La Gloria Cubana Serie R Esteli

Serie R Esteli

La Gloria Cubana has always been associated with the Dominican Republic, so two new blends rolled in Nicaragua are an interesting development for the company. Both blends are in the “Serie R” line, and true to that tradition they’re all wide bodies. The “R” stands for robusto, even though ring gauges for these lines generally exceed the familiar 50/64 inch robusto size.

Both blends are Nicaraguan puros concentrating on the flavors of leaf grown in the Jalapa valley. What distinguishes them is the wrapper — the Serie R Black features a Jalapa ligero, while the Esteli line uses a Jalapa Sol wrapper.

Tobaccos from Jalapa tend to be a little softer and less spicy than those from Esteli, even though these areas are not geographically all that distant from one another.  One of my favorite cigars in recent years is Carlos Torano’s Single Region blend from Jalapa, and I’ve noticed that Nicaraguan cigars that utilize leaf from this area fit my criteria for a great smoke: they tend to be rich in flavor, medium to full in body, and usually won’t knock a lightweight like me into the next county.

As of this writing, only three sizes are in production, all toro or toro-plus sized:

  • No. Fifty-Four – 6 x 54
  • No. Sixty  - 6 x 60
  • No. Sixty-Four – 6 ¼ x 64

Construction Notes

The LGC Serie R Esteli No. 54 appears princely with its dark colorado maduro wrapper and black and silver band. The wrapper is quite oily with some fine veins, and its rich hue makes an impression. The roll is slightly irregular, but solid, and the cap is bit messy yet entirely functional. (If something can be called functional by dint of its removal.) The draw is excellent, and the burn is extremely slow. I was able to stretch this cigar out for a good hour and fifteen minutes and never had a burn issue the while.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Gloria cubana esteli

Tasting Notes

The 54 opens with a sweet and woody character, punctuated by leather and spice. The woody element is sweet and clean, reminding me of juniper more than the cedary aroma typical of so many cigars these days. This toro seems to be more complex in its first third than it is later on, which is a bit unusual, but this may be in part due to the amount of time it takes to smoke. After an hour my taste buds get a bit fatigued and I’m less able to detect subtleties.

The smoke is medium in body and quite smooth. The flavors and aromas presented in the first third reappear in the middle section, though the taste is less clean and takes on a meaty, barbecued tang. The final section continues on that path but the sweetness wanes after a brief flirtation with chocolate.

Conclusion

La Gloria Cubana has a great new blend here, especially for fans of the rich complexity of Jalapa tobaccos. The combination of wood and leather with just the right amount of sweetness really hits the spot this time of year.  I would love to see this cigar in a standard robusto size, but the trend toward large ring gauges is apparently no longer a trend and is now simply what the market is demanding. So I will rest content with the relatively svelte 54.

The Serie R Esteli is available in boxes of 18, and singles go for around $6.50 USD.  Add two bits for the 60, and a buck for the 64. That’s a very respectable price for a cigar of this magnitude and quality.

LGC Serie R Esteli

Final Score: 91

Special thanks to General Cigar for providing samples for review. 

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A. Flores 1975 Gran Reserva

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince 2004 Pinar del Rio Cigars have been making their way into discerning smokers’ humidors, and while I’ve been familiar with the standard lines for a long time, I haven’t had the opportunity to smoke any of their limited releases. After smoking two sizes of the A. Flores Gran Reserva, I am happy to announce that Srs. Rodriguez and Flores have not been resting on their laurels.

The PDR factory is located in the La Palma free zone area of Tamboril in the Dominican Republic. It’s a fairly new facility, where they make not only PDR’s standard lines, but also contract brands like La Palina Classic and El Primer Mundo. In the last year or so they have also released limited lines like this one, AFR-75, and Flores y Rodriguez Tamboril in a variety of small batch blends. And I’m sure there are many more.

A. (Abraham) Flores is PDR’s primary blender, a native Dominican, and the man behind the A. Flores Reserva. This cigar was originally released in one size only — the curious half-corona size, inspired by the classic Cuban H. Upmann half corona. The cigar was well recieved, so the lineup was expanded to include a 5 x 52 Robusto and a 6 x 54 Gran Toro.

