Battle Jalapa: Quesada vs. Plasencia

Battle Jalapa

Two iconic cigar makers clash in a battle of titans: Nestor Placencia versus Manuel “Manolo” Quesada, distinguished gentlemen of the leaf. Their choice of weapon: Nicaraguan tobacco from the Jalapa Valley.

That’s how it was supposed to be. But then I learned that the wrapper used by Quesada for his Jalapa blend is in fact from one of Plasencia’s farms. So instead of a cataclysmic battle of the ages we have some kind of royal intermarriage. I guess I’ll have to leave the battling tobaqueros to the ads in the cigar catalogs.

But I still can’t resist comparing the Quesada Jalapa to the Plasencia-driven Montecristo Espada. Both employ Jalapa tobacco to great advantage. Does one do it better?

Quesada Jalapa

The Quesada Jalapa has its roots in a cigar I’ve only read about: the Quesada Selección España. It was designed for the Spanish market exclusively, but when American cigar heavyweights had an opportunity to try it at the ProCigar festival in 2011, they reportedly went bananas over it. The problem is that Quesada could not increase production of the Selección España because the wrapper, an Ecuadorian Arapiraca, is rare and in short supply. So he went looking for an alternative to the Arapiraca. He found it in Jalapa. In one of Nestor Plasencia’s barns. Plasencia had produced the wrapper in 2002 as an experiment, and he had a few hundred bales just waiting around for Quesada to discover.

The binder and fillers employed for the Quesada Jalapa are the same as the ones used in the Seleccion Espana: the binder is Dominican, and the fillers are Dominican and Nicaraguan. The only difference is the wrapper, which is Plasencia’s Jalapa. The blend is made in three sizes:

  • Belicoso – 6 1/8 x 52
  • Robusto – 47/8 x 50
  • Prominente – 7 5/8 x 49

Quesada Jalapa

Construction Notes

The Belicoso is a stately looking cigar, solid with a soft claro wrapper through which the texture of the binder shows. The tip is rolled well, though I have had a few of these split at the head after spending a few months in 70% humidity. The draw is good to excellent. The cigar burns slowly and evenly.

Overall construction: Very good.

Tasting Notes

The Quesada Jalapa is a creamy and aromatic cigar with just a touch of pepper on the finish. The base flavor is earthy — even mushroomy at times — with an occasional whiff of sulfur. The earthy flavor turns musky in due course, complemented by a woody aroma with some floral notes.

The smoke texture is full, creamy, and well balanced. The cigar picks up an extra shake of black pepper in the last lap, but aside from this there are no dramatic transitions. Consistent, tasty, and moderately complex.

Montecristo Espada

The Espada is Montecristo’s first Nicaraguan puro, blended by Nestor Placencia in concert with Altadis’s “Grupo de Maestros.” The name of the cigar is a tribute to the Montecristo insignia depicting crossed swords in a triangular pattern — espada is  the Spanish word for sword.

The wrapper is a habano-seed leaf grown in Jalapa. The binder and a good part of the filler are also from Placencia’s Jalapa farms, bolstered by tobaccos from Condega and the volcanic island of Ometepe. The cigar is made in the Placencia S.A factory in three sizes (the frontmarks are technical names for parts of the guard section of a sword) :

  • Ricasso – 5 x 54
  • Guard – 6 x 50
  • Quillon – 7 x 56

Montecristo Espada

Construction Notes

The Espada is made with the craftsmanship expected of a Montecristo — an attractive golden brown wrapper, a perfectly executed flat cap, a solid roll and a draw with just the right amount of resistance.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

The Espada Guard is similar in one respect to the Quesada Jalapa: the smoke texture is rich and creamy. But the Espada is spicier, and it packs a bigger punch. Black pepper blends with oak on the nose and earth on the palate. The smoke is smooth and refined, but more assertive than the Quesada. As the Guard burns to the finish the flavors intensify but don’t transition too much. The cigar is refined, well balanced and expressive, but not tremendously complex.

Quesada Jalapa 2

Conclusion

Montecristo’s Jalapa entry is everything I expect from a Montecristo — it’s a sophisticated and classy smoke, but predictable. Predictably good, but not as adventurous or unique as I’d hoped. Quesada’s Jalapa is a bit milder than the Espada, but it makes up for this with complexity.

