Sabor de Esteli Maduro

Sabor de Esteli Maduro

Someday I hope that I can start a review with a story about a burgeoning cigar star who was raised in the Cuban cigar tradition and never had to leave his homeland. But that story is not yet ready to be told. So the story of Noel Rojas will sound familiar: after working in the fields of Pinar del Rio from a young age and building a solid reserve of knowledge and experience in the Cuban cigar industry he discovered, like so many others, that he would have to leave Cuba to succeed.

Rojas followed in the footsteps of many other talented cigar makers and made his way to Nicaragua. With advice from luminaries like Arsenio Ramos, Rojas began to build his own business, even turning his house into a factory and storage facility when he had no alternative. Today he operates his own factory, Aromas de Jalapa, in Esteli, Nicaragua, and has several lines in production, most notably Guayacan. (He also makes one of the best cigars I smoked last year: Draig Cayuquero.)

Sabor de Esteli was introduced at the IPCPR in 2014 and is also available in a natural Ecuadorian Habano. The Maduro presented here utilizes a Mexican wrapper from the San Andres valley, along with filler and binder leaves from Esteli. It is a telling feature of the cigar that there is no seco or volado leaf in the blend — the filler blend is viso and ligero only. Four sizes are in production:

  • Gordo: 6 x 60
  • Robusto: 5 x 50
  • Toro: 6 x 52
  • Corona: 6 1/2 x 42 (limited production)

Sabor de Esteli Maduro 2

Construction Notes

The Sabor de Esteli Maduro is a pressed cigar, which distinguishes it from its conventionally round sibling in the natural wrapper. The San Andres wrapper is smooth and consistent in color — not pitch black, but definitely well matured. The head of the cigar is well formed, even if the cap is a finished a little roughly. The roll seems a little loose, but the draw is not too easy and the even burn produces a strangely lightweight, but solid ash.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The maduro characteristics of this cigar are apparent from the start: bittersweet chocolate is the flavor that rarely wavers here. The smoke is smooth and creamy, but the peppery spice that opens up in the nose and gradually moves to the palate adds a dimension of complexity to the smooth waves of chocolate rising from the wrapper.

In the mid-section the pepper eases up a bit while the tannins bear down on the palate. Milder aromatics come forward as the spice dissipates: cedar and coffee predominate, but there is some fruity sweetness here as well.

The last third of the cigar becomes earthier. The tannins are heavy and become a little cloying, but the aromatics are good to the last whiff. The body of the cigar is a satisfying medium and the strength moves from medium to full at the conclusion.

Conclusion

With no seco or volado in this cigar, I was expecting Sabor de Esteli to be a much more potent smoke. It’s not a lightweight by any means, but it’s not a ligero grenade either. Instead, it’s a smooth and tasty smoke with the flavors one typically expects from a maduro of Nicaraguan provenance: chocolate and wood built on a dry tannic chassis.

I often find maduro cigars to be less interesting or complex than their natural brethren, but that can’t be said of Sabor de Esteli. My only criticism is that the smoke is quite dry — a pint of your favored stout or porter might make a nice companion here. Maybe two pints.

Sabor de Esteli Maduro 3

Final Score: 89

You won’t find this one next to the King Edwards at the gas station, but with distribution from the House of Emilio it’s not too hard to find. MSRP is around $8 USD for the toro.

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Illusione Maduro cg:4

It doesn’t seem possible that the Illusione cg:4 could be improved upon, but that’s no excuse for not trying. Last year, Dion Giolito went back into the lab and emerged with a new species. By replacing the inimitable corojo wrapper on the “original document” with a maduro leaf from Mexico’s San Andres valley he has essentially re-engineered the cigar.  But can the younger sibling can escape the shadow of its glorious brother? Maybe… if it can do something that Big Brother cannot.

Like all the other Illusione (with the exception of the Singulare) they are made at the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras.

The Maduro line does not cover the entire spectrum of sizes, but most of the classic vitolas are covered:

~hl~ lancero 7 1/2 x 40
~88~ robusto 5 x 52
~cg:4~ corona gorda 5 5/8 x 46
~888~ churchill 7 1/2 x 48
~mj12~ toro gordo 6 x 54

Construction Notes

The maduro wrapper on the cg:4 is not much darker than the natural, but the fermentation and aging process results in the leaf appearing much more mottled. The oily texture of the cigar is still quite appealing, but maybe this impression is the result of experience more than aesthetics.