Flores heavily favors Dominican tobaccos, but Nicaraguan leaf frequently appears in PDR blends as well. The A. Flores Reserva utilizes a 2006 Dominican corojo wrapper, with Dominican corojo and Nicaraguan Habano binder and filler leaves. The cigar is rolled using the entubado method.

Construction Notes

PDR Cigars was kind enough to send the A. Flores 1975 Gran Reserva in two sizes — the original half corona size, and the robusto. Both are very attractive looking smokes, arriving complete with cedar sleeve and red ribbon foot bands. Once divested of its sleeve, the Gran Reserva exhibits a maduro-colored wrapper that looks as rich and rough as broadleaf.

The roll is solid and the head of the cigar is triple wound with nice broad seams. The cap is pasted on and looks a little messy, but that problem is quickly remedied with a guillotine cut. The draw is excellent, and it burns slowly and evenly, leaving a solid light gray ash.

Overall Construction: Excellent

A Flores Reserva

Tasting Notes

The flavor of the Gran Reserva reminds me why aged wrapper leaf is so fine. There is a component to the aroma of this cigar that I’ve noticed before in carefully aged wrappers — a sweet liqueur-ish quality, almost like the taste of brandy, that is fairly rare and quite enjoyable. The smoke is thick and creamy in texture. The robusto is much smoother than the half corona, which I think deserves fully as much time to smoke as the robusto. The smaller cigar shares many of the same flavors as the robusto, but the flavors are concentrated and more intense.

The middle section of the cigar brings a little more strength. This is more noticeable in the robusto, because the half corona is feisty from the start. Woody flavors come to the fore, accompanied by a slightly astringent Nicaraguan acidity. The aroma remains sweet, rounded out by the flavors on the palate.

Both sizes finish up with a lot of spice, though the robusto seems a little more complex and balanced than the half corona. On the nose are notes of coffee and caramelized sugar.

Conclusion

The A. Flores Gran Reserva is a special smoke. I liked both sizes a lot, though I found the robusto to be more complex and a little easier to smoke. The half corona needs to be sipped like whisky to get the most out of it. Judging by its size I thought it might be a good short smoke, but it probably needs a good 45 minutes to be appreciated. Don’t rush this little feller.

The half corona is available for around $5 USD, maybe slightly less in tins of five. The robusto is around $11, which puts it in the special-occasion premium category for me. But it deserves to be there.

A. Flores Reserva

Final Score: 91

CLE Corojo 50 x 5

CLE Corojo

The CLE Brand is named for its founder, Christian L. Eiroa, formerly President of Camacho Cigars. In 2008 Camacho was acquired by Davidoff, and a few years later Christian left the company entirely and lit out for the territories.

Well, not the territories exactly, except in a metaphorical sense. Actually, CLE cigars were first made in a location very familiar to Eiroa — the Tabacos Rancho Jamastran factory in Danli, where Camacho cigars have been made for years and years. Production has now shifted to a new factory, a renovated theater in Danli called El Cine Aladino. I suppose it’s no coincidence that the theater was opened by Christian’s grandfather in the 1970′s. You never have to look too far in the cigar industry to find the family connection.

The Eiroas are inextricably linked to Corojo, which probably wouldn’t exist in its original state were it not for Julio Eiroa, Christian’s father, smuggling the seed out of Cuba. So it is quite apt that one of the first blends from CLE should focus on this iconic strain of cigar tobacco.

CLE cigars are vintage dated, a practice that many cigar connoisseurs have advocated for a long time. As Eiroa said to Cigar Insider, “Tobacco is different year after year — a new year is a new vintage.”  A few weeks ago I sampled three different vintages of Don Pepin Garcia’s Blue Label cigar to demonstrate just this point, so add my name to the list of those glad to see that CLE is adopting this procedure.

The CLE Corojo is a Honduran puro, and there are four sizes in production. I haven’t omitted the frontmarks here — the size and the frontmark are one and the same:

  • 46 x 5 3/4
  • 50 x 5
  • 11 x 18  (figurado)
  • 60 x 6

CLE

Construction Notes

The Corojo wrapper on the CLE is colorado maduro in tone and is just slightly oily. The head is rounded and finished with a fine triple cap. The roll is solid, and the draw good. The cigar burns fairly slowly and produces a dark gray ash, similar to what is found on many Cuban cigars.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The CLE Corojo reminds me a lot of the Camacho Diploma, albeit a much lighter version. This is Honduran tobacco in all its brawny glory — rich meaty flavors with pepper and a touch of cedary sweetness. By the mid-point the woody flavors give way to leather, and in the final stage red pepper is quite prominent. The finish is lengthy. I recommend frequent palate cleansing with lashings of cold lager.

