Carlos Torano Noventa “La Esperanza”

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When Daniel Ortega was elected President of Nicaragua last November, cigar makers and aficionados everywhere had to step back a moment and remember what happened the last time Ortega’s party was in power. When the Sandinistas assumed control in 1979, tobacco farms and factories were seized by the government and the Nicaraguan cigar industry was essentially decimated; cigar manufacturers took what tobacco they could and ran for the border to Honduras or other more hospitable countries. Tobacco production in Nicaragua was eventually retooled for cigarettes to be marketed in Eastern Bloc countries.

So when Ortega came back like a bad penny last November, Philip Wynne of Felipe Gregorio cigars did what seems the sensible thing — he got out of Dodge and moved his operation to the Dominican Republic. But the Toraño family evidently has no fear. Instead of leaving, or even hedging his bets, Charlie Toraño decided that they would go ahead with plans for a new facility four times the size of their current one in Esteli. The new factory will be set on a 30 acre campus complete with areas for social events and tourist attractions; in fact, Toraño says they want the new factory to have the air of a winery where people can relax and learn about the history of Toraño’s four generations in the business.

And if this weren’t enough, there’s the name of the new facility: Esperanza, which was the name of the Toraño farm in Cuba. It was confiscated by the Castro government in 1959 and led to Carlos Torano’s famous escape to the Dominican Republic with the seeds that would become known as piloto cubano, one of the great stories and historical milestones in the history of cigars. Esperanza is Spanish for hope, and hope is certainly alive in Nicaragua.

To celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the company (dated from 1916, the year Santiago Toraño emigrated from Spain to Cuba,) Toraño Cigars released the Noventa. After five years of aging, the final product was released late last year. Noventa is a Nicaraguan puro utilizing a nearly flawless habano wrapper, a habano binder, and a complex blend of fillers from Jalapa, Esteli, Condega and Pueblo Nuevo. The names of the three available sizes are reflections of Toraño’s heritage: Santiago, a 5 x 50 robusto named after the patriarch of the family; La Esperanza, a 6 x 52 toro named for the original farm in Cuba; and Latin, a 6 1/4 x 54 torpedo named after the current business moniker.

The toro size Esperanza has a smooth shade-grown appearance with a slight sheen to the wrapper. A couple of discreet veins pop up toward the head from under the band. The foot reveals some dark leaf, and the pre-light scent is mildly spicy. The cap is smooth and shiny and applied in the flat Cuban style. A very attractive cigar.

I was expecting a bold spicy start typical of Nicaraguan puros, but what I got instead was a very smooth, nearly creamy smoke. The base flavor here is wood with a touch of cedary spice. The draw is perfect, and the burn is as close to razor straight as I’ve had in a long while. The flavors and aroma remind me of a Padron 1964 natural, though perhaps not as bold. The same smoothness and woody profile is there though, with maybe a little more sweetness on the nose.

There wasn’t too much development here, just a very relaxing spritely cigar with gentle spices jumping all over the palate — cedar, juniper, maybe a little vanilla bean. Never overbearing, perfectly balanced, and smooth as silk. I’d rate it a solid medium in body, though the smoke texture itself is a little bit heavier than that. It’s not heavy the way highly spiced Nicaraguan cigars can be — it’s substantial, but refined. I enjoyed this smoke for a good hour and fifteen minutes, pausing once to remove the band and wonder where the time went.

The Noventa is a great cigar worthy of the Anniversary status conferred upon it. The bad news is that it’s very expensive. At around 11 USD this isn’t going to be an everyday smoke for most people, and it probably shouldn’t be. Since Noventa means 90, I would prescribe one every 90 days. Even if you need to scrimp a little the rest of the week — have a Mayorga or a Maria Mancini instead of that Ashton –I think it’s worth the sacrifice.

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Carlos Torano Exodus 1959 Toro

It’s been a while since I tried the Exodus, several years in fact, so I thought it was about time to fire up another one. The stand-up guys at the Stogie Review have generously offered a box of Exodus 1959 Double Coronas to the Dog Watch Social Club for a contest which you can win by entering here.

I’ve been so loyal to the Torano 1916 Cameroons and the Signatures that I sort of forgot about the Exodus 1959. cnv0252.jpgThe DWSC contest reminded me that it would be good to reacquaint myself with this benchmark cigar.

The 1959 Exodus is made in Torano’s Honduran factory in Danli. Released in 2001, this version is sometimes called the “Exodus Gold” to distinguish it from the Silver version which was released the following year. These parejos are box pressed, and the toro measures a solid 6 inches with a 50 ring gauge.

Vital Statistics:

Wrapper: Honduras (H2000)

Binder: Honduras

Filler: Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua

I would expect a lot of complexity from a cigar with such a diverse blend, especially when it is topped off with the “controversial” H2000 wrapper. H2000 was used widely during the cigar boom in the late 1990’s, during which it was also roundly criticized as flame proof and compared at times to asbestos.