The roll is firm, the cap is picture perfect, and the draw is right in the zone. It burns beautifully (even for a maduro) and leaves a long dirty gray ash. Pretty typical for Illusione.

Overall construction: excellent.

Tasting Notes

The maduro cg:4 starts in much the same way that the natural does: it’s bright and zingy, establishing the flavors that the “original document” made familiar many years ago. The difference with the maduro is the hallmark of San Andres maduro leaf: the distinct flavor and scent of chocolate and dark-roasted coffee.

The core of the cigar is earthy with some cedar notes sneaking in between the coffee and cocoa bean flavors. The sharp acidic and woody flavors with which the cigar opens gradually fade without disappearing altogether. The maduro incarnation of this blend seems to be a little smoother than the natural while remaining in the medium-to-full bodied range.

The last third of the cigar is spicier and comes with a sneaky punch.  It feels like being the last one at the bar. (I know this feeling from reading only the best dimestore detective novels.) It’s last call and the doors are swinging shut. Even the regulars have stumbled out into the misty early morning. Your glass is dry, your wallet is empty, and the bartender is giving you the evil eye. The sweetness of the maduro has made a hasty escape and now it’s time for you to do the same.

Conclusion

The Maduro version of the cg:4 is an immensely satisfying cigar, but the question that always arises is the one that nobody really wants to answer: is it better than the natural? It’s like choosing who is the favorite of your children. You don’t want to do it, but in the deep recesses of your crooked little heart you do it anyway.

I guess for me it’s still the natural. The Maduro is priced the same as the natural, around 8 USD per stick. Not an everyday cigar for me, but not out of reach either. In any case, the price to value ratio is about right. It’s an excellent smoke.

Final Score: 90

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

La Traviata Maduro Divino

CAO’s La Traviata is about the best thing to happen to cigar smokers on a budget since the invention of the coolidor. I took a look at the original La Traviata earlier this year, and I’ve been enjoying them ever since.

This summer CAO released the maduro version of La Traviata, which employs the same filler blend — a Cameroon binder and filler from Nicaragua and the DR — but uses a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper leaf instead of the tradition Ecuadorian Habano.

I grabbed two from a box at the B&M the other day and left in a rush. When I got home I slipped the cello from the sticks and noticed something a little odd: the two robusto-sized Divinos that I had were slightly different shades of dark brownish-black, and one was slightly smaller in ring gauge than the other. Not by much, but noticeably so.

La Traviata Maduro is not mentioned on the CAO website, but it’s safe to assume that the size lineup is the same as for the regular Traviata. And looking at my sales receipt, it appears the pricing is similar as well.

Construction Notes

I started with the lighter and slightly narrower one of the two. The wrapper on this maduro is thick, oily and very toothy. The darker one is especially rich in appearance, but the lighter one is still a highly presentable stick. The roll is solid and the cap is tight. The draw is fairly good — a little loose on one of the sticks, which is why it might have smoked a little hot at the end. The other one was just about perfect though.

The ash is solid gray in color and fairly sturdy, though it crumbled a bit in the ashtray. The burn is uneven, which is typical of thick maduro wrapper, but it never required correction or re-lighting.

Overall construction: Good to Very Good, with some concerns about consistency.

Tasting Notes

I was surprised at how tame the Maduro version of La Traviata smokes by comparison with the natural version. It starts with a touch of pepper, but that fades pretty quickly until it reappears in the final inch. The primary flavors here are classic maduro: bittersweet chocolate and dark roasted coffee bean. Underneath this is a woody foundation with an earthy touch.

The smoke is quite smooth, and not nearly as complex as the natural Traviata. The cigar stays within the standard range of maduro flavors for the duration of the smoke — 35 to 40 minutes — and attempts no major transitions. It’s just a simple, solid smoke.

Conclusion

At around five bucks a stick La Traviata doesn’t really need to make a huge splash, and for me it didn’t. But it’s still a solid performer, and there is always room in the humidor for a reliable medium-bodied maduro at this price.

Final Score: 86

Torano Exodus 1959 50 Years

Like many cigar makers, the Toraños celebrate anniversaries with new cigars, but unlike most anniversaries, this one has a bittersweet flavor. 1959 was not a magical year for the Toraño family, but it is the year that made them what they are today. Hence the 1959 Exodus line of cigars, which includes this recent addition, the “50 Years” blend.

In the words of Charlie Toraño, the Exodus 50 years blend was created “to remind smokers of the hardship inflicted by Cuba’s Marxist communist regime, especially its exile of the world renowned tobacco and cigar families, including ours.”