It’s a medium-bodied cigar, but the strength grows from moderate at the outset to fairly strong at the end. I would not recommend smoking this one on an empty stomach.

Conclusion

If you’re partial to full-bodied Honduran tobacco and rich meaty smoke, you’ll dig the CLE Corojo. It has more complexity than many cigars in the same strength class, and it also has a pretty reasonable price tag. Cigar Aficionado named it one of their “Best Bargain Cigars” for 2012. The 5 x 50 runs in the $6 USD range, or a bit less. This is not a “bargain” price by my standards, but it’s not extravagant either. All in all a fine hearty smoke.

Final Score: 90

CLE

Torano Salutem Toro Major

Salutem

Lectori Salutem. Greetings reader. I suppose I should say “smoker” rather than reader, but I’m not sure that there is a Latin word for “smoker,” inasmuch as that part of the planet was a non-smoking area when Latin was the lingua franca.  Rome smoked away as much of it burned in 64 AD, but there were no smokers to blame. Nero strummed his lyre and blamed it on the Christians. Today I suppose the smokers would get the blame.

Often people approach me on the street and ask, “Cigarfan, how do you write a cigar review?” And my answer is always the same. Look, we’re going to have to go all the way back to ancient Rome, or maybe Greece, and engage in some rank speculation.  But my bus is almost here so let’s make this quick.

But we’ll skip over that for now and focus on the Salutem, a blend introduced by Toraño last year. According to the press release, the brand name is a nod to the “strong will of those who overcome great challenges and adversity.” Or as the criminals about to die in a staged naval battle said to the Emperor Claudius, “Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant!” Which roughly translated means, “For those about to smoke, SALUTEM!!”

The heart of Salutem is comprised of a hearty blend of Dominican corojo, Nicaraguan leaf from Esteli, and Cameroon; this is bound in a Nicaraguan binder from Jalapa and finished with an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. The cigar is produced by the the American Caribbean Cigars factory in Nicaragua, and it is packed in boxes of 12 (soon moving up to 18.) The cigar is produced in the following sizes:

  • Robusto Extra: 5 x 52
  • Toro Major 5 5/8 x 55
  • Piramide 6 1/8 x 52
  • BFC 6 1/8 x 60
  • Box Press 5 1/2 x 55

Salutem Sunset

Construction Notes

The golden caramel-colored wrapper leaf on this cigar is quite pleasing to the eye, even if it is marred somewhat by the roughness of the binder beneath. The head is carefully wound and crowned with a single cap. Both cigars burned very well, even though they were inconsistent in other ways. The difference between the two cigars seems to be in the bunching. Both cigars drew well, though one was a bit tighter than the other. As a result one burned slower, and seemed to be both stronger and more peppery.

Overall construction: very good, despite some inconsistencies.

Tasting Notes

The Salutem Toro Major has a generally dry flavor profile, but it develops considerable complexity. At first the tannin comes on a bit heavy, but as the cigar loosens up it shows an earthy flavor on the palate with notes of vanilla, oak, and sweet fruit on the nose. Eventually the fruity flavor comes into focus as cherry or black cherry, and a minty eugenolic flavor appears. I’m guessing that is the Cameroon’s contribution to the blend, but wherever it comes from, it’s a delicious addition.

One of these Toros was noticeably spicier than the other, and slightly more potent, leading me to wonder if the heavier and more tightly rolled cigar received an extra helping of ligero by accident. I didn’t enjoy this cigar as much as the other, since the peppery flavors overwhelmed the complexity of the blend.

I almost always smoke two cigars before forming an opinion about a blend, and two usually seems enough. Occasionally fatigue or complacency hampers my enjoyment of a cigar, and some days are better than others, but usually two sticks does the trick. But with Toraño’s Salutem, I feel like I need a larger test pool. The two cigars were so different that I’m not sure which was the real Salutem.

Salutem 3

Conclusion

I can’t comfortably rate this cigar until I smoke a few more, but I liked it enough to do just that. It’s a complex and flavorful medium-to-full bodied cigar, and it definitely piqued my interest. I just hope the inconsistency that I experienced was a fluke. In the meantime, Caveat Emptor.

