El Suelo & Trocadero from L’Atelier

L'Atelier bundles

With the introduction of the El Suelo and Trocadero cigar lines, Pete Johnson said, “I want to show people that I can make a great inexpensive cigar.” This reflects poorly on the Tatuaje Series P cigar, a mixed-filler econo stick which has been around for years.  I suppose I agree — the Series P is not a great cigar, but it is inexpensive, and evidently people buy it.  But I’m not sure it’s deserving of the Tatuaje brand name. When I think Tatuaje or L’Atelier, I don’t think blue-collar yard ‘gar, but at least it’s a niche they haven’t filled yet.

Both El Suelo and Trocadero fall under the L’Atelier umbrella (rather than Tatuaje) and are made by the Garcia family — not at My Father, but at the “other” factory — the TACUBA factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. These appear to be sister blends, so I’m going to review them together. The bands are similar in design — very simple bands that recall the golden age of cigars, when men were men and cigar bands were not suitable for framing.

El Suelo and Trocadero are distinguished mostly by the wrapper leaf. The former is a swarthy fellow with an Habano Oscuro capa, while Trocadero utilizes a much lighter Habano Rosado. Both are Ecuadorian in origin, and both cigars use Connecticut broadleaf and Nicaraguan tobaccos for binder and filler. Their sizes differ a little bit though:

El Suelo:

Terreno 5 1/4 x 56
Prado 5 3/4 x 58
Campo 6 1/4 x 60

Trocadero:

Cambon: 5 1/4 x 52
Honore: 5 3/4 x 56
Montaigne: 6 1/4 x 60

El Suelo means “the ground” in Spanish, and the sizes are agricultural terms for types of fields (as far as I can tell).  Trocadero, on the other hand, is an area of Paris, and the frontmarks are Parisian street names. I’m not sure what the significance of Paris is, but I suppose it’s congruent with a company called L’Atelier.

Construction Notes

Both cigars are attractive and exhibit excellent construction. The Trocadero is dry with fine veins and a slightly toothy wrapper. El Suelo is also dry in appearance but much darker. The wrapper almost looks like broadleaf.  The cap of the Trocadero Terreno is not picture perfect, but still perfectly functional, and the tip of the Suelo belicoso is finely finished. Both cigars are solidly rolled and burn evenly.

Overal excellent construction, particularly for bundle cigars.

Trocadero

Tasting Notes

Both Trocadero and El Suelo are mild to medium in body and strength, but the Trocadero is a much more earthy and tannic cigar, while El Suelo is sweeter.

Both cigars have an astringent quality, but Trocadero is actually bitter on the palate. (I hesitate to use the word “bitter” but in this case I think it’s warranted.) As the cigar burns the flavors settle in the earthy range with a slightly minty aftertaste. The aroma is nice though — mildly floral with a pleasingly creamy aspect.

El Suelo steers away from earthy flavors and opts for familiar Nicaraguan territory: wood smoke. There is a burnt sugar or cotton candy-like overtone in the first half which is gradually overtaken by spice as the cigar burns to the band.  Notes of coffee and cocoa are prominent on the nose. This cigar reminds me a lot of the Carlos Torano Signature blend, which is of course more expensive than this bundle smoke.

Conclusion

Both of these L’Atelier blends are made exceedingly well, and I think they are better than Tatuaje’s current budget option, the Series P.  In the $3-4 range, they are certainly good value cigars, though the avid Tatuaje or L’Atelier adherent will no doubt be disappointed by a lack of complexity.

I was pleasantly surprised by El Suelo in particular. The Trocadero was a little too dry for me, but I’d be happy to have a few Suelos in the humidor. I know it’s not high praise exactly, but these are above average yard ‘gars.

El Suelo

Final Scores:

El Suelo: 87

Trocadero: 83

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Vallejuelo Robusto

Vallejuelo is best known for its nomination as one of Cigar Aficionado’s Best Bargain cigars of 2010. The Robusto Gordo scored 93 points, along with CAO’s La Traviata Divino and La Aroma de Cuba Robusto. I do not subscribe wholeheartedly to CA’s opinion, but I respect it like any other opinion, and I’m always interested in a bargain. So I began my quest for Vallejuelo.

