Herrera Esteli TAA Exclusive

Herrera Esteli TAA

Several Drew Estate blends have put the spotlight on Connecticut Broadleaf, most notably the Liga Privada No. 9, but the Herrera Esteli TAA is the first cigar blended by Willy Herrera for Drew Estate to use a broadleaf wrapper.  (The original Herrera Esteli utilizes Ecuadorian Habano and the Norteño uses San Andres maduro.)

Before joining Drew Estate in 2011, Herrera was known for his work at El Titan de Bronze in  Miami, but he has also created blends for Ernesto Padilla, Nestor Miranda, La Palina, and others.

The TAA was designed as an exclusive to members of the Tobacconists’ Association of America and was released at the TAA convention in April of this year.

Beneath the broadleaf wrapper is a Brazilian Mata Fina binder and the filler is a blend of the usual Nicaraguan suspects — Esteli (surprise!), Jalapa, and Condega. Only one size is in production, a 6 x 52 toro, and the cigar is sold in 12-count boxes. The cigar is made at the Drew Estate factory in Nicaragua.

Construction Notes

The broadleaf wrapper is a little rough but it oozes oil and has every appearance of richness. The head of the cigar is rounded, perfectly symmetrical, and the cap is almost seamless. The roll is solid and the draw is firm but easy. The cigar burns evenly and leaves a solid, light gray ash. The rollers in La Gran Fabrica have clearly taken extra care with this one.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Herrera Esteli TAA 2

Tasting Notes

The TAA Exclusive takes broadleaf seriously, and it takes full advantage of the woody sweetness of this stellar leaf from the first puff. This is a very smooth smoking toro; it develops a little bit of spice in the last third, but up to that point it really focuses on the strengths of its broadleaf wrapper.

The cigar is earthy on the palate, but the aftertaste is quite mild. The mouthfeel is somewhat waxy — the earthiness on the tongue, sweet woody char on the nose, and the waxy texture combine to create an effect that reminds me of a freshly extinguished candle.

The cigar develops a little more body and picks up some spice and some coffee notes in the last third. It isn’t a particularly complex cigar and the flavor transitions are not dramatic; the flavors are focused and tend not to stray too much from the ones that it opens with.

Herrera esteli 3

Conclusion

The Herrera Esteli TAA Exclusive is a broadleaf lover’s classic. It isn’t as bold as the Liga Privada No. 9, but it’s far more elegant than Nica Rustica. It’s rich, perfectly constructed, and easy to smoke. My kind of cigar, actually. On the other hand, if you find smooth billows of humus, sweet wet wood, freshly ground coffee, and a smattering of pepper at the finale a little too tedious, you’ll be saving yourself $12 USD per stick by leaving this one at the shop.

Final Score: 90

 

 

 

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A. Flores 1975 Gran Reserva

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince 2004 Pinar del Rio Cigars have been making their way into discerning smokers’ humidors, and while I’ve been familiar with the standard lines for a long time, I haven’t had the opportunity to smoke any of their limited releases. After smoking two sizes of the A. Flores Gran Reserva, I am happy to announce that Srs. Rodriguez and Flores have not been resting on their laurels.

The PDR factory is located in the La Palma free zone area of Tamboril in the Dominican Republic. It’s a fairly new facility, where they make not only PDR’s standard lines, but also contract brands like La Palina Classic and El Primer Mundo. In the last year or so they have also released limited lines like this one, AFR-75, and Flores y Rodriguez Tamboril in a variety of small batch blends. And I’m sure there are many more.

A. (Abraham) Flores is PDR’s primary blender, a native Dominican, and the man behind the A. Flores Reserva. This cigar was originally released in one size only — the curious half-corona size, inspired by the classic Cuban H. Upmann half corona. The cigar was well recieved, so the lineup was expanded to include a 5 x 52 Robusto and a 6 x 54 Gran Toro.

Flores heavily favors Dominican tobaccos, but Nicaraguan leaf frequently appears in PDR blends as well. The A. Flores Reserva utilizes a 2006 Dominican corojo wrapper, with Dominican corojo and Nicaraguan Habano binder and filler leaves. The cigar is rolled using the entubado method.

