VegaFina Jose Seijas 2011

After 35 years in the trenches, José Seijas is hanging up his hat. For over 30 years Seijas has been responsible for some of Altadis USA’s most popular blends, and for much of that time he has been the manager for Tabacalera de Garcia, the world’s largest cigar factory.

Most of us started out smoking Altadis cigars, if only because they are ubiquitous: Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo, H. Upmann — the classic Dominicans with the Cuban names. But over the years Seijas went beyond the standard name brands and brought us brands like Mi Dominicana, Onyx Reserve, and the Seijas Signature Collection.

Maybe it was meant to cap off his career, or maybe not, but last year Seijas developed a limited release blend which was introduced with no fanfare, no flashy ads in the cigar mags, and no press release that I am aware of. That cigar was the VegaFina José Seijas 2011. I saw a stack of pretty black boxes in the B&M and thought it was strange that VegaFina, a fairly mild econo-smoke, was getting yet another makeover. I grabbed a few and thought nothing of it. A few weeks later I did a little research and discovered that it was a limited edition, and by that time the remaining boxes were sold out.

VegaFina is extremely popular in Europe and might be Altadis USA’s best-selling Dominican, at least in countries like Spain and Portugal. It hasn’t done quite as well in the United States, but that hasn’t been for lack of trying. In the late 90’s it was a Honduran cigar with an Indonesian binder, then after a hiatus in production it was re-introduced as a milder cigar with an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper.

But the 2011 blend is different from both of those. It utilizes a Mexican wrapper from San Andres, but it isn’t maduro, which is what I automatically think of when I hear “San Andres.” It’s criollo. The binder and filler leaf is Dominican, and only one size was made: a 6 x 56 toro. It was originally released in black laquer boxes of ten, and the first release was limited to 2,500 boxes.

Construction Notes

The wrapper on the Vegafina 2011 is darker than the Ecuadorian Connecticut on the standard line, and even with a few unobtrusive veins it is still attractive. The roll is firm and consistent — the large ring gauge is hefty, but the stick feels comfortable in the hand. The head is wound nicely, but a ragged edge to the leaf obscures the quality of the cap. It clips cleanly and the draw is effortless.

The wrapper is fairly thin and I somehow managed to chip the cigar as I transported it from the humidor to my smoking lounge. (Some people say my “lounge” looks an awful lot like a deck chair perched on a sand lot. True enough. What used to be a volleyball court now looks a lot like the world’s largest ashtray.) In any case, the chips and nicks at the foot of the cigar were soon put out of mind as the cigar was lit and turned to a smooth light gray ash.

Tasting Notes

The Vegafina 2011 starts out smooth and creamy with just a pinch of black pepper at the back of the palate. The smoke texture is pleasantly full and the aroma is complex — it’s not as floral as Connecticut shade, but it’s still mildly sweet with woody scents. It’s hard to believe a Mexican wrapper leaf can be this subtle, but it is.

A mildly dry aftertaste develops in the middle section, but the smoke is still rich and aromatic. The base flavor is both earthy and nutty — something like walnuts maybe — and the cedary aromatics add a nice balancing touch.

The dry flavor continues into the last section, but unfortunately it also tends to become a tad bitter. I was suddenly reminded of the Mexican element of this cigar, though I don’t think that the wrapper is to blame. In any case, I couldn’t smoke this one much past the secondary band.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed the first half of this cigar — the flavors are rich and complex without having to flex much muscle. But the dryness in the second half and final bitter note are an unfortunate conclusion to an otherwise very interesting cigar. I am keeping in mind that some people like that bitter note, and since it isn’t overwhelming I think there are many people who won’t be bothered by the last inch of this stick. But at around $6.00 per cigar, there are also many fine alternatives.

Final Score: 87

H. Upmann Reserve Maduro

Altadis USA introduced the H. Upmann Reserve Maduro in 2008, around the same time that they also unleashed the Montecristo Reserva Negra (which is a spankin’ good cigar.)  I liked that Montecristo so much that it made my top ten for the year, but I have to say that I made the choice with some hesitation.

Last year Imperial Tobacco hoovered up Altadis like a dust bunny, making it not only the owner of major brands like Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta, but also 50% owner of Habanos S.A.  And as much as I’d like to say that the size and power of the company — and its reputation as the neighborhood bully —  has proved a detriment to the quality of its cigars, I can’t.

The fact is that I don’t like a lot of Altadis cigars. A gargantuan international conglomerate can be expected to produce a homogenized product with mass-market appeal, and they do. But occasionally they also produce something special, like the Reserva Negra and the RyJ Museum Edition.

So I was looking forward to seeing if the Upmann Reserve Maduro could live up to the Reserva Negra. They use the same wrapper, a San Andres Morron from Mexico, which I have come to believe is the tastiest maduro wrapper in use.  The filler is a Nicaraguan and Honduran blend, and the binder is from Nicaragua.