So I searched and searched in my local shops, made inquiries, but finally came up empty handed. Eventually I got distracted by other developments in the cigar world and the brand fell off my horizon.

A few weeks ago I was reminded by a reader about the Vallejuelo brand and while placing an order for some other things saw that Atlantic Cigar now carries them. They’re not expensive, and they fit in my shopping basket nicely.

Vallejuelo is made by Intercigar, a Dominican company established by Dutch cigar impresario Maurice Antonius Koks. Intercigar also makes a budget brand called Antonius, and judging from their website they also make private label cigars for independent retailers. Vallejuelo was originally designed for the Swiss market as a less expensive alternative to Cuban cigars. They are certainly less expensive. In other respects it’s setting the bar very high, but we’ll just have to see if they stand up to the Behike.

Vallejuelo features a Nicaraguan and Dominican blend of fillers, a Dominican binder, and an Habano wrapper grown in Ecuador. There appear to be four sizes in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Robusto Gordo – 5 x 54
  • Gran Toro – 6 x 54
  • Gordo – 6 x 60

The name “Vallejuelo” means small valley.

Construction Notes

Take the band off a Vallejuelo robusto and it might be confused for half a dozen other high-quality smokes featuring triple-wrapped heads. The wrapper is a dark golden brown with a nice sheen. Pressing the cigar reveals a hard pack with almost no give, but the draw is open and the cigar burns at a leisurely pace. The ash is slightly flaky, but it holds.

Overall very good construction.

Tasting Notes

This is a very much a Nicaraguan style cigar. It opens with a brash dose of black pepper and then mellows into an earthy, but somewhat sharp smoke.

After the initial spice of the Vallejuelo wears away, the mid-section slides into a potent mixture of earth and wood. The wrapper adds a note of cocoa and a touch of sweetness to the mix.

The finale of the cigar is a return to the first third as the pepper makes a brief comeback and the smoke gets down and dirty. I’d classify this cigar as medium in body but full in strength. It’s one of those cigars that throws me back in my chair like the guy in that old Maxell ad. Just sub in a lawn chair and put him in the back yard.

Conclusion

Vallejuelo is a tasty Nicaraguan-style cigar with a good thump. The robusto is a strong and earthy smoke with a subtle aroma, and that’s not easy to find in this price range. Its only flaw is some harshness that might fade a bit with age.

Is Vallejuelo a reasonable alternative to Cuban cigars? Not exactly. But at $4.00 a stick it’s a less expensive alternative to many of the high-end cigars coming out of Nicaragua these days. I’ll be looking for this one in a couple other sizes to see if I can get the same flavor at a slightly lower voltage level.

Final Score: 89

Padilla 1948 Edicion Limitada Robusto

So what’s up with Cigars International and Padilla? In the past few months we’ve seen a number of “small batch” and “limited” edition Padillas for sale at prices so low it should be illegal. I reviewed the Miami Maduro limited edition a few weeks ago and found it to be a decent smoke — even a very good one, considering the price. In the meantime I’ve smoked all of the other small batch sticks and thought they were decent as well — not stellar, but better than their two-dollar price tag would suggest.

So when I saw the Padilla 1948 getting the same treatment, I jumped. The ’48 was my goto Padilla back when Pepin was making this stick, so at 40 bucks for a mazo of 20 it seemed like a no-brainer.

But then I read on one of the boards that this cigar uses short filler. This was after I had pulled the trigger, of course, but I was a little peeved because the description of the cigar specifically stated it was long-filler. On the other hand, what do you expect for 2 dollars? I decided that I should postpone judgement until I could perform a little personal investigation.

According to CI, this is a long-filler Nicaraguan puro with a Habano wrapper. Like the Miami Maduro Edicion Limitada, this one is issued in the 5 x 50 robusto size only.

