Partagas Ramon y Ramon

Partagas Ramon

I remember my first Partagas… a No. 10, if I recall. It was a smooth, mellow, mildly spicy cigar that tickled my virginal taste buds and left me a believer in the brand from that moment on.  Eventually I learned that the active ingredient in that blend is a Cameroon wrapper. For me, Partagas is Cameroon, and the Partagas Benji Menendez Master blend is the best of the lot. Okay, the Cuban Partagas is something else entirely, but the Partagas Black? No, man. I don’t know what that is, but to me it’s not a Partagas.

Cameroon wrappers came into popularity as a substitute for Cuban wrapper after the embargo was enacted in 1961. While many cigar manufacturers gave up in despair at the loss of Cuban tobacco, Stanford Newman (founder of the J. C. Newman Cigar Co. and maker of Cuesta Rey and Diamond Crown cigars) found that Cameroon wrappers might serve as a good alternative. Cameroon is certainly not identical to Cuban tobaccos, but it has a similar earthiness, plus an additional spiciness.

The Newmans and the Fuentes have done amazing things with Cameroon, but the folks at General Cigar have kept up with them. The Cameroon wrapper they are using for the Ramon y Ramon is a high priming, sungrown leaf cultivated in the Belita region by the Meerapfel family, who seem to have a monopoly on the choicest leaf in Africa.

The heart of the cigar is blended with a proprietary tobacco developed as a hybrid: agronomists crossed a delicate vintage strain with a more robust and disease-resistant variety to create the romantically named “PM01”.  Pair this with some Nicaraguan tobacco, hold it in place with a Dominican wrapper, and finish it off with that Belita Cameroon, and voila! — it’s a Partagas Ramon y Ramon.

Four sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 1/2 x 50
  • Maxim Grande – 6 x 52
  • Gigante – 6 x 60
  • Fabuloso – 7 x 54

Partagas Ramon 2

Construction Notes

Cameroon wrappers add tremendous flavor and complexity to a blend, but they are rarely pretty. They tend to be brittle, dry, and they don’t look terribly appetizing. This one is a case in point: the wrapper is rough and dusty looking, a pale yellowish brown, almost grayish. On the positive side, the wrapper is strong and so far I haven’t had one split on me.

The roll is solid and the head is finished in a rounded Cullman cap. The Ramon y Ramon draws very well, burns evenly at a moderate pace, and leaves a firm light-gray ash in its wake.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

The Ramon y Ramon opens with the leitmotif that recurs throughout this cigar: earthiness  with a minty tang. It’s not the same earthiness that you find in a Cuban cigar — it’s not as subtle, not as bready, and it’s spicier — but it’s vaguely similar. The spiciness takes the form of cedar scents, white pepper, and cinnamon on the nose.

In the mid-section of the cigar there are bittersweet chocolate notes, a little more pepper, and a continuing eucalyptic mintiness. The body of the smoke is about medium, with a strength to match.

The complex and alluring aroma of this cigar never lets up, so I’m willing to forgive the excessive tannins that sneak in at the end. Keep a drink handy to cure your pucker.

Partagas Ramon 4

Conclusion

The Partagas Ramon y Ramon has a Cuban-style earthiness at its core; it’s similar to the Toraño Cameroon in this respect, but it’s more complex. The aroma alone is worth the price of admission, which is around US $7.50. For the moment this cigar is a brick-and-mortar exclusive, but it’s well worth a trip to the shop. For me, it doesn’t quite beat out the Benji Mendendez, but it creeps up awfully close.

Final Score: 91

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Some Thoughts about Tooth and Grain

Cameroon "Tooth"

A few weeks ago when we first started the Padron Roundup we came across the term “grain,” as applied to the unusually large raised dots on many Padron cigar wrappers. In the first Roundup Post (the Padron 7000) we cited a Stogie Fresh article that seems to explain the phenomenon quite adequately.

But it was inevitable that someone should ask, “I’ve always called that tooth. How do you tell the difference between tooth and grain?”