Going price for Torano’s Salutem Toro Major is around $6.50.  Vale!

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

DPG Blue Through the Years

Don Pepin Garcia Blue LabelA couple months ago Gordon Mott of Cigar Aficionado penned a blog post about the misleading use of cigar ratings in advertising. This was prompted by one manufacturer in particular who cited a 93 rating to promote a cigarillo line. The problem is that the rating was for a toro-sized cigar made by the same company 20 years ago. Unfair? Misleading? Of course it is. But if anyone should know something about smoke and mirrors, it’s a cigar aficionado.

Even if the advertising were for the same cigar, the use of that rating would still be questionable. Only the largest cigar companies are able to maintain the huge libraries of tobacco necessary to create the same blends, year after year. In many cases this just isn’t possible, especially with smaller boutique brands.

Take one of the great cigar success stories as an example. Ten years ago, Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia was virtually unknown outside the circles of cigar geeks who read blogs like this. El Rey de Los Habanos was just one of the many small shops that populated Miami’s Calle Ocho neighborhood, but they were making cigars like none other, and consumers quickly caught on. The Miami operation couldn’t keep up with demand, and after a change in name and a move to Esteli, Nicaragua,  My Father Cigars now operates a huge facility that rivals that of many long established cigar companies.

While they still make stellar cigars (some better than others) I would hesitate to call My Father “boutique” at this point in time. They are not the same company they were ten years ago, and they aren’t using the same tobacco. And yet… the Don Pepin brand name remains the same, and some fans of the brand still think of it as a boutique label. So the question is this: when I pick up a DPG Blue Label in my local cigar shop and think about that potent blast of black pepper and the cocoa and the caramel of that brilliant Nicaraguan Corojo — am I living in the past?

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I thought I might try a little experiment to test that hypothesis. Digging into the deepest recesses of my dwindling supply of aging cigars, I found DPG Blue Labels from three different years. Unfortunately they were not all the same size, but at least they represent the DPG Blue over a significant period of time: a robusto from 2006, a torpedo from 2009, and another robusto of recent vintage. All three cigars received the same treatment and were smoked under the same torrid desert conditions.

Construction Notes

There are some minor differences in appearance, but all three are well made cigars. Both the 2006 and 2013 robustos have wrappers that are fairly dry and leathery in appearance, in contrast to the torpedo, which is noticeably more oily and smooth. All three are a little bit bumpy, but solid, and they all exhibit a firm but productive draw.

The biggest surprise was the way the 2013 robusto is finished. Early on, DPG became famous for the way his cigars were perfectly triple wound, and the 2006 robusto is no exception. The cap on this ’06 cigar was precisely applied by a master craftsman. A thing of beauty. On the other hand, the 2013 robusto is not triple wound at all. While still attractive and functional, the straight cap on the newer cigar is a surprise and leaves me with a little bit of nostalgia for the good old days… remember 2006? George W. Bush? Windows XP? Okay, I guess it wasn’t that long ago…

DPG Blue robusto

Tasting Notes

What I remember most about the DPG Blue is its explosive introduction. Ask anyone who smoked the big-bore Pepins back in the day, and you’ll probably hear the same thing. I expected the 2006 robusto to have mellowed, and my expectation was borne out. What I didn’t expect was that the 2013 blend would be almost as mellow as the 2006. Either the blend has been tamed by its designers, or my palate really rose to the challenge when I smoked the ’13.

Assuming the former, it seems that the power of the Blue Label blend has waned in recent years.

The oldest of the group, the 2006 robusto, turned out to be a disappointment. The opening was mildly spicy, but the palate flavors were papery and flat. The mid-section brought some cocoa and pepper finally showed up in the last third. A complex aroma of leather and caramel saved the cigar, though it could never quite overcome the tannic and dry qualities that appeared on the palate. I was expecting more from this elder statesman, but apparently its glory days have passed.

DPG Blue 06

The 2009 torpedo was the most complex of the three: leather, cedar, and roasted nuts with increasing earthiness on the palate as the cigar progressed. In the mid-section there are caramel notes and a rich potent aroma. The cigar ends with a pretty good nicotine thump, even after four years in the box. There is a dash of pepper before the inevitable char at the finish line.