The Quesada is also a little less expensive, coming in at around $8 USD to the Montecristo’s $11. Both are excellent cigars, but in my opinion the complexity of Quesada’s Jalapa trumps the refinement of Placencia’s Montecristo. But since the wrapper leaf on the Quesada bears the stamp of Placencia, I have to say that both cigar makers come out on top.

 

Nomad S-307 and Rodrigo Boutique Blend G4

Nomad S-307

Attentive readers will have noticed that the number of reviews on this blog has fallen precipitously over the past few years. Some readers may wonder, why does he bother at all? Why doesn’t he just shut up and watch the game? (Wait, though. Maybe he’s a Vikings fan.)

Well, I’ll tell you. I am a Vikings fan, but that’s not it.

Sometimes I’ll smoke a cigar and think, this is pretty good, maybe I should review this one. But time goes on, the Vikings lose again, and the inspiration simply isn’t there. But there are times when the spirit moves me, when I feel called to review a cigar because it is distinctive and exceptional and it just isn’t getting the attention it deserves. I can say that is the case with nearly every blend I’ve smoked from the House of Emilio.

The Nomad and Rodrigo blends are members of that esteemed House, which distributes and promotes some of the finest boutique cigars in production today.

Nomad S-307 Robusto

Nomad Cigars debuted in 2012, focusing on Dominican tobacco. It didn’t take long before Nomad founder Fred Rewey was drawn by the lure of Esteli and the production of a limited edition Nicaraguan blend was in the works. The S-307 was the first full production Nicaraguan cigar for Nomad. The heart of the cigar is, of course, Nicaraguan, but the binder is Ecuadorian Habano and the wrapper is Ecuadorian Sumatra. (The S in the brand name stands for Sumatra.) The cigar is produced in the A.J. Fernandez factory and is available in five sizes:

  • Toro – 6 x 50
  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Torpedo – 6 1/2 x 52
  • Toro Grande – 6 x 58
  • Corona – 5 1/2 x 46

Nomad S-307b

Construction Notes

The S-307 Robusto is square pressed with a mottled, fairly dark colorado maduro wrapper. The roll is solid and it draws well. It’s a nice looking stick, and it burns evenly, which is always a pleasant surprise in a pressed cigar. The long, solid gray ash is another bonus. Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The cigar opens with leather on the nose and a long peppery finish on the palate. The pepper diminishes after the first inch or so and it develops a sweeter profile: cocoa and caramel over an earthy foundation. The S-307 is a medium bodied cigar with considerable complexity, and after the first bout of pepper the smoke is quite smooth. It’s a little less boisterous and a little less tannic than the typical Nicaraguan cigar, which allows the flavor development to go in a more interesting and unexpected direction. There aren’t too many cigars that can balance leather, earth, and sweetness this well. A very nice smoke.

Rodrigo G4

Rodrigo Boutique Blend G4

Rodrigo Cigars began when founder George Rodriguez stumbled upon former Davidoff blender William Ventura on a tourist foray into Santiago, D.R.  The story Rodriguez tells on his website is one of smoky serendipity. He went to Santiago to learn about cigars, and simply chanced on the man who would later make Rodrigo for him. Fortuitous happenstance, or destiny? Whichever it is, the Boutique Blend is Rodrigo’s “answer to the large ring cigar.” I’m not sure what the question was, but the blend is Dominican with a Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, and of course the cigar is made in Ventura’s factory in three large-ring sizes:

  • G4 – 6 1/4 x 54
  • G5 – 5 1/2 x 56
  • G6 – 6 x 60

Construction Notes

The Boutique Blend G4 has the smallest ring gauge of its brethren, but it’s still a big ol’ cigar. The rough colorado claro wrapper is set off nicely by its red and gold band. The roll is solid and the head is finished with a workman-like rounded head. It draws well. It burns evenly. It’s made the way every cigar should be made. Overall construction: Excellent.