Construction Notes

PDR Cigars was kind enough to send the A. Flores 1975 Gran Reserva in two sizes — the original half corona size, and the robusto. Both are very attractive looking smokes, arriving complete with cedar sleeve and red ribbon foot bands. Once divested of its sleeve, the Gran Reserva exhibits a maduro-colored wrapper that looks as rich and rough as broadleaf.

The roll is solid and the head of the cigar is triple wound with nice broad seams. The cap is pasted on and looks a little messy, but that problem is quickly remedied with a guillotine cut. The draw is excellent, and it burns slowly and evenly, leaving a solid light gray ash.

Overall Construction: Excellent

A Flores Reserva

Tasting Notes

The flavor of the Gran Reserva reminds me why aged wrapper leaf is so fine. There is a component to the aroma of this cigar that I’ve noticed before in carefully aged wrappers — a sweet liqueur-ish quality, almost like the taste of brandy, that is fairly rare and quite enjoyable. The smoke is thick and creamy in texture. The robusto is much smoother than the half corona, which I think deserves fully as much time to smoke as the robusto. The smaller cigar shares many of the same flavors as the robusto, but the flavors are concentrated and more intense.

The middle section of the cigar brings a little more strength. This is more noticeable in the robusto, because the half corona is feisty from the start. Woody flavors come to the fore, accompanied by a slightly astringent Nicaraguan acidity. The aroma remains sweet, rounded out by the flavors on the palate.

Both sizes finish up with a lot of spice, though the robusto seems a little more complex and balanced than the half corona. On the nose are notes of coffee and caramelized sugar.

Conclusion

The A. Flores Gran Reserva is a special smoke. I liked both sizes a lot, though I found the robusto to be more complex and a little easier to smoke. The half corona needs to be sipped like whisky to get the most out of it. Judging by its size I thought it might be a good short smoke, but it probably needs a good 45 minutes to be appreciated. Don’t rush this little feller.

The half corona is available for around $5 USD, maybe slightly less in tins of five. The robusto is around $11, which puts it in the special-occasion premium category for me. But it deserves to be there.

A. Flores Reserva

Final Score: 91

Rocky Patel Edicion Unica 2011

No one will ever accuse Rocky Patel of missing a special occasion for a limited edition cigar release. This one comes courtesy the Humo Jaguar International Tobacco Festival celebrated last year in Tegucigalpa and Danli, Honduras. The purpose of the Festival is to promote the Honduran cigar industry, which lags a bit behind that of Nicaragua. But if this cigar is any indication of the strides that Honduras is making, it may be catching up with its neighbor to the south quite soon.

The festival was named Humo Jaguar after the 12th ruler of Copan, who ruled from 628 to 695 A.D.  Humo Jaguar (Chan Imix K’awiil) was sort of like the Caesar Augustus of ancient Mayan culture — his reign was long and marked by stability and progress. The archaeological record he left behind includes monuments and stelae now preserved in the Copan Archaeological Park. Archaeologists assigned names to the rulers based on the hieroglyphs found on these stelae — hence names like Moon, Macaw, and Jaguar. Evidently smoke is depicted in the carvings as well; the Mayans were among the first cultures in the world to use tobacco, and presumably the King’s humidor was well stocked.

I’d like to think that Humo Jaguar would be quite pleased with the progress that the cigar industry has made in the last 1300 years, and that the Honduran puro that Rocky Patel created for the first festival in his name would have been a big hit with him. The dark wrapper that graces this toro is from the Jamastran valley, beneath which lies an unspecified Honduran binder. The filler is from Talanga and Jamastran. Only one size was created — a 6 x 52 toro. The initial release was limited to 500 boxes, but it seems likely that more were produced afterwards.