The first one I smoked burned well and tasted fine up to the mid-point where it suddenly got very sharp tasting. But what really concerned me was the ash. After half an inch it plummeted to the floor without the slightest prompting. And then again, after another half-inch or so. Damn, I thought. This probably is short filler. To satisfy my curiosity, and for the benefit of my three readers, I had to conduct a post-mortem. The results weren’t pretty, and I like pretty pictures, so I sacrificed a fresh stick for the purposes of demonstration.

Below you can see the wrapper, carefully incised and removed. It’s a nice looking wrapper — dark and oily, just like the ad copy says.

Next, the binder. Not so nice looking, but neither is your connective tissue.

And finally, the heart of the issue. La Tripa. Findings: Long Filler.

Construction Notes

The biggest problem with this cut-rate ’48 is consistency in construction. Some of them draw perfectly but a few were almost plugged. One had the odd ash issue, mentioned above, which resulted in the ash falling unaccountably every half-inch. But most of them (4 out of 5, lets say) were just fine.

The wrapper on this limitada robusto is rustic, but still rich looking. The roll is solid, and every one has burned slowly and evenly. The caps are uniformly sloppy, which is a surprise to see next to a Padilla band, but aesthetics aside they perform their assigned function. The ash holds firm, though sometimes it cracks and makes idle threats.

Overall construction: Good, but with concerns about consistency.

Tasting Notes

The Padilla ’48 Edicion Limitada doesn’t have the smoothness or complexity of the ’48 I remember from back in the Pepin days, but it showcases cocoa in a way that is reminiscent of the old blend. There is a little bit of black pepper up front, but the base flavors are earth and wood. Toward the middle of the cigar it picks up a musky note, but the best thing about the cigar is the cocoa and coffee on the nose. It’s about medium in body, lighter than most of Padilla’s standard lines.

I have had trouble getting past the band on these because the flavor drops off and turns ashy if smoked too quickly. If I had the time to nurse it I’d probably get more out this robusto, but for 2 dollars I’m content to smoke it halfway and grab another if I have the time.

Conclusion

The wrapper on this cigar is quite good, lending a cocoa-coffee base to the smoke that seals the deal. Granted, it’s not a Trump-sized deal. But what do you expect for 2 bucks a stick?

You could do worse.

Final Score: 83

Padilla Miami Maduro “Edicion Limitada”

If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. The truism is never more apt than in the cigar world. The earnest gentleman on the boardwalk who swears those Cuban Cohibas are genuine and that he’s willing to part with them for only $200 a box? Think again. Most of us are not so gullible, but at the same time we like to think that we know a good deal when we see one.  Online vendors use good marketing tactics to take advantage of this natural impulse.

An interesting post appeared recently on The Velvet Cigar questioning this practice, and it’s well worth reading.  Like the author of that post, I am a regular and mostly satisfied customer of Cigars International. I can neither confirm nor deny any of Ironmeden’s facts, but from time to time I think we’ve all harbored suspicions  about those “exclusive” blends from upper tier cigar makers. The question is unavoidable: why would a reputable producer of premium cigars which normally sell in the 10 dollar range suddenly decide to make a 3 dollar cigar for a discount vendor?

I don’t have the answer to that question, but as an intrepid aficionado of the cheap smoke I’m willing to throw the dice. So here I go again.

The Padilla Miami Maduro “Edicion Limitada” is a Cigars International exclusive, along with three other “small batch” blends that are all packaged together and sold as a sampler pack. The Miami Maduro doesn’t appear to be available apart from this sampler.

There is no official information available on the blend that I could find. It would be highly irregular for a Padilla smoke to be anything other than mostly Nicaraguan, but again there is no official information available. (There is ad copy information on the CI site, but it is as useless as it is trite.) There is only one size, to my knowledge: this 5 x 50 robusto.

Construction Notes

At first glance, this cigar has substandard construction. The roll is slightly soft and the cigar is misshapen. The caps on some of them are okay, others are pretty sloppy. One of them was actually peeling off. The wrapper leaf is consistent though, and the burn is even and fairly slow. I can easily forgive some aesthetic flaws if the cigar draws and burns well, so I’ll let those slide. But I seriously doubt that this cigar was made in Miami.

