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.

 

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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

 

Cain Daytona 654T Torpedo

Cain Daytona

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Well, Mr. Shakespeare, that may be true. But there’s a reason you’ve never heard The Yellow Rhododendron of Texas. And there’s nothing in Holinshed about the War of the Daffodils, is there?

And yet I admit that half the reason I’ve never smoked a Cain cigar is because of the name. The story of Cain in Genesis is not one that I would expect to inspire greatness, unless the mark of Cain can somehow be construed to be a good thing. (Though Herman Hesse does this very thing in his novel Demian, so it’s not an impossibility.)

The other half of the reason is that Cain cigars are composed entirely of ligero tobacco leaf, the strongest and oiliest part of the stalk. Raw power is not really my thing. Ligero is an essential element in many fine blends, but I’ve always thought that smoking a ligero puro would be like sitting down to a tumbler of Bacardi 151. Drinkin’ TNT and smokin’ dynamite. (Yeah,I know — Muddy was smoking something a little different.)

But I love Jalapa tobacco, so when a reader last year mentioned that Cain’s Daytona blend is a Jalapa puro, I had to try it. The Jalapa Valley is the northernmost tobacco growing region of Nicaragua, and the shade afforded by the valley allows the tobacco to be a little more restrained than does the full sun of Esteli. The result is a complex tobacco with a soft and lush flavor.

Cain is made by Studio Tobac, the edgier wing of the Oliva Cigar Company. The cigar is made by Tabacalera Oliva in five sizes, from which the frontmarks take their names:

  • 660
  • 654T (torpedo)
  • 646
  • 550
  • 543

Cain Daytona 2

Construction Notes

The Cain Daytona torpedo arrives with only a foot band, and when this is removed it must stand naked before the world. But like a body builder on the beach, it has the physique to withstand close scrutiny, and seems to invite it. The wrapper is a smooth and attractive colorado maduro, with a touch of oil to highlight some fine veins in the leaf. The roll is even and solid. The cap is not Pepin-perfect, but the head clips easily and the wrapper doesn’t unfurl, which is always my primary concern.

It draws well, burns evenly, and builds a long, strong, dirty gray ash.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

What is immediately apparent about the Cain Daytona is its pungency. The resting smoke is powerful. The wrapper leaf is usually the most aromatic part of a cigar, so catching a whiff from the smoldering foot is one way I try to gauge its aroma. That is not easy to do with this cigar — and an accidental inhalation or even a retrohale might be a deal-breaker.

But the flavors on the palate are quite nice — lots of cocoa over an earthy and mineral-laced foundation. The smoke is not spicy on the tongue, but it leaves a peppery aftertaste. The smoke is not as astringent as a lot of Nicaraguan puros, but the cocoa screams Jalapa.

An odd thing about the Daytona is that the smoke is surprisingly thin. At first I thought the cigar might not be burning properly, but it turns out that the smoke texture is just very light. It isn’t often that a cigar’s body is outmatched by its strength, but here is a great example.

Conclusion

The Cain Daytona torpedo is a fascinating cigar, but as much as I love the tobaccos of Jalapa, I find this one to be unbalanced and thin. The lure of ligero is what the Cain line is founded on, so perhaps the blenders are simply sticking to their guns here — but I think a softer and more sophisticated wrapper leaf would go a long way toward smoothing out the pungency of the ligero and give the smoke a little more weight on the tongue.

On the other hand, if ligero is your thing, the Daytona might make a nice breakfast smoke for you. But not for me.  For now I believe I will stick with Torano’s Single Region to satisfy my craving for Jalapa.

Cain Daytona 3

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.