Construction Notes

The wrapper on the Edicion Unica is dark and somewhat dry — it reminds me a little of the San Andres wrapper that is showing up on so many high-end maduro cigars these days. The roll is firm, as is the draw. The head of the cigar is well formed. The cap seams are a bit ragged, but the cigar cuts cleanly and takes an easy light. Even though the draw is on the tight side, the smoke volume is more than adequate. The ash holds together and the burn is trouble free.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

I am initially reminded of Rocky Patel’s Decade line, which for the last couple of years has gradually been supplanting the Olde World Reserves in my humidor. (I attribute the decline of the OWR — or what I perceive as such — to the prodigious number of blends in the RP portfolio. Maintaining consistency over that many lines for years on end has to be a considerable challenge.)

The first flavors to emerge from the Unica are dark chocolate or unsweetened cocoa, layered over the spicy sweetness of Spanish cedar. It’s a great combination that so far I haven’t been able to find at Ethel M. The aroma is strong but sweet.

After an inch or two the cigar showcases coffee and an acidity that I usually associate with Nicaraguan tobacco. The aroma is rich but slightly fruity, like an Ethiopian Sidamo style coffee. The smoke texture is smooth and full without being too powerful. At this point the woody underpinning gives way and becomes more leathery.

The last third picks up some black pepper on the tongue to add to the acidic zing, and the sweet maduro-style aroma lingers on the nose. The cigar remains balanced and smooth to the very end. It’s pretty rare for me to nub any cigar, but this one I didn’t want to put down.

Conclusion

The RP Edicion Unica is sold in boxes of 100, which makes it more suitable for retail distribution than for online sales, but even so the price is right — around $6.50 per stick. Rich flavors in a balanced and medium-bodied package don’t often come with such an economical price tag.

This is a limited run, so snap up a few if you have the chance. I recommend them highly for fans of Rocky’s other maduro offerings like the Decade or the OWR maduro. I just hope there a few left at the shop where I picked up this pair.

Final Score: 92

Padilla 1948 Edicion Limitada Robusto

So what’s up with Cigars International and Padilla? In the past few months we’ve seen a number of “small batch” and “limited” edition Padillas for sale at prices so low it should be illegal. I reviewed the Miami Maduro limited edition a few weeks ago and found it to be a decent smoke — even a very good one, considering the price. In the meantime I’ve smoked all of the other small batch sticks and thought they were decent as well — not stellar, but better than their two-dollar price tag would suggest.

So when I saw the Padilla 1948 getting the same treatment, I jumped. The ’48 was my goto Padilla back when Pepin was making this stick, so at 40 bucks for a mazo of 20 it seemed like a no-brainer.

But then I read on one of the boards that this cigar uses short filler. This was after I had pulled the trigger, of course, but I was a little peeved because the description of the cigar specifically stated it was long-filler. On the other hand, what do you expect for 2 dollars? I decided that I should postpone judgement until I could perform a little personal investigation.

According to CI, this is a long-filler Nicaraguan puro with a Habano wrapper. Like the Miami Maduro Edicion Limitada, this one is issued in the 5 x 50 robusto size only.

The first one I smoked burned well and tasted fine up to the mid-point where it suddenly got very sharp tasting. But what really concerned me was the ash. After half an inch it plummeted to the floor without the slightest prompting. And then again, after another half-inch or so. Damn, I thought. This probably is short filler. To satisfy my curiosity, and for the benefit of my three readers, I had to conduct a post-mortem. The results weren’t pretty, and I like pretty pictures, so I sacrificed a fresh stick for the purposes of demonstration.

Below you can see the wrapper, carefully incised and removed. It’s a nice looking wrapper — dark and oily, just like the ad copy says.

Next, the binder. Not so nice looking, but neither is your connective tissue.

And finally, the heart of the issue. La Tripa. Findings: Long Filler.

Construction Notes

The biggest problem with this cut-rate ’48 is consistency in construction. Some of them draw perfectly but a few were almost plugged. One had the odd ash issue, mentioned above, which resulted in the ash falling unaccountably every half-inch. But most of them (4 out of 5, lets say) were just fine.

The wrapper on this limitada robusto is rustic, but still rich looking. The roll is solid, and every one has burned slowly and evenly. The caps are uniformly sloppy, which is a surprise to see next to a Padilla band, but aesthetics aside they perform their assigned function. The ash holds firm, though sometimes it cracks and makes idle threats.

Overall construction: Good, but with concerns about consistency.

Tasting Notes

The Padilla ’48 Edicion Limitada doesn’t have the smoothness or complexity of the ’48 I remember from back in the Pepin days, but it showcases cocoa in a way that is reminiscent of the old blend. There is a little bit of black pepper up front, but the base flavors are earth and wood. Toward the middle of the cigar it picks up a musky note, but the best thing about the cigar is the cocoa and coffee on the nose. It’s about medium in body, lighter than most of Padilla’s standard lines.

I have had trouble getting past the band on these because the flavor drops off and turns ashy if smoked too quickly. If I had the time to nurse it I’d probably get more out this robusto, but for 2 dollars I’m content to smoke it halfway and grab another if I have the time.

Conclusion

The wrapper on this cigar is quite good, lending a cocoa-coffee base to the smoke that seals the deal. Granted, it’s not a Trump-sized deal. But what do you expect for 2 bucks a stick?

You could do worse.

Final Score: 83

Macanudo Maduro Vintage 1997

Once every five years or so the blenders at General Cigar deem a selection of their aged tobaccos worthy of inclusion in a limited Macanudo Vintage edition. Last year saw the first such release with a maduro wrapper, a 13-year old Connecticut Broadleaf used on the Macanudo Maduro Vintage 1997.

The cigar was blended by Edmundo Garcia of General Cigar Dominicana in Santiago. It incorporates Nicaraguan ligero, Brazilian mata fina, two types of Dominican piloto cubano, and a binder grown on Nestor Plasencia’s farm in Talanga, Honduras.

The Macanudo Maduro Vintage is packed in handsome 12-count mahogany chests. The initial release last year — the “Reserva Dorada” edition — attracted attention because each cigar was adorned with a concave metal band. I’ve been told the band acts as a humidity gauge, but I am a little sceptical on that point. I do, however, believe it would make a swell engagement ring. (Under certain unspecified circumstances, for the digitally well endowed.)

Only two sizes are made, a 6 x 49 perfecto, and a 6 x 54 toro. I am reviewing the toro, obviously.

Construction Notes

The wrapper is dark but not matte black (an indication of natural processing), and is somewhat rustic despite its rich complexion. The round Cullman style cap is a trademark of the Macanudo line, so it is present here as well. All other construction qualities are excellent — a firm roll, an easy draw, and a solid (but slightly flaky) ash. The burn is surprisingly even for a maduro cigar.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

As you’d expect from a Macanudo, this cigar is very smooth, but it has a bit more flair than your typical Mac. In the first third there is a fair amount of spice on the nose (though not on the palate) and the smoke is highly aromatic with wood and chocolate scents. The smoke texture is creamy and medium in body.

There is a little more heft in the middle section as the flavors grow slightly more robust. The cocoa and chocolate flavors migrate to the palate while the sweetness of the aroma intensifies and adds a touch of char.

The big surprise is in the final section of the cigar — a mild bite. Imagine that — a Macanudo with a bite! It is admittedly a playful one, and for the most part the cigar remains smooth with lots of chocolate and coffee notes to the end.

Conclusion

This Mac Maddy ’97 is a daddy of a smoke. It’s not tremendously complex, but it’s smooth and packs a whole lot more flavor than I’d expected. All of the flavors you’d expect from a top-shelf maduro are here — chocolate, wood, and sweet char — and it burns beautifully.

The going price for this cigar is around 9 USD per stick, but they’re a rare commodity at the moment. They seem to be sold out everywhere, which in itself is a good indication of its quality.

Final Score: 88

Benji Menendez Partagas Master Series

Benji Menendez is one of those living legends of the cigar business, a cigar maker who is still blending tobaccos and passing on the tradition years after most mere mortals would be enjoying their retirement. Menendez has an entire lifetime of experience to draw on. In fact, when you see the M & G insignia on a Montecristo cigar band, that M stands for Menendez.