Overall construction: Good.

Tasting Notes

The Miami Maduro flames up with a peppery assault on the palate, followed soon after by an aroma of dark chocolate on the nose. It’s much better than I expected it to be. After an inch or so this is clearly a full body cigar.

The pepper dies away after an inch or so and the chocolate flavors mellow out to cocoa. Some char is added to the sweet bean flavors, layered over a woody underpinning. There isn’t a whole lot of complexity here, but there’s plenty of flavorful smoke.

The back half of the cigar is more of the same, but the flavor gets a little more concentrated — chocolate and char. It turns somewhat burnt tasting at the band.

Conclusion

The Padilla Miami Maduro is in this formulation a decent smoke, but it lacks the complexity of the Padilla Miami I’m accustomed to. This may be due to the wrapper, or it may be due to the blend as a whole. I don’t think I could distinguish this cigar from one of Plasencia’s better maduros, which is not necessarily a criticism, considering that I paid only two dollars for it. This is one instance where price really does make the difference.

Final Score: 85

Puros Huerfanos 52X

I recently smoked a cigar from Drew Estates that was so surprisingly bad that I had to go out and buy a few more just to ensure that my first impression wasn’t a sign of premature senility.  (Or maybe the fact that I went out and bought more is the sign itself.)

That review has been put on hold until my senses recover from my flirtation with disaster.  In the meantime, I thought I’d give Drew Estates another opportunity with Puros Huerfanos, a Famous Smoke exclusive which is described as an “ultra premium first overrun.” I’m not sure if that description is internally consistent, but the price was right on a sampler pack so I snapped up a few.

The story on these cigars is that they were somehow “orphaned,” as if they were left by a skittish teenager at the convent door. I’m not sure if this story is meant to inspire pity or suspicion. Maybe both.

These “ultra premiums” are available in four sizes — robusto, toro, corona, and belicoso — and are a blend of Brazilian, Dominican and Nicaraguan long leaf tobaccos in an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper. Sometimes I wonder if a reputable cigar maker could wrap sawdust and carpet trimmings in an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper and get away with it. There seems to be no better way to dress up a cigar than with a golden buttery shade wrapper. (For the record, the very attractive PH 52X is entirely free of sawdust and carpet fibers.)

Construction Notes

Pro: In addition to its general aesthetic appeal, the Puros Huerfanos 52X is a well rolled cigar. All of the samples I’ve smoked so far have exhibited a fine draw and an even burn, though some of them seem to burn rather quickly.

Con: The ash is a little crumbly and they burn a little hot in the last third.

Overall very good construction.

Tasting Notes

The opening notes of the Puros Huerfanos 52 are dry and papery with an earthy aftertaste. Dirt might be an acquired taste, but I’ve come across some wonderfully earthy smokes in my time. Combining those flavors with paper and tannin might not suit everyone though, I admit.

In any case, the earthiness is quickly replaced by a smooth nutty flavor. The smoke texture is creamy and the strength is mild enough that this cigar could make decent breakfast material. The middle section of the stick is less tannic and sweeter. The aroma is typical of good Connecticut shade wrapper — sweet and floral, with some woody characteristics. The finish lengthens and the dry aftertaste lingers.

There isn’t much of a transition into the last third, as there rarely is with mild cigars. The flavors seem to settle on dry wood with a sweet floral component, balanced by a slightly dry bitterness on the tongue. My only concern is that the smoke gets too warm in the last lap. Smoking this cigar past the band is not recommended, or in my case, even possible.

Conclusion

Right now it looks like the robustos are selling for around 70 USD per box of 25, and the belicosos for around 80. That’s a reasonable price for this smoke. It’s well made, tastes okay (if dry and a bit greenish are okay), and it’s relatively cheap. It won’t knock your socks off, but if you’re in the market for a mild morning smoke it might be worth a shot.

If you can, try a few before you buy a box.