The 50 Years blend, released last year, is an addition to the familiar Silver and Gold Exodus 1959 labels. The new blend features a dark Brazilian Arapiraca wrapper, a nice contrast to the Silver label’s Honduran and the Gold’s Nicaraguan covers.  The ornate copper-colored label has some people referring to the 50 years cigar as the “Exodus Copper.”

The “50 Years” 1959 is rolled in Toraño’s Nicaraguan factory, while the other Exodus cigars are made in Honduras. Currently only three sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Short Churchill – 6 x 48
  • Torpedo – 5 1/2 x 52

Beneath the Brazilian wrapper is a binder from Honduras, and the filler is a combination from two areas of Nicaragua: Esteli, and Pueblo Nuevo.

The Toraños introduced the new line with their “Roots Run Deep” tour that traveled across the U.S. during the spring and summer of 2009, and it looks like they plan to keep the show running in 2010. Carlos and Charlie travel with a veteran torcedor who rolls special “Tour Blend” cigars that were so popular with event attendees that the blend is now available by the box at events. So check out the tour when it swings by your town.

Construction Notes

The 1959 “50 Years” is not advertised as a maduro cigar, but in appearance (as well as in performance) that is what it is. The wrapper is dark and oily with the slight chipping that maduro leaf is prone to. The roll is solid and the draw is firm, just the way I like it. The burn is a little uneven due to the oil-drenched wrapper leaf, but it corrects itself and builds a solid ash.

Overall very good construction.

Tasting Notes

This blend has been prescribed for dessert by some aficionados, and after smoking a few I can see why. The “50 Years” smokes like chocolate pie, the Mexican kind, with plenty of cinnamon and a splash of coffee liqueur.

The first slice is served up with a nice dose of pepper, not too strong, but assertive.  There is a woody base flavor, cedary with a touch of cinnamon. It starts out medium to full in body and stays in that range for the duration of the cigar.

These are fairly short cigars, so the flavor transitions aren’t dramatic. It does seem to get a little smoother in the mid-section though, with the pepper dropping off a bit and dark roasted coffee flavors coming to the fore. The flavor remains rich and semi-sweet.

In the final inches the wood gives way to leather, but the overall flavor is still soundly in that coffee-cocoa-chocolate territory, especially in the aroma. The sweetness coming off the wrapper has a distinctly liqueur-like quality, something almost like Kahlua.

Conclusion

I think most maduro lovers will get a bang out of this cigar. It’s balanced and well-blended, but on the heavy side with a lengthy finish and a little bite.  Overall, this is an excellent smoke that would go really well with a glass of tawny or vintage port after dinner.

Prices are in the medium range at 7 USD for the robusto and short churchill, and a dollar more for the torpedo.

Final Score: 88

Other Reviews of Note

(There are quite a few reviews of the Salomon, which is unfortunately not a regular production size. The following are reviews of cigars on retailers’ shelves now.)

Cigar Jack calls the Short Churchill his favorite cigar of 2009.

The Stogie Guys give the Torpedo a favorable Quick Smoke.

Barry rewards the Robusto with a 93 for A Cigar Smoker’s Journal.

A balanced review of the Robusto from the Cigarnut.

Lempira Fuerte Robusto

Lempira

When Pedro Martin stepped off his flight from Puerto Rico into the -17 degree cold of a Detroit winter he knew it was time to head south again. Soon after leaving Cuba in 1961 Martin found work with a business associate in Detroit, but it wasn’t long before he planted roots in Miami, working for various tobacco outfits until he finally started Tropical Tobacco in 1978.

One of the first cigar shops I patronized as a neophyte stogie chomper was a small discount cigarette shop that had a tiny humidor. I knew next to nothing about cigars, but I grew fond of a cigar they sold called Maya. It turns out that this is an old Tropical Tobacco blend. Later on I found a cheap smoke called V Centennial that I enjoyed as well (even though one bundle arrived with a bonus lesson in tobacco beetle containment.) Also a Tropical cigar, and a good one.

Since then I’ve enjoyed many of Tropical’s blends, as well as many of the other cigars that are made with Aganorsa leaf, so I thought I’d go straight to the source and survey the Tropical product line.  But first a little more about Aganorsa.

AGANORSA and Tabacalera Tropical

When the Sandinista government came to power in Nicaragua, they began the familiar and disturbing process of nationalizing private industry, including tobacco growing and processing. The Cuban government traded assistance in the form of native Cuban seed and expertise in exchange for foodstuffs and other items difficult to acquire under the U.S. embargo. At that time the tobacco industry was known as TAINSA and operated in many of the areas where Nicaragua’s best tobacco is grown. Unfortunately these were also areas beset by political unrest and violence.