H2000 (AKA Habana 2000) was originally developed in Cuba as an alternative to the corojo and criollo strains which were very susceptible to various kinds of blight. Agronomists crossed “true” corojo, the trademark wrapper leaf developed by Diego Rodriguez in the 30’s, with Bell 61-10, a type of cigarette tobacco. The new strain resulted in a thick leaf that was indeed more disease and pest resistant, but cigar makers found it difficult to ferment and smokers almost universally complained that it burned badly, sometimes resulting in the binder and filler burning completely and leaving a hollow shell of H2000 wrapper. Not good!

Since that time it appears that either the strain has been improved, or processing methods have been developed to persuade the petulant H2000 wrapper leaf to burn properly.

This toro’s wrapper is smooth and almost waxy. The prelight scent is rich with just a tinge of ammonia. It cuts easily and the prelight draw is perfect.

The Exodus 1959 Toro fires up easily, and goes right to work building a solid white ash that holds for two inches. This baby burned perfectly straight. So much for those H2000 complaints.

I found this cigar to be similar in flavor profile to the Torano Signature — it has an earthy base with overtones of coffee, though not as strong in the coffee department as is the Signature. There is also an element of sweetness, as if a couple teaspoons of sugar were thrown into the coffee. And while we’re at it, some cream. This is definitely a smooth smoke.

The complexity of the five-country blend results in a spectrum of flavors that spans from the tannic element in the coffee flavor to the sweet aroma, all firmly grounded in a rich earthy smoothness. The finale was a dose of peppercorns zinging on my tongue. Cap this off with superb construction and a price point in the four dollar range, and you have one fine cigar.

My only complaint is that it seems to burn fairly quickly: from ignition to band this cigar lasted only 45 minutes. But I have to admit that I was probably enjoying this smoke a little too much to take my time. That would also explain the buzz — which reminds me to note that this is a full bodied cigar, best enjoyed after a meal.

If you win the DWSC contest, you’re in for a real treat!

Carlos Toraño Signature Perfecto

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The Toraño Signature series was introduced in 2000 and has garnered both rave reviews and many new fans since then. This is one of the last Toraño series I had yet to try, and it turns out to be one of the best. I chose the perfecto the other evening because I was looking for something with a lot of flavor in a fairly small package.

The Signature perfecto is a true torpedo, being tapered at both the head and foot. It measures 5 inches long and weighs in at a 50 ring gauge at its thickest point. Both head and foot are slightly open, but the head still needs a clip to open it up a bit.

The wrapper is a deliciously oily sungrown Brazilian maduro. The binder is Connecticut broadleaf, and the filler is a blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican piloto cubano. The roll is solid all the way and exhibits an open draw even before the foot opens up.

The Signature perfecto opens up with an earthy introduction, similar in flavor to the base flavors in Toraño’s 1916 Cameroon. Here, however, the spice of the Cameroon is replaced by a sweet maduro accented with flavors of Columbian coffee and leather. It starts out with a very light bite, but this quickly mellows out and by mid-point the smoke is smooth; not creamy exactly, but carefree. The flavor continues with an earthy base. Eventually the leather gives way to sweet wood, until the two-thirds point (just past the first band) where it becomes slightly bitter, signalling the end of the cigar for me.

The Toraño Signature perfecto is a dry, earthy cigar with excellent construction that could be enjoyed at any time of the day. If you’re in the mood for an earthy medium-bodied cigar and have a fiver taking up space in your wallet, trade it in at your B&M for this perfecto. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Carlos Toraño Reserva Selecta Torpedo

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Toraño’s Reserva Selecta line has been praised highly by Smoke magazine, Cigar Aficionado, and the leading European cigar magazine, European Cigar Cult Journal. In fact, last year the Cigar Cult Journal named Toraño Best Honduran Brand, and a Toraño made brand, the CAO Criollo, best Nicaraguan Brand. (As mentioned in a previous review, Toraño has factories in three countries: Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.)

Evidently Sr. Toraño is no slouch.

The Reserva Selecta cigars are made in the Danli, Honduras factory with tobacco aged from three to five years. There is a maduro version as well as this Connecticut shade natural. The binder is Indonesian, and the filler comes from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

This complex five-country blend is wrapped in cedar sleeves, banded twice, and then packaged in glass tubes. This is a very attractive cigar– If I weren’t so eager to smoke it I might try to frame it.

The wrapper is a classic example of Connecticut shade– smooth and silky with no prominent veins. The roll is firm. The pre-light draw is grassy, with a bitter taste on the tongue.

The initial taste is herbal and a little tannic, though this may be from the taste of the wrapper. Soon it becomes creamier and very very smooth. This is definitely a mild one, though it does build up to about a medium body in the final act. At about the half-way point it gets toasty and further on down it reveals nutty notes with just a hint of spice. The aftertaste is negligible.

The construction of this stick is superb. It lights up easily with a good draw and burns level straight. The light gray ash is solid and persistent. I ashed this cigar only three times.

While not huge on flavor, this is a very respectable cigar. I would recommend this to new smokers or aficionados of smooth mild cigars. Toraño has this available as a five pack gift package which would make a perfect gift for fathers, or fathers-in-law, or that godfather who has finally called upon you to do that service for him.