Rodrigo G4b

Tasting Notes

The Rodrigo Boutique Blend is smooth with a creamy texture. The foundation flavor is woody with just enough tannin to provide a nice pucker on the palate. The aromatics are cedary with some baking spice accents. As the cigar progresses to its conclusion it passes through the woods into earthier territory, but the cedar on the nose lingers and blends nicely through the transition. It’s a fairly mild cigar, a suitable cap to a luxurious breakfast.

Conclusion

The Nomad S-307 and the Rodrigo Boutique Blend are two totally different types of cigars, so there’s no comparing them except in terms of their overall performance, which is exemplary in both cases. The S-307 was the more interesting cigar for me, but it’s a slightly heavier smoke with more flavor resources at its disposal. The Rodrigo Boutique Blend is just as distinguished in its class. There is no reason to reach for one of the industry standard Connecticut-shade breakfast smokes if the Rodrigo is an available option. These are both great smokes, and both are highly recommended.

Nomad S-307c

 

Padilla Reserva: Habano v. Maduro

Padilla Reserva

Every garden needs weeding, and perfectly healthy trees need a trim now and again. So it was with Padilla Cigars a few years ago, when Ernesto Padilla restructured his company. It seemed like the catalog companies were unearthing forgotten troves of Padillas on a monthly basis. They were good cigars selling at a nice price — but they went largely unappreciated (except by the bargain hunters) and were finally closed out. (Some are still in the process, so get ‘em while you can.)

Today the Padilla portfolio is lean and mean, with only a few top-tier blends in circulation. One of them is the Padilla Reserva, available in two wrappers: Habano and Maduro.  Both cigars are made for Padilla by Tabacalera Oliva in Esteli, Nicaragua. The Habano features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper with binder and filler leaves from the Oliva farms in Condega and the Jalapa Valley. The Maduro swaps out the natural capa for an oily San Andres maduro.  Both variations were introduced in 2012 and are produced in four sizes:

  • 4 x 60 – Short Robusto
  • 5 3/4 x 50 – Toro
  • 6 x 54 – Torpedo
  • 5 3/4 x 60 – Double Toro

I smoked both Habano and Maduro cigars for this review, just to contrast and compare, both in the Toro size.

Padilla Reserva habano

Construction Notes

Both cigars were very well made, though they shared a common flaw: a tight draw. The draw on the Habano was firm, but productive, while the Maduro was on the uncomfortably tight side for the first two inches and then opened up a bit. Both are nice looking smokes. I generally don’t care about band design, but  the Padilla band exudes class.

The Ecuadorian leaf on the Habano is a gorgeous milk-chocolate brown, smooth with a slight sheen. The Maduro is matte black with little variation in color. It’s a little bit rustic with its lumpy round head, but that’s the nature of maduro. Both cigars burned very well, especially the Habano. “Razor sharp burn” is a cliche to which I occasionally fall prey, but in the case of the Habano it was no hyperbole.

Overall construction: Very good, with some slight hesitation about the draw.

Tasting Notes

The Habano Reserva focuses on cedar and cocoa, while the Maduro tastes a little richer — think pine rather than cedar, combined with the dark chocolate flavors typical of San Andres maduro. A tannic dryness is apparent in both, a slight astringency that wanes as the cigar burns.

The Habano is the more complex of the two — the aroma is sweet and spicy, assertive like a good perfume, but not overwhelming. The cedar gradually fades into the background as an earthy note takes over, accented by mint. The finish is lengthy and the aftertaste spicy.Padilla Reserva Maduro

The Maduro starts out with a heavy, almost resinous pine which is slightly harsh on the tongue. It mellows out though as the pine turns to cedar with occasional spikes of bittersweet baker’s chocolate. It bangs this drum all the way to the end, making it somewhat one-dimensional, though still tasty. The aftertaste is tannic, with some black pepper toward the band.

In both cases the smoke texture is medium in body, though the Maduro is a bit thicker, and both are about medium in strength.

Conclusion

The Padilla Reserva is a top tier cigar in both the Habano and the Maduro incarnations, but the Habano is the more complex and interesting smoke. The Maduro is a decent cigar, but I might be just as happy with a musty old St. Luis Rey Serie G for half the price if those are the flavors I’m after.  Both cigars ring in at around $8 USD for the toro size, but I would only be willing to pay that again for the Habano.