The newest exemplar of the blend, the 2013 robusto, was surprisingly smooth. I expected a major recoil from this Nicaraguan cannon, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve never been a fan of overwhelming spice, but I would expect that smokers who pick up a DPG Blue are looking for that very thing, and I have to wonder if by now they’ve moved on to other blends. The smoke is medium in body and flavorful, but not wildly complex either. Some cocoa and cedar with a touch of sweetness round out the palate flavors, which get a little more concentrated as the cigar burns to its conclusion.

Conclusion

Even strong cigars lose their potency over time, but I was still surprised at how much the 2006 DPG Blue had faded. This used to be one of the heaviest sluggers around, but time has mellowed the old blend to a shadow of its former self. In the intervening years the cigar appears to have been reblended and refined, and while I wouldn’t call the 2013 blend a shadow exactly, it’s certainly not as substantial as the 2006 was when it was fresh. In between these two was the 2009 torpedo — the best of the bunch, and the closest to what I remember the original blend tasting like.

All of which is merely to point out what is fairly obvious to serious cigar connoisseurs — cigars in storage change with age, and blends change over time as manufacturers tinker with them or use other tobaccos out of necessity. The DPG Blue simply tastes different today than it did in 2006, and using a rating from years ago to describe a cigar made today is highly questionable at best.

DPG Blue 2013

Oja Anniversary Atrevido

OJA AnniversaryOja cigars are a relatively new boutique blend created by Luis Garcia and manufactured by Kiki Berger (of Cuban Crafters fame) in Esteli, Nicaragua. There are three standard lines: the Connecticut (with an Ecuadorian wrapper), Mestizo (Habano 2000) and Oscuro (Brazilian Arapiraca.)

But no cigar brand, no matter how young, is complete without an Anniversary blend. I came across Oja’s Anniversary line a few months ago and after purchasing a pair at the B&M, I decided to let them sit for a while. Sometimes a cigar wants some time to ruminate, and I thought these bad boys with the refined band needed to contemplate existence for a while.

The time seems to have served them in good stead. The blend is designed for strength, with a double helping of Nicaraguan ligero in the filler, a Nicaraguan binder, and a Brazilian wrapper of the “Samba” variety. I have never heard of Samba, but whatever it is, I like it.

It looks like the Oja Anniversary is still in production, but it is not exactly easy to find. Three sizes were designed for the Anniversary blend:

  • Atrevido – 5 x 54
  • Ilustre – 6 x 58
  • Elegante – 6 x 52

Construction Notes

The Oja anniversary Atrevido is a square pressed robusto with a dark and dry wrapper leaf. Brazilian Samba looks a lot like broadleaf maduro, but to me it seems a bit sweeter. The head of the cigar is formed well, but the cap is a little messy. The draw is excellent, and it burns quite evenly, which is notable for a pressed stick.

Overall construction: Excellent

Oja

Tasting Notes

The Oja Anniversary isn’t a cigar that evolves too much, but it is balanced and the flavors are complex enough to keep my interest despite the lack of transition flavors. This cigar offers what I associate with great maduro cigars — rich and earthy flavors on the palate with overtones of chocolate and dark-roasted coffee on the nose.

Also present is a woody sweetness that I generally associate with Nicaraguan tobacco. The smoke is slightly tart on the tongue, and a touch of acidity gets the juices flowing. The flavors complement each other nicely and blend well.

I was expecting a little more spice in the finale, but it remains pleasantly balanced to the end. Some char and a dash of pepper appear at the end to wave goodbye.

Conclusion

I like full-bodied cigars, but I like them especially when the smoke is as creamy and smooth as this one is. A full-bodied cigar, in my opinion, does not have to scorch your tongue off with spice or turn your stomach with nicotine. And the Oja Anniversary does neither, while remaining a substantial and flavorful smoke.

It’s not a sophisticated cigar, but it’s finely balanced and tasty. It’s exactly what I look for in a top tier maduro — it’s smooth, with layers of chocolate, dark roasted coffee, and a sweet earthy aroma that makes my garage smell just like… my garage.

The bad news? They’re not easy to find, and they’re on the pricey side. MSRP for a box of 20 at Cuban Crafters is $254.99. It’s a great cigar, but in the $12-13 range they face some fierce competition.

Final Score: 92OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA