Romeo y Julieta is a many-headed beast, with at least seven different blends currently in distribution by Altadis USA. Lest you lay awake at night wondering how many extensions one brand name can possibly support, allow me to enumerate:
- Romeo y Julieta 1875. The first Dominican made R y J, originally made by Matasa for Hollco-Rohr in the 1980s.
- Romeo y Julieta Vintage. Debuted in 1993. A mainstream “super-premium,” mild and delicious.
- Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real. Introduced in 2003 with an Ecuadorian wrapper.
- Romeo y Julieta Reserve Maduro. Came out the same year as the Reserva Real. “Blackened” Connecticut broadleaf wrapper over a distinctive Nicaraguan, Peruvian and Dominican filler blend.
- Romeo y Julieta Aniversario. Another from the class of 2003. A little heavier than the rest of the family. Released for the brand name’s 130th Anniversary.
- Romeo y Julieta Habana Reserve. The Honduran Romeo, full bodied with a Nicaraguan wrapper.
- Romeo y Julieta Vintage Maduro.
And then there are strange offspring like Cigar International’s Romeo y Julieta Viejo, as well as more legitimate but rarely seen Cabinet Editions, etc. The elasticity of the name is remarkable.
The Vintage Maduro blend I’m reviewing today is an interesting inversion of the Aniversario: the Ecuadorian Sumatra is used on the inside as a binder, and the broadleaf is the wrapper. Actually, it’s “blackened” broadleaf, whatever that means. The same term is used for the wrapper on the Reserve Maduro, but I’m not exactly sure what this “blackening” process is, or how it differs from the standard maduro process. (Presumably Sir Marksalot was not involved.)
Individual vitolas in the Vintage line are labeled I – VII, with the exception of the tubed cigars, the corona and the toro. The corona is a little bit fatter than normal — a 44 ring gauge rather than the standard 42, but otherwise a typical 5 1/2 inches in length.
The packaging is tasteful. Tubed cigars are always nice to give as gifts, particularly to dissolute friends as you pack them off after the holiday party. A tube will provide stability and a minimal level of defense against the shocks and blows of the journey home, but it won’t preserve the cigar indefinitely, so as your departing partygoers stagger off into the night remind them about proper humidification.
I approach this cigar with some hesitation. It’s been out for a while now but I’ve steered clear of it because it combines one of my favorite Altadis cigars — the RyJ Vintage — with a cigar I wouldn’t give my dog — the Reserve Maduro. I rarely rag on cigars here because it’s just not my style, but back in the early days of this blog I said the Reserve Maduro had an “excremental element.” That’s me being nice.
The wrapper is an oily and smooth dark maduro with some inconsistency in color. This is a good thing, since a perfectly uniform color often indicates artificial processing. The roll is firm but the draw is just right. It lights up easily and begins a slow smolder.
The Vintage Maduro is similar to the standard Vintage in body and style — mild and creamy smoke with a pronounced aroma and zero bite. In fact, for the first third there isn’t much taste on the palate at all — it’s all in the nose: sweet cedar and a touch of sugar. The burn is a little off kilter, but for a maduro it’s far above average.
The middle third offers up bittersweet chocolate and coffee flavors and the finish grows considerably. The aftertaste is still rather mild, but the flavors on the palate build as the body grows to a solid medium. The last section returns to the woody flavors with which it opened, but rather than fresh cedar it comes across as a sweet earthy char.
This little maduro turns out to be a fairly complex smoke that charts a course from sweet, mild and aromatic to a final destination of rich earth and charred wood. Ports of call include chocolate and coffee flavors, and the transition is aided by a slow and even burn. All told, this maduro version of the Vintage is worthy of the name, and definitely worth the retail price of 5 to 6 USD per stick. I’ll be on the lookout for more when I’m in the mood for a slow cruise across the dark sea of Maduro.