Six sizes are in production:

  • Sir Winston – 7 x 50
  • Belicoso – 6 1/8 x 52
  • Titan – 6 x 60
  • Toro – 6 x 54
  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Corona – 5 x 44

I smoked this in both the Belicoso and the Robusto sizes and found no significant difference in flavor between sizes.

Construction Notes

Like most Altadis cigars, the H. Upmann Reserve Maduro is built pretty consistently — the roll is solid and it’s a nice looking stick. The dark brown maduro wrapper does not look over-processed, the way some oily black maduro wrappers can be, and is finely toothed. Some moderate veining does not detract too much from its overall appearance.

Both the robusto and the belicoso burned evenly and produced a solid light gray ash. Both sizes draw very well, almost too well at times — the final third of the belicoso was a little too loose and I had to ease up on the throttle to avoid a hot burn.

Overall very good construction.

Tasting Notes

The Reserve Maduro is a mild to medium-bodied cigar that is framed by the aroma of its wrapper. The base flavor for the first couple of inches is grassy with soft bittersweet chocolate accents.

The herbal foundation of the cigar gradually gives way to a woodier flavor with a slightly tannic finish. It remains mild and mellow but the aroma intensifies, adding a shot of espresso to the sweetening chocolate.

Without much drama the cigar gently transitions to a nutty flavor and the chocolate overtones dissipate, leaving a slightly bitter aftertaste that is easily masked by a few swigs of black coffee.

Conclusion

If the Montecristo Reserva Negra is like a rich Godiva chocolate, then the H. Upmann Reserve Maduro is a handful of peanut M&Ms. The chocolatey aroma characteristic of San Andres maduro is utilized to great effect in both cases, but the Upmann is by far a milder bodied, less serious cigar.

My only complaint about the Upmann Reserve Maduro is the lack of transition — from start to finish this is a somewhat montonous smoke. Its one tune is sweet and easy listening, but after thirty minutes I wanted to change the station.

The Reserve Maduros are packed 27 to the box and retail for around 5 or 6 dollars per stick. If you’re a sucker for mild and sweet maduros, you’ll want to put this one on your sampling menu.

Final Score: 86

Montecristo Serie C Toro

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Since the Montecristo cigar brand was established as a legal American commodity in 1995, the Dominican brand’s makers have issued an astounding number of blends. The Monte Serie C is the most recent creation in this prolific family of 13. Like the Serie V, the Serie VII, and Santa Clara’s Montecristo Afrique, this cigar is distinguished by a cameroon wrapper, or as Altadis says…

…rare, ultra premium Cameroon tobacco. These leaves – every one hand selected – are carefully stored and patiently aged, and the resulting smoke indulges the aficionado with the subtle complexities of flavor and smoothness of a Cameroon cigar that is destined to become the new benchmark. Is the Serie C the finest Cameroon ever? Quite possibly. After all, it’s a Montecristo.

I’ve always appreciated Montecristo for its consistent quality, though some of their blends I appreciate better than others. And since I’ve been hankering for a good cameroon I thought I’d give the “new benchmark” a test run.

In addition to the toro, this line is available in three other standard sizes: robusto, corona, and belicoso. The filler is a three country blend from Nicaragua, Peru, and the DR, with a binder leaf from Nicaragua. These are produced in the Dominican city of La Romana, home of Altadis’ mammoth Tabacalera de Garcia.

The Montecristo Serie C is presented with a flawless colorado maduro wrapper — a single vein snakes down the length of the stick and extends its tributaries laterally, leaving plains in between that reveal a moderately toothy stippling. The roll is solid and the cap is applied expertly (though without the flair of a triple cap.) The prelight test results are neutral: simple tobacco and a slight tingle on the tongue.

The draw is firm, but functional, and the burn is almost perfectly even. After a few inches the Monte C builds a solid and uniform gray ash. Construction qualities here are top tier.

The initial flavors are very muted and framed mostly by the aroma of the Cameroon — a mild minty flavor with very little finish and no aftertaste at all. Into the second third the mint grows into menthol over a gently woody foundation. The last act brings out some bready elements and a dash of pepper in the back of the throat until the flavor finally declines into bitter papery territory.

The main attractions here are perfect construction and a mild but aromatic Cameroon wrapper. The Monte C is a little too mellow for an after dinner smoke, unless you smoke mild cigars exclusively — but it could be a great little walk in the park cigar. Or in the case of this 54 x 6 toro, a more extensive walk in the park cigar.

Retail prices are around 8 or 9 USD, with online boxes selling for around 110. Not a bad price for consistency in a perfectly rolled handmade.

-cigarfan