Carlos Toraño Tribute 2004 Maduro Churchill

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A tribute to Carlos Toraño, Sr., the man who brought Cuban seed tobacco to the Dominican Republic for what was probably the first time, and with the cultivation of Piloto Cubano spawned the Dominican cigar as we know it today. There have actually been two “Tributes” thus far: the 2003, which had a natural wrapper, and this one, the 2004 maduro.

As is fitting with a special cigar, this is a limited edition of 1000 boxes only. The Costa Rican maduro wrapper is gorgeous, dripping with oil and redolent of earth and cedar. Within lies Nicaraguan and Dominican filler held by a Nicaraguan binder, all of which have been aged five or more years. The Tribute is rolled in Toraño’s Esteli, Nicaragua factory.

It fires up with a powerful earthy taste, very similar to the 1916 Cameroon, but without the spice of the Cameroon. There is a sharp element that quickly mellows.

But Houston, we have a problem. The draw is very loose, and for the first inch or so the cigar tunnels. The tunneling stops, but the burn remains very hot. I smoked this one very slowly, allowing the burn to correct itself. It does, but remains hot. I rarely do this with a cigar, but I decided to let it extinguish itself and return to it later. It’s such a pretty stick, and the flavor is so rich and lovely that I hate to can it because of a construction flaw. (Not to mention that it’s friggin expensive.)

Unfortunately, letting this cigar die in the hopes of a later resurrection was not such a good idea. Upon relighting it the same rich flavor was there, but the burn was still hot and I got sick of it pretty quickly.

At about 10 USD a pop, I’m not going to give this one another chance. I hope this was just a bad single, since other reviews indicate this is a great cigar. Keep in mind that this review is based on a single experience, but all in all I have to say I was disappointed.

Carlos Toraño Virtuoso Crescendo

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6 1/2 x 54

Wrapper: Nicaragua

Binder: Nicaragua

Filler: Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama

If cigar magazines are to be believed, there is a widespread consumer demand for heavier bodied cigars. Meanwhile, the best selling cigars are still relatively mild, or at most medium bodied. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that a well balanced and nuanced mild cigar is every bit as worthy as a full bodied one. Sometimes you want a cigar like a Chopin nocturne; sometimes you feel like channeling Jimi Hendrix through a funnel of tobacco. Either experience has its place, its season, its mood.

The Virtuoso line is touted as a full bodied, bulldozer of a cigar. But it really isn’t. It’s a well balanced cigar that starts out medium bodied and does gradually build up to a full bodied smoke. It’s a gorgeous stick with good construction. Sungrown on Toraño’s Pueblo Nuevo farm in Condega, Nicaragua, the colorado maduro wrapper is smooth, slightly oily and very attractive. It burns unevenly at times, needing one correction in its journey to the nub.

The predominating flavor is earth and at times is quite pungent. A nice solid white ash forms and holds with determination. Midway the strength begins to kick in — somewhat unexpectedly because the smoke remains consistent, while the nicotine quietly sneaks up and pins a “Kick Me” sign on my back. And it did, or someone did… I had to put it down for a while and find a Cooper’s Stout to steady my stomach for the rest of the cigar.

All told, this is a very well balanced medium to full bodied cigar. It’s nice looking, well constructed, and blended for a smooth ride to the finish. For me it’s a little too earthy, if that’s the word — this cigar has a composty kind of aroma that just isn’t to my liking. But still it’s a high quality smoke that I will recommend to those who like… that sort of thing.

Carlos Toraño Cameroon 1916 Robusto

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Wrapper: Cameroon

Binder: Nicaragua

Filler: Honduras, Nicaragua

Made in the Toraño factory in Esteli, Nicaragua and introduced in 2003, this is one of the best Cameroon wrapped cigars on the market, in my opinion. When its very reasonable price is factored into the equation, this smoke beats Fuente’s Hemingway line hands down. This is not to disparage the Hemingway in any way, but for the price of half a dozen Hemingway Signatures you can find a box of 1916s. And to tell you the truth, I enjoyed these robustos better than the last Signature I had.

1916 was the year Carlos Toraño Sr. emigrated from Spain to Cuba, and the 1916 moniker marks that occasion. Weighing in at 5 1/2 x 52, this robusto comes fully dressed with two bands and a cedar sleeve. Removing the sleeve reveals a smooth and oily cameroon wrapper with its telltale tooth.

The first few puffs are earthy and smooth, and this is a trait that continues to the end. The ash is white and a bit crumbly. The sweet spice of the cameroon leaf is the next course on the menu, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a very slow burning cigar, lasting nearly an hour. The smooth flavor continues throughout, and ends with a woody flavor spiked with a pervasive sweet spice that lingers in the nose. The cameroon leaf burns with a fragrance that smells almost like perfume. Good perfume, not that fruity stuff.

The aftertaste is a little bitter, but that is the only criticism I have of this cigar. (Maybe the aftertaste would be a little less pronounced if I could keep myself from smoking these to the nubbin.)

All Toraño cigars are draw tested, and I’ve never had one that didn’t draw really well. The construction standards applied here are clearly exceptional. Anyone who appreciates cameroon leaf and likes a smooth medium-bodied earthy taste in their smoke should definitely give this one a try.