Final Score: 84

Saint Luis Rey Maduro vs. Serie G Maduro

This week’s journey into the humidor is a tale of two maduros, cigars that have different compositions but share a common name: Saint Luis Rey. They are both products of the mammoth Altadis USA, the largest producer of cigars in the US. When they aren’t suing smaller companies for trademark infringement they have been known, on occasion, to roll out a decent stick.

Saint Luis Rey is an old Cuban brand name, and in accordance with the rule that all cigars with traditional Cuban cigar names must have an American counterpart, the non-Cuban SLR emerged from the Big Bang of the Cigar Boom in the mid 1990’s. This “original” SLR has done well, having spawned eight vitolas — some in tubes, cabs of 50, and even pequenos. It is available in both natural and maduro wrappers, but the maduro employed here is Mexican San Andres, which is complemented by a Nicaraguan binder and fillers from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru.

The “new” SLR is the Serie G. It was first introduced in 2006, when various cigar blenders engaged the novel concept of the double maduro blend — in this case both binder and wrapper are Connecticut Broadleaf. The filler is Nicaraguan. A year later the Serie G Natural, with a Nicaraguan Habano wrapper, was added to the menu.

Bearing the same name might be the cause of some confusion between these two cigars, and whether this is deliberate or not (I have my theories) I hope to clarify the matter by obscuring the air with smoke.

St. Luis Rey Reserva Especial Maduro

The standard Saint Luis Rey — the “Reserva Especial” — is quite distinguishable from the Serie G. Aside from a slightly smaller ring gauge, the wrapper on the Reserva is a flat, almost matte black color. I was a little worried that it might be dyed, but aside from color there was no evidence of that. The roll is solid, and the cap is ugly, but serviceable. Most of it came off when I clipped the head, leaving a clean cut anyway.

The burn is mostly even (no mean feat for any maduro cigar) but the ash is weak and flaky. (This was the first ash I’ve had fall in my lap in quite a while.) The draw, on the other hand, is perfect, producing billowing clouds of smooth smoke.

After a pleasantly peppery introduction, the core flavors are sweet wood and dark chocolate. It isn’t remarkably complex, but the blend is smooth as it gradually transitions in the last section to a sweet char. Aromatic isn’t exactly the word for this cigar — it’s pungent and quite powerful, more of a bonfire kind of cigar with it’s rich smell of tar and pine resin. A good room-clearing stogie if ever the need should arise.

St. Luis Rey Serie G Maduro

There are far fewer sizes to choose from in the Serie G formulation, but the rotund rothchilde has been a favorite of mine for years.  All of the vitolas in this line have over-sized waistlines; at a 54 ring gauge the rothchilde and the belicoso are the thinnest ones.

The Serie G is a little bit richer, a little bit smoother, and not quite as sweet as the regular SLR Maduro. This cigar is lighter in appearance (though still dark) and more natural looking, with its mottled and leathery wrapper. The roll is solid — sometimes a little too solid — and very well packed. From time to time I’ve had a tight draw with the rothchilde, but it burns well. The ash is a little stronger than the standard line SLR, but it still flakes a bit.

The core flavors are a piney wood with sweet char. There isn’t any pepper here until the last third of the cigar, and even then it stays pretty smooth. In the mid-section there are notes of leather and earth, but what I mostly find are the straightforward classic maduro flavors — wood, sweet char, and a touch of chocolate. It’s not heavy on the sweetness or the coffee/cocoa flavors, but it’s quite smooth. Like the regular SLR Maduro, the Serie G creates a pungent resting smoke.

Conclusion

Both of these cigars are fine everyday smokes, especially the Serie G, which is a bit more complex than the standard line. What sets them both apart is the price — the Serie G is just over 3 bucks a stick, and the regular line is well under that. One online retailer is selling the regular SLR for 55 USD per box of 25, and that officially makes this a bargain cigar.  Keep an eye out for these if your financial advisor (or your spouse, who are often one and the same) is getting cranky about your discretionary spending.