Bear in mind that my assessment is based on one cigar only in each wrapper, and was perhaps skewed by the Habano’s utterly perfect construction.

Padilla Reserva 3

 

La Aurora Preferidos Ecuador No. 2

Preferidos Ecuador

Preferidos have been rolled and sold for a long time now. Since 1903, to be exact, with some production interruptions for things like world wars, revolutions, global depressions, and that sort of thing, and I expect that the blend is bit different now than it was in Teddy Roosevelt’s day. Currently there are six blends in this La Aurora line, including the newest Diamond Preferido made with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper. But as usual I am lagging far behind the vanguard, taking the time to smell the pilones, so I’m going to take a look at the Ecuador blend which has been out for several years now. (An historical sidenote: the Aurora Preferidos Emerald was selected the 7th best cigar of the year in 2006 by Cigar Aficionado magazine.)

Preferidos in the wild are most frequently found living in shiny zeppelin-shaped tubes, and this one normally comes in a green one denominated “Emerald.”  This one was farm-raised, however, and caught on C-bid for less than half the standard retail price, so no tube. I must admit to one lingering concern about the identity of this cigar — the band reads ECUADOR, rather than EMERALD, as it does on the wild-caught tubed variety. Is the blend the same? I haven’t found any information to the contrary, but I can’t say for sure.

The wrapper is unsurprisingly from Ecuador, grown from Sumatra seed. The binder is Dominican, and the filler is a blend of Dominican, Brazilian, and Nicaraguan leaves. How they get all those into this little double-perfecto is a mystery to me, but La Aurora assigns only their most talented (and tourist-friendly) torcedors to the Preferidos line, so they get it done somehow.

Preferidos perfectos are produced in two sizes: this one, the classic 5 x 52 No. 2, and also a larger No. 1, at 6 x 58. A few are made in parejo vitolas as well, including robusto, lancero, and most recently a corona size.

Construction Notes

The Preferidos Ecuador No. 2 is a small double perfecto with two wrapped ends. The foot of the cigar is open, but some smokers like to trim a bit more off to create a slightly larger landing pad for the flame. The wrapper is slightly oily but otherwise unrefined: colorado maduro in color with the widely spaced veins typical of Ecuadorian wrapper leaf.  The roll is solid, and the draw is good. Without opening up the foot a little more it can be tough to get lit, but the patient puffer will find this is not necessary.

Overall construction: Very Good.

Preferidos Ecuador 2

Tasting Notes

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, as they say… and this little mutt has more bite than I expected. Both ends of the cigar are marked by loads of black pepper. The first part offers some leathery flavors and a hearty meatiness, but the best part  is a transitional sweet spot right in the middle of the bulb where the pepper gives way to dark chocolate on the palate and a spicy oak-and-vanilla aroma. Unfortunately the crest of this wave is only momentary and then it’s a quick descent back into black pepper, even more pronounced and one-dimensional on the back end.

Conclusion

Compared with other Preferido blends the Ecuadorian entry is a ruffian. Particularly compared to the Cameroon, or even the Corojo, which has potency on display but a little more sophistication. If only that mid-point highlight of chocolate, oak, and pepper could be extended throughout the cigar, I might be won over. Alas and alack, ’twas not to be. And with an MSRP of around $9 to 10 USD, ’twill not be again.

Preferidos Ecuador 3

 Final Score: 84

 

San Cristobal Revelation Legend

San Cristobal RevelationFor as long as I can remember, Ashton’s Virgin Sun Grown (VSG) line has been revered and sought after by cigar smokers. It is not always easy to find, and it commands a price dictated by its quality and high demand. The Ecuadorian Sumatra leaf that covers the VSG is the benchmark for Sun Grown taste, in my humble (or not-so-humble) opinion. The bright zing of this tobacco, grown by the Oliva family for Ashton, is what makes the VSG sing.

Now there is another voice to join that virgin choir — San Cristobal Revelation — which is made with a wrapper leaf from the same plant as the one used on the VSG. There is a slight difference, however. The VSG uses a stronger, spicier leaf from the top of the plant, whereas San Cristobal Revelation uses a milder mid-level viso leaf. But the similarities between the VSG and the SC Revelation end there. The VSG is more of a Fuente blend featuring Dominican tobacco,  while San Cristobal bears the mark of Pepin Garcia: the binder and filler leaves are Nicaraguan and the cigar is made by My Father Cigars in Esteli.

