroon in the Robusto and the Toro sizes. Both were well made sticks, but the finishing touches on the Robusto were a little cleaner. The cap on the Robusto was simple but seamless, while the Toro’s was ragged and a little sloppy. The head of the Robusto was almost flat, while the Toro’s was slightly lopsided.

The wrapper is a dark colorado maduro with a few small sunspots. The draw in both sizes was firm but productive and the burn was even and consistent.

Overall Construction: Very Good.

Tasting Notes

The Toro and the Robusto did not vary too much in terms of flavor, though the Toro scored a little higher on the intensity chart. The base flavor is earthy with a little tartness and a touch of black pepper on the tongue. On the nose there is cedar with an overtone of clove.

The sweetness of the original Decade lurks beneath the surface and makes a showing in the second and third stages of the cigar: coffee and brown sugar come to the fore, and as the tartness fades in the last third there is chocolate and maybe even caramel. The big difference here is the minty clove-like spice that comes from the Cameroon wrapper. The Cameroon Decade is every bit as rich and smooth as the original, but it’s a more complex blend of flavors.

Conclusion

Rocky Patel’s Sun Grown Robusto has been my mainstay Rocky smoke for a long time, but in the past couple of years I’ve become disenchanted with it. I don’t know if it’s me, or if it’s the blend, but it just doesn’t taste as bright and smooth as it used to. The Decade Cameroon might be my favorite blend in the RP lineup now. It reminds me a little of the Partagas Benji Menendez Master Series — rich and smooth with that savory Cameroon tang. What a difference a wrapper can make.

At $9 to 10 USD per stick, the Decade Cameroon is not a cheap date, but this is no fast food cigar. It has considerable competition in that price range: the aforementioned Partagas and Fuente’s Don Carlos line perform similar tricks with Cameroon wrapper.  But on a good day I think the Decade Cameroon can keep pace with those big dogs.

RP Decade Cameroon 4

Final Score: 90

Carnavale 3

Carnavale by Epicurean Cigars

Carnavale by Epicurean

Details on the Carnavale are a bit scarce, but the cigar itself is a bit scarce: released in 2014, production was initially limited to 500 boxes per year, but then it was increased to 1000. The cigar is made in Honduras for Epicurean Cigars and distributed by the House of Emilio.

The blend is complex: the wrapper is an habano oscuro grown in Jalapa, Nicaragua; two binders are utilized, a Pennsylvania broadleaf (yes!) doubled up with a leaf from Honduras, and the filler is a Nicaraguan blend (Jalapa and Esteli.) Five sizes are in very limited production:

  • Lancero – 6 1/2 x 38
  • Petite Corona – 5 1/2 x 48
  • Toro – 6 x 52
  • Tabajador – 5 x 52
  • Double Robusto – 5 x 56

Carnavale 2

Construction Notes

The Double Robusto is a smooth maduro-colored cigar with a somewhat garish band. This is obviously the cigar to be seen with on Bourbon Street. The cigar is square pressed with a double wound cap on a nearly flat head. The cigar is very firm and the draw offers light resistance. The burn is slightly uneven, but not problematic.

Overall construction: Very good.

Tasting Notes

The wrapper on the Carnavale is an habano oscuro, but you could have fooled me. This cigar tastes like a maduro through and through. It opens with bittersweet chocolate and cedar on the nose, while grassy flavors entertain the palate. The smoke is very smooth, but also fairly dry.

The flavors maintain their balance and complexity without too much transition in the second half, though the chocolate takes on more coffee-like characteristics and the light peppery spice evident in the first half builds and peaks in the latter half. Both the body and the strength of the cigar land in the mild to medium range.

Conclusion

When is a maduro not a maduro? When it’s an Epicurean Carnavale. The Carnavale is a high quality maduro-style cigar that isn’t a maduro, but it sure smokes like one. It reminded me of a lighter version of the Draig Cayuquero, an Emilio blend even scarcer than the Carnavale, but both cigars are worth seeking out.

The Carnavale wasn’t quite the revelation that the Draig was, but it’s a fine smoke in its own right. If only the price were just as right — $10 USD. That’s a bit of a stretch for me. As it is, I’d still be happy to have a few on hand. Complex yet mild maduro (style) cigars aren’t all that easy to find.

Carnavale 3

Final Score: 89

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Punch Signature Robusto

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The first time I smoked a Punch cigar I was expecting a wallop that never arrived. It’s called Punch for a reason right? Yes, it is, but that’s not the reason.