Around the same time, Eduardo Fernandez and his brother built and presided over one of the largest fast food chains in Europe, a giant called Telepizza. Starting from a single pizza joint in Madrid, the company became the second largest fast food chain in Spain (after McDonalds), and then spread to other countries. When he sold his share in that company in the late 90’s, the Sandinistas were gone and Fernandez was in an excellent position to acquire some of these old TAINSA fields and start a new venture with Aganorsa.

Fernandez brought in agricultural and fermentation experts from Cuba to help get his project started. Eventually he would also acquire Tropical Tobacco from Pedro Martin, and with it another valuable asset — Pedro Martin himself. The result was an enormous bank of tobacco expertise, rich fields in Esteli and Jalapa, and old-fashioned Cuban methods of processing and rolling cigars. Tropical Tobacco later became Tabacalera Tropical, which is now subsumed by Casa Fernandez and is part of the Aganorsa Group as a whole. (The precise business affiliations are hard to pin down, but I think that’s how it goes.)

Aganorsa leaf is praised and highly sought after by makers of full bodied, Cuban style cigars — some of Aganorsa’s best known customers include El Rey de Los Habanos, Padilla, and Illusione. Though each of these cigar makers has a distinctive style, the similarity is unmistakeable. It’s Aganorsa.

Lempira

The lempira is the currency of Honduras, so naturally the Lempira cigar is entirely Nicaraguan. The discrepancy is probably due to the fact that this cigar has changed composition over the years. It’s one of the oldest brand names in the Tropical catalog, blended by Pedro Martin not long after he first formed Tropical Tobacco in 1978.

This incarnation of the Lempira is still blended by Pedro Martin, but it’s a slightly heftier blend that was introduced in 2004 as the Lempira Fuerte. The robustos I smoked for this review were from the 2006 vintage.

Lempira2

Construction Notes

This is a seriously oily cigar. The maduro wrapper on the Lempira Fuerte is a very dark brown that verges on black near the seams. It’s quite striking. The roll is solid, but the cap exhibits none of the Cuban “finesse” that I was sort of expecting. It’s functional and applied well, but it’s none too pretty. Shearing off the cap I found the draw to be just right. And while the burn is a little erratic the ash is solid and doesn’t flake. I can also attest to this robusto’s durability: I accidentally dropped it in the sand while reaching for the ashtray and the only damage it sustained was to the ash (hence no first-inch ash pic.)

Overall very good construction.

Tasting notes

From the first puff I realized this cigar was going to be one of those very charry tasting maduros — the aroma is bittersweet and woodsy, with a flavor that graduates from fairly mild to rather strong at the smoke’s conclusion. The flavor is somewhat nondescript at first — a little earth, sweet chalk maybe, with a dry finish. The body of this cigar is also lighter than I expected, but it does eventually ramp it up to about a medium.

The middle section features dark roasted coffee — Vienna roast, verging on burnt — with peppery spice on the upper palate. I don’t retrohale most cigars, but this one gains entrance into my sinuses anyway. Intentional retrohaling would probably not be advised with this cigar. The flavors are increasingly bitter on the palate and the sweetness from the wrapper has a hard time maintaining the balance.

By the last section this cigar starts tasting more like a charcoal briquette than anything else. At times I thought I detected lighter fluid, but I think that was my imagination. There is a rich meaty aroma that I did enjoy, but it is completely overpowered by the bitter char taste up front. I had a hard time finishing this one.

Lempira3

Final Score: 79

Conclusion

The Lempira Fuerte isn’t a bad cigar, but the flavors here are a little too one-dimensional and bitter for me. I can see how someone who likes the dark bitter semi-sweet flavors of some maduro cigars might get a bang out of this one, but for me it was just too burnt tasting. It scores very well on construction and appearance, however. It’s just not for me.

Up next in this series of Tabacalera Tropical reviews: Condega 2006.


La Gloria Cubana Reserva Figurado Flechas

LGCFlechas

Here at Keepers of the Flame we support the preservation of formal cigar nomenclature, but occasionally a cigar comes with a designation that challenges our dedication. To restore the dignity of this cigar’s title from the abbreviation in the title above, allow me to present La Gloria Cubana Reserva Figurados Flechas Especiales Maduro. But since brevity is the soul of wit (or so I have been told) we’ll call it the LGC Flechas Maddie. In any case, this is a great blend, and one that almost always finds a place in Cigar Aficionado’s annual Top 25.