San Cristobal Revelation was introduced in 2013 in five sizes:

  • Leviathan – 6 1/2 x 64
  • Legend – 6 1/4 x 52
  • Odyssey – 5 3/4 x  60
  • Mystic – 5 5/8 x 48
  • Prophet  – 5 x 54

Construction Notes

The Revelation Legend is a box pressed toro with a mottled chocolate brown wrapper and a well formed head. The cap is not as perfect as I’ve seen on other cigars out of this factory in recent years, but it’s attractive and certainly functional. The roll is solid and the draw is excellent. The cigar burns evenly, especially for a pressed stick, although it seems to burn more quickly than I had expected. There are no overheating issues and the cigar is rolled well, so this isn’t a significant issue.

Overall construction: Very good.

San Cristobal Revelation 2

Tasting Notes

The first inch of the Revelation Legend is peppery with the tannic dryness typical of most Nicaraguan blends these days. Pepin’s peppery hallmark has been appropriated (or perhaps the polite word is emulated) by so many other cigar makers that pepper-and-tannin has become the standard for Nicaraguan cigars. But the pepper here is not overwhelming, and in keeping with the medium-bodied tenor of the cigar it fades to allow cedar and a slightly spicy floral note come to the fore.

Sun grown flavors make their appearance in the mid-section of the cigar — a cinammon zing with chocolate and cedar in the background. Along with the spice there is a touch of sweetness enhanced by the cedary aroma.

The smoke concludes with a spicy char and a lengthy finish. This is a medium-bodied cigar, but it ends on a powerful, if somewhat muddied and less complex note.

Conclusion

Revelation is a fine addition to the San Cristobal line. It’s not as heavy as the original San Cristobal, but it’s spicier than the San Cristobal Elegancia. The tannins in the first inch might lighten up a bit over time, but these blends are made that way intentionally and aren’t intended to fade, so pucker up and enjoy.

So how does the Revelation stand up to the VSG? It makes a decent showing, but it is a far milder cigar. It’s like comparing Beethoven to Schumann. Perhaps it’s not a fair comparison, but most cigar smokers will choose the pounding chords of the VSG over the gentle but soulful Revelation. That is no reflection on the quality of the Revelation; it’s just a matter of how much water you like in your whiskey. Sometimes a little splash is nice.

The Legend runs right around $8 USD.

San Cristobal Revelation 3Final Score: 90

Sindicato Corona Gorda

Sindicato

Sindicato is a clever name for a cigar — it has that underworld overtone,  that slightly sinister suggestion of menace that is so common in cigar marketing these days. But the name is a classic red herring. Sindicato has nothing to do with the mob — it’s the Spanish term for a labor union. Leave the gun. Take the chaveta.

Sindicato Cigars are made by a union of cigar industry veterans: retailers, manufacturers, lobbyists, the whole kit. Their motto is “Join the Union.” After smoking a couple of their flagship brand cigars, I believe I will.

Sindicato is a Nicaraguan puro blended by Arsenio Ramos. The cigar is made in the Casa Fernandez factory, so it should be no surprise that the wrapper is a shade-grown Corojo leaf grown on the Fernandez farms in Jalapa. Under the hood is a double binder from Esteli and a filler blend of leaves from Jalapa and Esteli. I will openly confess my weakness for Jalapa tobacco, and I’ve been a fan of Aganorsa leaf from the early days of Tabacalera Tropical, so I was stoked to fire this one up.

Sindicato was released on March 1, 2014, in six sizes:

  • Corona Gorda – 5 1/2 x 48
  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Toro – 6 x 54
  • Belicoso – 6 1/8 x 54
  • Churchill – 7 x 52
  • Magnum – 6 x 60

Sindicato 2

Construction Notes

The Corona Gorda is a square pressed cigar with a soft and supple milk-chocolate brown wrapper. The cigar feels light in the hand, but it’s packed well and burns slowly. The foot is unfinished (flagged) and the head sports a tight pigtail cap. The draw is excellent, producing a consistent volume of medium-bodied smoke, and the cigar burns evenly.