Initially we thought that should be easy, because “grain” as we knew it was the more prominent epidermal structure we were seeing a lot on Padron wrappers, especially the maduros: the raised dots that are visible as white dots in the ash. Tooth, on the other hand, describes the rough surface of some wrapper leaves, Cameroon in particular. If they are distinct in the ash, then they must be distinct on the wrapper, right?

My first thought was, “Yes. Of course!” But then I took a closer look. First by examining the contents of my humidor, where I was not able to differentiate between what might be tooth and what might be grain, and then by digging through the literature on the subject, which is admittedly scanty.

My first discovery was that the professional literature does not always use the term “grain” in the way we have been using it. Most of the time it is used in a more general sense, as a way to refer to the texture of the leaf. For example,

“Thickness and weight per unit area of leaf are measures of body, while cell size and compactness of cell arrangement are the physical basis of grain.” ¹

In describing the effects of the fermentation process another article says there is “a change to a uniform and darker color and a grainy leaf texture.”² Clearly a general use of the term.

"Grain" in the Ash

"Grain" in the Ash

What was more interesting is that there is a specific use of the term that does corroborate the way we have been using it. The only problem is that it comes from a paper written in 1916, a time when cigars were King. (Also a time when the U.S. Department of Agriculture supported these kinds of studies.)

Charles S. Ridgway writes that grain is composed of crystalline bodies. “On burning, these grain bodies swell and cause the pearl-like pimples so frequently seen on the ashes of cigars.” Ah ha!

Ridgway goes on to say that this grain is present in all air-cured types of tobacco, and that there are many types of grain. Interestingly, he says that the grain particles are actually what gives the tobacco its color. Most of this grain is microscopic and is usually embedded in the tissue of the leaf. But there are two exceptions to this, and these are what caught my eye:

“on dark-colored leaves of a heavy texture it may appear as raised black dots; on lighter colored leaves it appears as minute disks situated on or immediately beneath the surface on either side of the leaf.”³

Ridgway developed a way to separate the grain from the rest of the leaf components (a very tedious mechanical process requiring a binocular microscope) so he could analyze the chemical composition of the grain. He found that it was chiefly composed of calcium, with a little magnesium and potassium, in combination with citric and malic acids.

Since grain is formed during the curing and fermenting process, Ridgway proposes that the formation of macroscopic grain is caused by the breakdown of cell walls and the “disorganization of the protoplasm,” allowing the formation of minute crystals. Some of these crystals grow by a process of accretion and eventually form solid grain bodies of visible size.

Based on this I would think that of the several different types of “grain,” one in particular creates the effect that we saw in some of the Padron maduros. It makes sense that the chemical reaction responsible for producing the bright white specks in the wrapper ash is due to an unusually high level of an element like magnesium in the crystal “grain” when it burns.

In the picture below the same type of stippling is visible in the Cameroon ash, but it’s much smaller. The small toothy bumps have merely been reduced to ash, but retain their basic definition.

Cameroon Grain

Cameroon Grain

So back to the question: How can you tell the difference between grain and tooth? Well, the first problem is that the term “grain” is not a very good one because it has more than one connotation in terms of tobacco leaf texture and composition. If we take “tooth” to be general for any kind of surface texturing, and “grain” as specific to this type of stippling in the ash, the answer is this:

Those little white specks that we’ve been calling grain can only be identified after the wrapper has been reduced to ash. If they are at all visible beforehand, there is no way of differentiating them from any other kind of surface texture. The only way to tell if it’s grain is to light that sucker up and see!

Cameroon Ash

Cameroon Ash

NOTES

1. C. Barnard, “Leaf Structure in Relation to Quality in Flue-Cured Tobacco,” Australian Journal of Agricultural Research, 11 (2), 1960

2. T.C. Tso, “Seed to Smoke” in Tobacco: Production, Chemistry and Technology, 1999

3. Charles S. Ridgway, “Grain of the Tobacco Leaf,” Journal of Agricultural Research, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 1916