Punch ultimately derives its name from the “Punch and Judy” puppet shows that were popular in England and France in the 18th and 19th centuries. The plots of the shows were always improvised, but they ran along a familiar line. Punch, an abysmally inept caretaker, is left in charge of the Baby while his wife, Judy, exits momentarily on an errand of some sort. She returns to discover Punch sitting on the poor puppet child, or she finds out that the infant has been run through the sausage machine, or some other unutterable abuse has occurred, upon which she flies into a rage. After assaulting Punch with a conveniently placed implement, a policeman appears, a fight breaks out, and slapstick ensues. Other characters occasionally appear: crocodiles, ghosts, Toby the Dog, et al., and then the show concludes with a battle between Punch and the Devil. Naturally, Punch escapes the retribution that the Dark Puppet has arrived to exact.

Charles Dickens said, “In my opinion the street Punch is one of those extravagant reliefs from the realities of life which would lose its hold upon the people if it were made moral and instructive.” So don’t go looking for a moral to this story.

The character that appears on the band of the Punch Signature cigar is Punchinello, as he is depicted in the 18th century British humor magazine, which borrowed the character from the well-known street shows.

None of which has to do with the power of a cigar. The Punch Signature might change all that.

Agustin Garcia, the blender of the Punch Signature, says that the Punch Signature was inspired by the original Punch blend, but it is clearly a much different cigar. He asks us to “think of it as a brother who has a lot of fire in him, but also respects tradition and the family name.” Truth be told, I think this brother might have been adopted.

Punch Signature was built around an Ecuadorian corojo wrapper specially cultivated for this blend. The binder is a proprietary Connecticut Habano, and the filler is Dominican and Nicaraguan, “of the same variety as the original Punch blend.” The blend is composed of both aged and younger leaf to achieve a balance between the flavor of the old and the strength of the young.

Four sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Rothschild – 4 1/2 x 50
  • Torpedo – 5 3/4 x 52
  • Gigante – 6 x 60

Punch Signature 2

Construction Notes

The Robusto is about as well made as one could expect — and one does expect this from General Cigar. The wrapper is a dark and oily colorado maduro. The head is nicely rounded and clips well, but the cap is a little messy. Examining the business end of the cigar I notice swirls of darker tobacco in the filler bunch.

The roll is solid, the draw is excellent, and the burn is slow. The ash is firm and yellowish gray, but a little flaky on the surface. This is easily a 90 minute smoke for me. Aside from the occasionally sloppy cap, the construction values here are above par.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

A burst of black pepper coats the tongue and palate in the first segment of the Signature Robusto. There is some astringency here that I associate with Nicaraguan blends, but there is also a lot of leather in the aroma. The pepper gradually subsides, making way for flavors of leather and seared meat. There is a barbecue-like quality to this cigar, a burnt fatty char similar to what you get from the Maillard reaction when searing a good steak.

The aftertaste is earthy and the pepper returns for an encore, but for the most part the flavors don’t change too much. It’s not a subtle smoke, and would probably make a good companion at the grill.

Conclusion

The Punch Signature is a cigar that truly lives up the pugilistic character that the Punch name suggests. It calls for a hearty meal beforehand and a drink that can speak truth to power for about an hour and a half running. MSRP is in the $6-7 USD range. That’s not out of line, though it has some serious competition at that price.

Punch Signature 3

Final Score: 88

Special thanks to General Cigar for providing samples of the Punch Signature Robusto for review. 

Espinosa Habano Toro

Espinosa Habano

Espinosa Habano was the first cigar to be made in La Zona, Erik Espinosa’s new factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. EO Brands, formerly owned and operated by Espinosa in concert with Eddie Ortega, broke up a few years ago. Both are producing blends on their own now: Espinosa is still producing 601, Murcielago, and Mi Barrio, and Ortega still has Cubao, my favorite of the old EO brands. But as we know, nothing remains static in the cigar world, so both cigar makers have new blends that are quickly gaining in stature.

The early EO Brands were made by the Garcia family. That is not an easy act to follow, but Espinosa is keeping the key construction features of those cigars, including entubado rolling and triple-seam caps.

Details of the composition of the Espinosa Habano are a bit cloudy. According to Cigar Aficionado and its affiliate publication Cigar Insider, the blend employs Nicaraguan binder and filler leaves with a “mid-to-low priming Ecuador Habano” wrapper. According to Halfwheel.com, the cigar is a Nicaguan puro with a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper. According to the source, it’s nunya business. Espinosa ain’t talking.

It seems I have no choice but to implement my own enhanced interrogation and lay some fire on the feet of these resistant subjects.