This is a handsome cigar, obviously rolled by experts.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Sindicato Corona Gorda is a medium strength cigar with notably aromatic complexity. The cigar starts out as smooth as its silky wrapper leaf and never gets harsh. Initial flavors are of roasted nuts with a dash of black pepper, but the aroma steals the show. It’s too complex to call it cedar –it smells to me like sandalwood. There is a sweetness to the scent that complements the flavors on the palate, a nutty brown sugar sweetness that grows earthier and more peppery as the cigar burns.

The finish is lengthy, and though it becomes fairly spicy in second half it stays smooth to the end.

Sindicato 3

Conclusion

Sindicato is an elegant and extraordinary smoke. I haven’t seen anyone do a flavor map for this cigar yet, but if I made one it would cover the whole spectrum. Everything from wood to pepper to floral scents — it pretty much made my palate light up like a Christmas tree. It’s smooth and sweet, very easy to smoke, and never boring. It’s one of the best new cigars I’ve tried in a long time.

Just one catch though, and you knew this was coming. You don’t get to join the Union without paying your dues. While the price is not exactly prohibitive, it is still considerable. The Corona Gorda runs around $10 USD, with larger sizes commanding commensurately larger fees. And you won’t find these in the discount aisle anytime soon, or ever, so save up your shekels. It’s a worthy investment.

Final Score: 94

 

Epicurean Gonzo Santeria

Epicurean Santeria

Most of what I know about Santeria I learned from the movies, which I admit is not the most accurate source of cultural information. Or any information, for that matter. Santeria is in fact a religion that combines elements of several faiths — Yoruba from Western Africa, Roman Catholicism, and Native Caribbean rituals and beliefs. The geographic center of the religion is acknowledged to be in Cuba, so it’s natural that a cigar take its name from this esoteric cult faith. Well, maybe not natural. Supernatural?

Santeria is also the second blend in the Gonzo line from Epicurean Cigars. (A Gonzo line is sort of like a Conga line, but crazier.)  This blend features a double shot of Mexican San Andres — an almost flawless maduro wrapper over another San Andres leaf serving as binder — which is then paired with another binder from Jalapa, and these hold in place a blend of 2009 Jalapa and Condega leaves. It’s a bewitching brew, and I wasn’t surprised to find that it smokes like one too.

Gonzo Santeria is a very limited production with only 150 50-count boxes made per size. And those sizes are:

  • Ruca – 5 x 42
  • Heina – 6 x 52
  • Padrino – 6 x 60

Epicurean Santeria 2

Construction Notes

Like the AG Azul, the Gonzo Santeria is remarkably well made. (The one I smoked for the review was the toro-sized Heina.) The head and shoulders of the cigar are about as clean and perfect as I’ve seen. The cap is tightly wound and finished with a pigtail that sits like a beanie on the top of the stick. The wrapper is a dark colorado maduro, a little bit drier than the Habano wrapper on the AG, but still quite attractive. The cigar has a slight box press. It burns slowly and evenly.

Overall construction: Outstanding.

Tasting Notes

Based on the appellation of the cigar I was expecting a feistier smoke. I figured if the Gonzo didn’t get me then the Santeria would, so I was a little surprised by the smooth medium-bodied opening. The flavor is is earthy to start — minerals and black powder — so there seems to be a family resemblance to the AG Azul. There are a few muted spicy notes, but it’s not at all what I was expecting. There is no harshness and no bite.

But as the old Monty Python sketch advises: wait for it.  A third to half-way into the cigar the pepper kicks in, and so does the Vitamin N. The aroma turns from earth to leather. The cigar gathers strength and the fiesta begins. Hope you remembered the hooch.

Finally there is the cocoa or chocolate, or whatever it is, that I was expecting from the San Andres wrapper and binder combo. At this point it hardly matters because I’m thoroughly satisfied anyway.

Epicurean Santeria 3

Conclusion

Another excellent cigar from Epicurean. As with the AG Azul, I can’t give this cigar a rating because I only smoked a single representative of the blend, but based on the outstanding construction quality I would be shocked if the cigar isn’t consistent across the board. Looks like there’s another one I’ll be going out of my way to find.