As an heir to Cuba’s largest cigar factory, H. Upmann, and the Menendez y Garcia tobacco concern, young Benjamin had a lot to look forward to as he grew up in an upper-class Havana neighborhood. Despite his privileged position as the son of the company’s majority owner, he still had to learn the industry from the bottom up, starting with packing cigars, and then working his way through the departments to a management position.

In 1960 the factory was seized and from there the Menendez story takes an all too familiar turn. A new start in America was about to begin, starting in Miami and soon moving to the Canary Islands, where Mendendez created the blockbuster Montecruz brand. Many years later he became the head of premium cigar operations for General Cigar. Fifteen years after that, during the cigar boom of the late 90’s, Menendez joined the Spanish giant Tabacalera, which eventually merged with SEITA to form Altadis. Now he is back again with General, where the powers that be have in all their wisdom tasked him with the creation of this limited edition Partagas.

Only 5000 boxes of the Partagas Master Series were made, and in only one size, a 6 x 46 Grand Corona dubbed Majestuoso. Like the Montecruz of the 60’s, this one has an attractive Cameroon wrapper. The rest of the blend is more unusual: a Habano binder grown in Connecticut, filler from the Dominican Republic (piloto cubano) and two different regions in Nicaragua (Esteli ligero and Ometepe.) On paper this sounds like a thunderous cigar. In practice it’s actually quite smooth, but very expressive at the same time.

Construction Notes

The roll is rock solid, but it draws with even and easy tension. The wrapper is dark with fine veins and appears slightly toothy. The head is rounded with a cap that is so well integrated the seams are difficult to detect. It burns evenly and builds a solid, firm, and neat long ash.

Overall excellent — near perfect — construction.

Tasting Notes

The Partagas Master Series Majestuoso is a medium to full bodied cigar with lots of flavor. Taken slowly it’s smooth and easy to smoke, but it can develop a bite if rushed.

From the first pull it’s evident that this blend is heavier than the standard (Non-Cuban) Partagas line. The flavor is a complex of cedar, spice, leather and coffee in varying combination as the stick burns through the first third. There is a touch of black pepper which will return again in the last section.

An acidic edge cuts through the chocolate and cinnamon in the middle third, leaving a tea-like tang on the tongue. The body of the cigar is light enough not to overpower this subtle touch, but heavy enough to coat the palate with an array of flavors. The aroma is rich with cedar and coffee, while leather spiked with pepper lingers on the finish.

The strength of the cigar comes through at the finale, hitting me in the gut but not knocking me over. The aroma becomes piney and the aftertaste grows a little bit salty. Some char appears near the band.

Conclusion

Benji Menendez’s Master Series blend is an accomplishment worthy of a man who has dedicated his entire life to the art of the cigar.  It’s flavorful, complex, smooth, and balanced. It’s expressive without being aggressive. It’s just a really fine cigar on all fronts.

It’s also priced within reason, especially for a limited edition release of such high quality. Ten American greenbacks is about all this one will set you back. But get them while they’re still around, because they won’t be for long.

Final Score: 91

Romeo y Julieta Museum Edition

Altadis has commissioned 3D artist Charles Fazzino to create prints for their “Museum Edition” cigars, of which there are now two: the 6 x 53 Montecristo, and this one, the 6 x 54 Romeo y Julieta. They are special edition cigars, of course, and as such are touted as “super premiums,” which means that the retail price is exorbitant. In this case, around 30 USD per stick. Yikes.

Fortunately there is a shortage of wastrels in today’s economy, and these cigars can usually be found for less than MSRP.  I snagged this one — and one only — for 20 bucks. (The Altadis rep threw in a couple of other top line cigars and a Romeo y Julieta coffee mug gratis, so the net price ended up being about 7 dollars.)

The big draw with this release is the limited edition humidor which houses these big ticket sticks. The humidor includes a signed and numbered giclee print. I’m no art collector, but maybe this will be worth something some day. I hope so anyway, because the price for the whole shebang is $1080.00.