Four sizes are in regular production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Toro- 6 x 52
  • Belicoso- 6 1/8 x 52
  • Trabuco – 6 x 60

Espinosa Habano 2

Construction Notes

The golden brown wrapper on the Espinosa Habano Toro is attractively smooth but a little bit fragile. The widely spaced views are a good indication that the wrapper is Ecuadorian, but whatever it is, it’s fine looking stick. The roll is solid, but a little bit bumpy, perhaps due to the delicate nature of the capa leaf. The head is neatly finished with a triple cap.

One of the toros I smoked had a perfect draw; the other was not plugged, but it was almost too tight to smoke. In both cases the wrapper was reluctant to burn in sync with the rest of the cigar, and then it cracked.  My experience is that a blender will often discount a wrapper’s flaws when the aromatic qualities outweigh them, and that seems to be what is going on here.

Overall construction: Fair, based on two samples.

Tasting Notes

The Toro opens with lots of black pepper and earth on the palate. The smoke is a little dry, but the flavors are sharp. On the nose there is an oaky vanilla with a touch of cocoa. The smoke texture is almost creamy at times; the combination of pepper and cream reminds me a little of another of Espinosa’s cigars: the 601 Connecticut.

The flavors don’t transition too much until the last stage of the cigar, but they are complex throughout. The pepper and earth continue strong on the palate but the aroma gets a little sweeter, adding cedar and a fruity element that I can’t quite identify. The aftertaste remains earthy and the finish is long.

The cigar is about medium in strength, but it flexes its muscles a bit in the last couple of inches. The last stage is packed with pepper and earth until it begins to char at the finish line.

Conclusion

The wrapper leaf on the Espinosa Habano is finicky, but oh so tasty. The combination of pepper and cream is unusual, but this toro pulls it off…like peanut butter and sriracha. I have some concerns about the cigar’s construction that require further research, but the flavors are exceptional. At around $6 USD it’s a bit above my everyday smoke range, but the complexity of flavor is commensurate with the price.

Espinosa Habano 3Other Opinions of Note

Casas Fumando reviews the Espinosa Habano Robusto.

Stogies on the Rocks takes stock of the Belicoso.

Stogie Press fires up the Toro.

La Antiguidad Toro

La Antiguidad

Sequels are not always a good idea on the creative side, but they are irresistible to both producers and consumers. Movies, TV shows — anything capable of continuation or spinoff demands a sequel when the original is a success. Cigars are no different, and we see this with brand extensions all the time. My Father Cigars had a hit in 2012 with Flor de Las Antillas, so they did the natural thing — they followed up on the success of that blend with another one and called it La Antiguidad.

I don’t think the Garcias are capable of making a mediocre smoke (barring the bargain market stuff) but I was expecting more from Flor de las Antillas. After all the hype and the stellar reviews (and the eventual 2012 Cigar of the Year crown bestowed on it by Cigar Aficionado) I was expecting a bit more. I’m still waiting for a My Father blend that revives the magic of the Rey de los Habanos years. So far I haven’t found it.

But the prospect of a new blend from “Don Pepin” and Jaime Garcia is enough to dry my tears, even if it is a sequel to a cigar I was slightly disappointed in. La Antiguedad plays on the same theme as Flor de Las Antillas — the 19th century Cuban artwork, the red cloth foot band, and the box press — but it is a somewhat bolder cigar.

All of the filler tobaccos in La Antiguidad, as well as the double binder, are grown on the Garcia farms in Nicaragua. The wrapper is an Ecuadoran Habano leaf described as “rosado oscuro,” which sounds to me like “colorado maduro,” but I will leave that distinction to the experts. The fillers are from three distinct regions in Nicaragua — San Rafael, Las Quebradas, and San Jose. The binders (two of ’em) are Nicaraguan criollo and corojo.

The cigar is made in five sizes, all box-pressed:

  • Robusto – 5 1/4 x 52
  • Toro – 5 5/8 x 55
  • Corona Grande – 6 3/8 x 47
  • Super Toro – 7 x 56
  • Toro Gordo – 6 x 60

Construction Notes

With its bright red foot ribbon and incredibly ornate band, the Antiguidad Toro is a fine looking cigar. The wrapper is colorado maduro in shade (or rosado oscuro, if you like) with widely spaced veins. It glistens with a slight sheen of oil. The cigar is box-pressed, but sharply enough to call it a square press. The head is nicely formed, but the triple-wound cap is not as perfect as the Pepin cigars of yore. The draw is excellent and the burn slow. The only criticism I can make on this front is that the ash was a little flaky.