The big news for La Gloria Cubana is that Ernesto Perez-Carillo will no longer be the guiding force behind the brand.  LGC was first made in Miami by Ernesto’s father, a former Cuban Senator, starting in 1968, and it has been in the family ever since.  Ernesto Sr. nearly sold the brand at one point but decided to keep it when his son decided he wanted a part in the company. Now that son, Ernesto Jr., is leaving the brand behind for very similar reasons: to start a new cigar company with his son, Ernesto III.

That’s a lot of Ernestos to keep straight, but as long as they make cigars this good, I say keep the Ernestos coming.

The Reserva Figurados were first released in 2004 in only three sizes; a year later the number was increased to five. There was a suggestion that the lineup may be reduced again to 3, but so far all five sizes are still on the market:

  • Selectos de Lujos – 7 1/4 x 54  (previously reviewed here.)
  • Flechas Especiales – 6 1/2 x 49
  • Felicias – 4 5/8 x 49
  • Regalias Perfectos – 6 1/4 x 57
  • Piramides Clasicas –  7 1/4 x 56

The wrapper here is a well aged and fermented Connecticut Broadleaf. Beneath this is 4-year old Nicaraguan binder, and the filler is a Nicaraguan-Dominican blend. According to the General Cigar website, this line undergoes a special “cedar-aging” process whereby the cigar components are aged together in cedar bins for six months. They are then rolled by Grade 7 rollers and box aged for an additional three months before shipping.  “Flecha” by the way is Spanish for arrow, a fitting name for this figurado.

LGCFlechas2

Construction Notes

Despite the fact that this cigar is 6 1/2 inches long, it appears to be much smaller due to its proportions. This is a bouquet style perfecto, meaning it is tapered at both ends, but flared near the foot. The widest point is chosen as the measurement for the ring gauge, so it measures a 49 only at that one point. The remaining length of the barrel narrows, making this a smaller cigar than it appears to be on paper.

The wrapper is very dark, even for maduro, but not so black as to be suspicious. (In other words, it is certainly a naturally processed maduro leaf.) The pre-light aroma is of rich tobacco with a hint of cedar. The roll is solid all the way around, but one of my samples had a little crook in the head section. Maybe a level 6 roller was sitting in relief that day.

The burn on all of these has been absolutely perfect: straight as a plumb line, and leaving a solid gray ash to remember it by. The draw tends to be a bit tight until the point burns off, but after a few minutes it’s all good.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The Flechas Maduro took a few minutes to hit its stride due to a tight draw at the start. The first flavors are straight tobacco with a little char and it tends to taste a little papery. As soon as the foot opens up the flavors become richer as expected. Cedar makes an entrance and the aroma gets sweeter. There is a little licorice in the aftertaste.

The middle section features more cedar and throws in some roasted nuts. The licorice fades and the aftertaste becomes sweetly chalky. The smoke texture is medium to full in body, but at all times the smoke is full flavored.

The last section, up to the band, is where this cigar returns dividends. Here the aroma is at its most powerful — smoky cedar and sweet hickory in abundance. The flavor is almost meaty at times, but retains most of the previously mentioned attributes — nuts, earth, and rich tobacco. It’s a complex, but smoothly integrated brew.

Conclusion

The LGC Reserva Figurado line of cigars has been in my experience nothing short of excellent, in all sizes, in both natural Ecuadorian Sumatra as well as Maduro. The Flechas Maduro is representative of the line. This is a stellar example of a full-bodied cigar that has no harshness, an unfortunate rarity these days. There is enough complexity here to satisfy the most demanding palate, while remaining smooth enough for novices (assuming that a pretty good nicotine punch won’t spoil the experience.)

The Flechas Maduro carry a premium price of 8 to 9 USD per stick, but I do believe they are worth this asking price. My only hope is that General can maintain the quality of this cigar now that Ernesto Perez-Carrillo is no longer at the helm. And given his track record with LGC and El Rico Habano, it goes without saying that we await with baited cigar breath Ernesto’s new blends.

Final Score: 92

LGCFlechas3

Other Reviews of Note

Patrick A. gives the Flechas Maduro 4 out of 5 stogies for the Stogie Guys.

Cigar Jack finds the Regalias Maduro to be full flavored but less bold than the LGC Serie R.

Herfs up for the Cohiba Club as they give the Selectos de Lujos Maduro an 89.