Instead of the pile of gold doubloons that I would expect to find in a box with that price tag there are 36 cigars encased in frosted crystal tubes. A paper thin cedar sheath inside each tube cradles the cigar, along with a Fazzino picture that just barely shows through the frosting on the glass. Me, I’d take the cedar sans the picture, but like I said, I’m no art critic. The gold cap that tops each tube is wedged on pretty tight — I actually crushed the tube in my massive Hellboy-like fist while I was trying to open it in the cigar shop. Be careful with this one, especially if your mechanical skills are as primitive as mine.

This cigar is made in the famous Tabacalera Garcia factory in the Dominican Republic. The wrapper is a San Andres Criollo 98 Rosado (yes, that’s Mexican, but we’re far from Te Amo territory here) with a Connecticut broadleaf binder and a filler blend from Nicaragua and the Dominican. Only one size is made: a 6 x 54 parejo.

Construction Notes

Despite its girth the cigar sits nicely in the hand, and seems to be well rolled. The head is finished nicely with a triple cap but the final piece is jagged and appears a little sloppy. (At $30 per cigar I reserve the right to be picky.)  The wrapper is a real beauty though — a rich, dark colorado maduro leaf that glistens with oil.

Even though the pack seems solid enough, the draw is a bit loose. This caused some problems down the road — I sat the cigar down for just a minute to freshen my drink and it went out. On the positive side, it produced plenty of smoke and never burned hot the way some loosely packed cigars will do.

From the start I had trouble keeping this one burning evenly, but this seems to be the curse of really tasty wrapper leaf. It also burns fairly rapidly for a cigar with such a large ring gauge — smoking time was a little under an hour; I expected a bit more from a cigar this size.

Overall construction good, but not 30 dollars good.

Tasting Notes

Almost immediately the Romeo Museum Edition displays tremendous complexity. It’s extremely smooth, mild to medium in body, and has a delicious and distinct aroma. This is obviously the selling point. The wrapper on this cigar is a wonder.

The first notes are the ones that stay for the duration of the smoke: sweet caramel over an herbal base that has an unusually malty edge to it. After an inch or so the herbal flavor morphs into an sweet earthy taste that at times reminded me of something more musky, something almost like gunpowder. It’s complex but very easy on the palate.

Eventually coffee flavors come to the front, though it’s not standard coffee — it’s one of those poncy latte things with cream and caramel and God knows what else. It’s good though. The sweet malty aroma continues, with an occasional whiff of bread.

The last section is a little more straight forward: earthy and sweet, with the caramel notes getting fruitier toward the end. I was a little frustrated with the burn at this point and might have been puffing a little too hard, forcing the cigar to burn too hot. Some acrid notes muscled their way in after I removed the band, but with a little more patience I might have avoided this.

Conclusion

Despite its flaws, the Romeo y Julieta Museum Edition is a terrific cigar. The flavors here are tremendously varied and interesting, spanning the spectrum from sulfurous earth to caramel-sweet bread. The amazing thing is that these disparate flavors never conflict; instead they combine and follow one another in remarkable harmony.  The blender here is to be congratulated — this is a really fascinating bunch of leaves.

But with the caveat that I have smoked all of ONE of these cigars, the roll could have been tighter and the burn was less than spectacular. Perhaps this is the price you pay for the smorgasbord of subtleties on display here, but I won’t deny that there were a few relatively minor construction issues.

Keep in mind that this is a fairly mild cigar. I know many veterans of the leaf who would be simply bored with the Museum Edition, but I am not one of them. What this is, I think, is the absolutely perfect beginner’s smoke. It’s quite mild, superbly smooth, and marvelously complex. If your taste runs to powerful pepper bombs that leave your mouth scorched with spice, this cigar is not for you. But if you appreciate the subtleties of milder cigars, definitely give it a shot, as long as the price is right for you.  For me, thirty dollars is ridiculous. But if I could snap some of these up for ten, I just might.

Final Score: 90