Overall construction: Excellent.

La Antiguidad 1b

Tasting Notes

La Antiguidad opens with a healthy churn of the peppermill, which is not a surprise from this cigar maker. After five or ten minutes the pepper wears off enough to detect some cocoa, along with leather and a hint of honey on the nose. The tannins are strong, lending a citric tartness to the flavor and creating a dry sensation on the palate.

Over the course of the cigar the cocoa, leather, and tart flavors bob and weave around an earthy core which makes its presence known primarily in the aftertaste. By the end of the cigar the pepper has returned, and it finishes with a nice little punch to the gut. The smoke texture is medium to full, and the strength builds from moderate to quite potent in the last round.

Conclusion

La Antiguidad deserves a place in the humidor next to other My Father heavyweights like the Don Pepin Blue and My Father Le Bijou, though I’d say it has more nuance than either of those. It’s not a towering thunderhead, but it packs a nice little punch. More importantly, there is enough complexity here to keep my interest for an hour and half or so.  MSRP is in the $8 USD range, which is about right for a cigar of this quality.

It’s not a return to the reign of Rey de Los Habanos, but it’s fine cigar nevertheless.

La Antiguidad 2

Final Score: 90

Bodega Reunion Aperitivo and Digestivo

Bodega Reunion 1a

Bodega Premium Blends were launched in 2013 and are now distributed by the illustrious House of Emilio. The theme chosen to promote the brand is a common one in the cigar world: friendship, fellowship, and brotherhood of the leaf.

The company has a strong presence in social media — Facebook, Twitter, and a well-kempt website. The Aperitivo and Digestivo blends are cigars designed in tandem to mimic the roles that cocktails or liqueurs usually play in the culinary sphere. The Aperitivo is a lighter cigar with a Nicaraguan Jalapa wrapper, while the Digestivo features a hearty San Andres Maduro. These bodacious Bodegas are packaged in boxes containing both blends — 10 of each — and they are produced in three sizes:

  • Toro – 6 x 52
  • Double Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Corona Gorda – 5 1/2 x 46
For this review I smoked one of each in the Corona Gorda size.
Bodega Reunion 2a
Construction Notes

Both of these Bodegas are attractive and solid, with nicely finished, rounded heads. Both burn slowly, evenly, and leave a firm ash. The only difference in appearance, aside from the band, is that the Aperitivo has a dark colorado maduro wrapper with a little gloss to it, while the Digestivo looks like a more classic maduro.

Overall construction: Independently and collectively excellent.

Tasting Notes

As the preprandial cigar, the Aperitivo is a suitably lighter smoke than the Digestivo. It opens with some cedar and a shake of powdered sugar sweetness. The smoke texture is smooth, but not light. Despite the mellow timbre of the smoke there’s still some chew here.

As it burns the aroma becomes noticeably floral — violets maybe — with just a touch of spice on the nose. In the next section the cigar picks up some earthy notes but remains light on the palate. The scale tips toward cedar and away from the floral flavors until the last third, where light roasted coffee flavors take over. Some sweetness lingers even into the last part of the cigar, which is a nice change of pace for me. The aftertaste is quite mild even to the end, which is very much appreciated by the chef preparing your meal. (Assuming your chef is not working up a sweat in the local taqueria.)

After the champagne has been drained and the capon consumed, the Digestivo arrives to put everything in place. It is naturally a heavier cigar, though the weight is concentrated in its flavor rather than its smoke texture or nicotine payload. The opening flavors are tangy, but still sweet — though not sweet in the light and floral manner of the Aperitivo. Licorice and cherry notes emerge at times through a spicy aroma. The flavor on the palate is crisp, almost minty, but with a Nicaraguan bite. Chocolate predominates in the last third, as the San Andres Maduro wrapper insists on having its say.

 

Bodega Reunion Digestivo 2

Conclusion

Both of these Bodega Reunion cigars are excellent smokes, but I particularly enjoyed the complexity of the Aperitivo. With its mild aftertaste it fulfills its role as an aperitif, but it could also serve as an opulent morning cigar.

The Digestivo is much richer, and more appropriate as an after-dinner smoke, but it also exhibits more complexity than the average maduro. Not to mention they both showed flawless construction qualities.

But this complexity and quality comes with a price: $10 USD a pop. I liked the Digestivo just fine, but for a special occasion when a cigar before dinner is on the menu, I’ll be looking for the Reunion Aperitivo.

Bodega Reunion 3a

For another opinion, be sure to check out Jeff’s review  of these blends at Casas Fumando.