Final Scores:

Saint Luis Rey Reserva Especial Maduro: 86

Saint Luis Rey Serie G Maduro: 88

Bargain Arganese Rundown

ArganeseBands

I don’t have too much experience with Arganese cigars. I don’t see them in the shops I patronize and I’ve never been curious enough to take a chance on a box online. But when I saw a five-pack sampler of  discontinued blends on sale for less than ten bucks, I bit.

I’m not sure why these are being discontinued, but it’s a great opportunity to pick up some decent smokes for cheap. The last I heard, Arganese was catching flak for some kind of multi-level marketing scheme,  but what I know this company best for are the gloriously cheesy ads that accompanied their entry into the market. The douchebag at a casino table with two made-up blondes draped over his shoulders, or the obese guy on a golf course with the mini-skirted coed caddies… utterly hilarious.

So it’s safe to say that I am not in their marketing demographic.  Which is unfortunate in a way, because these are actually not bad cigars. I only picked up one sampler of these so I can’t in good faith give them a complete review, but I thought I’d offer some short notes this week for the bargain hunters out there.

ArgMadThe Maduro doesn’t stray too far from what you’d expect in a Dominican Maduro. The Brazilian wrapper is very toothy, in fact rough to the touch, and the draw is a little tight but it burns well with a straight and solid ash. The flavors are typical, but good: chocolate and nuts, with negligible finish or aftertaste. There is a touch of spice in the last third, but it won’t satisfy the power smoker  — it’s really pretty smooth and mild for the most part. Light to medium in body.  Quite pleasant as an everyday light maduro cigar.

ArgDoubleThe Double Wrap is an impressively built cigar — I think I counted 4 or 5 wraps at the head of this thing. Unfortunately it was unsmokeable. I fought with it for the first inch or so, but the draw was just too tight and what flavors I could get were sharp and metallic. I had to pitch this one and move on to the next.

The CL3 ArgCL3 is 100% “first-generation” Cuban-seed Corojo, and it was probably the most interesting smoke in the sampler. It starts up with a peppery bite and a nice caramel accent. The smoke seems a little thin, but the aroma is quite unusual — the only descriptor I could come up with was “gamey.” It burns slowly and is extremely well-behaved for a blend with so much ligero. The only issue I had was the thin smoke body, which is way over-matched by the power of the cigar. This stick has too much nicotine for me, but I did enjoy its distinctive aroma.

The Nicaraguan smokes like a maduro, but it has more kick to it than the Maduro blend. This is also a nice looking stick, and while the draw is a bit tight at first it opens up after a half-inch or so. ModerArgNicately spiced with black pepper and accompanied by some caramel sweetness on the nose, it’s nicely balanced. Chocolate flavors appear in the second half and it gets a bit rough on the throat. It’s not terribly complex, but there’s enough here to keep my interest for the duration of the cigar. A good medium-full bodied smoke.

I’d recommend the Connecticut to anyone who appreciates fine shade wrappers. It’s another handsome cigar, and even ArgCTthough the draw was again a little tight it was otherwise well constructed. In most ways it’s typical of Ecuadorian Connecticut — creamy with floral notes, but at one point I thought I could detect apple notes. That was unexpected. In the home stretch it’s mostly nuts and creamy shade-grown goodness. Another really decent smoke.

The Maduro, Nicaraguan, and Connecticut cigars are available in different weights — mild, medium, and full. I honestly don’t know which these were, but I would have to guess they were either medium or full. The Connecticut in particular was quite chewy for this style of cigar.

Conclusion

I wasn’t blown away by any of these cigars, but I wasn’t disappointed either. (It wouldn’t be fair to direct the full force of my derision on the Double Wrap after one bad stick. This time it will merely receive an indifferent shrug.)  For two to three dollars per stick I could see picking up a box or two — probably the Nicaraguan or maybe the Maduro.

These are great value cigars, at least while they’re still around. I had discounted Arganese cigars as a trendy upstart, but I’m happy to report that there is more behind these blends than just a cheesy ad campaign. After smoking all of five cigars from this outfit I’ll be interested to see what’s next on the horizon for them.