Romeo y Julieta Vintage Maduro Corona

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Romeo y Julieta is a many-headed beast, with at least seven different blends currently in distribution by Altadis USA. Lest you lay awake at night wondering how many extensions one brand name can possibly support, allow me to enumerate:

  1. Romeo y Julieta 1875. The first Dominican made R y J, originally made by Matasa for Hollco-Rohr in the 1980s.
  2. Romeo y Julieta Vintage. Debuted in 1993. A mainstream “super-premium,” mild and delicious.
  3. Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real. Introduced in 2003 with an Ecuadorian wrapper.
  4. Romeo y Julieta Reserve Maduro. Came out the same year as the Reserva Real. “Blackened” Connecticut broadleaf wrapper over a distinctive Nicaraguan, Peruvian and Dominican filler blend.
  5. Romeo y Julieta Aniversario. Another from the class of 2003. A little heavier than the rest of the family. Released for the brand name’s 130th Anniversary.
  6. Romeo y Julieta Habana Reserve. The Honduran Romeo, full bodied with a Nicaraguan wrapper.
  7. Romeo y Julieta Vintage Maduro.

And then there are strange offspring like Cigar International’s Romeo y Julieta Viejo, as well as more legitimate but rarely seen Cabinet Editions, etc. The elasticity of the name is remarkable.

The Vintage Maduro blend I’m reviewing today is an interesting inversion of the Aniversario: the Ecuadorian Sumatra is used on the inside as a binder, and the broadleaf is the wrapper. Actually, it’s “blackened” broadleaf, whatever that means. The same term is used for the wrapper on the Reserve Maduro, but I’m not exactly sure what this “blackening” process is, or how it differs from the standard maduro process. (Presumably Sir Marksalot was not involved.)

Individual vitolas in the Vintage line are labeled I – VII, with the exception of the tubed cigars, the corona and the toro. The corona is a little bit fatter than normal — a 44 ring gauge rather than the standard 42, but otherwise a typical 5 1/2 inches in length.

The packaging is tasteful. Tubed cigars are always nice to give as gifts, particularly to dissolute friends as you pack them off after the holiday party. A tube will provide stability and a minimal level of defense against the shocks and blows of the journey home, but it won’t preserve the cigar indefinitely, so as your departing partygoers stagger off into the night remind them about proper humidification.

I approach this cigar with some hesitation. It’s been out for a while now but I’ve steered clear of it because it combines one of my favorite Altadis cigars — the RyJ Vintage — with a cigar I wouldn’t give my dog — the Reserve Maduro. I rarely rag on cigars here because it’s just not my style, but back in the early days of this blog I said the Reserve Maduro had an “excremental element.” That’s me being nice.

The wrapper is an oily and smooth dark maduro with some inconsistency in color. This is a good thing, since a perfectly uniform color often indicates artificial processing. The roll is firm but the draw is just right. It lights up easily and begins a slow smolder.

The Vintage Maduro is similar to the standard Vintage in body and style — mild and creamy smoke with a pronounced aroma and zero bite. In fact, for the first third there isn’t much taste on the palate at all — it’s all in the nose: sweet cedar and a touch of sugar. The burn is a little off kilter, but for a maduro it’s far above average.

The middle third offers up bittersweet chocolate and coffee flavors and the finish grows considerably. The aftertaste is still rather mild, but the flavors on the palate build as the body grows to a solid medium. The last section returns to the woody flavors with which it opened, but rather than fresh cedar it comes across as a sweet earthy char.

This little maduro turns out to be a fairly complex smoke that charts a course from sweet, mild and aromatic to a final destination of rich earth and charred wood. Ports of call include chocolate and coffee flavors, and the transition is aided by a slow and even burn. All told, this maduro version of the Vintage is worthy of the name, and definitely worth the retail price of 5 to 6 USD per stick. I’ll be on the lookout for more when I’m in the mood for a slow cruise across the dark sea of Maduro.

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Nestor Miranda Special Selection Robusto Grande

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UPDATE FOR 2009: This cigar has been reblended by Pepin Garcia and is  now produced in Nicaragua at Garcia’s Tabacalera Cubana.

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Nestor Miranda is the maker of the Don Lino line of cigars, and his Miami Cigar Company is the U.S. distributor for La Aurora. (Please see Lucky7’s background about Nestor in his review of the Don Lino Africa for a good overview of the company and the man.)

Nestor Miranda’s “Special Selection” is a new line so I was hoping to provide a little more detail on the blend, but scouring the internet and interrogating cigar shop personnel was not particularly effective this time. What I ended up with was a hodge podge of conflicting information.

Putting this information on the Miami Cigar Company website would just be too easy. So I found myself in the data mine, digging with some sharpened kitchen cutlery by the light of a Prince Blazer. (While the Blazer burns hot enough to weld metal, it isn’t reknowned for its luminosity. My search results reflect that.)

The unsubstantiated results of my foray into the darkness:

  • This is Nestor’s “personal cigar,” the one he hands out to friends and colleagues, etc.
  • It is available in two sizes, a 5 1/2 x 54 robusto grande, and a 6 x 60 toro grande.
  • It comes in a choice of two Nicaraguan wrappers, oscuro or rosado.
  • One retail site says this cigar is “predominately Honduran.” Another says the binder is Nicaraguan, and the filler is Nicaraguan ligero.
  • In a 2007 Cigar Aficionado interview, Nestor Miranda announced that a special Don Lino edition would be released with his signature “next year.” This is not marketed as a Don Lino cigar, but the box does indeed bear the signature of Nestor Miranda.

Aesthetically, this is a nice looking stick. The wrapper is a swirl of dark brown to nearly black, and it glistens with oil. The tobaccos for this stick have been aged for three years (at least according to one vendor site) and judging by thenmss3.jpg appearance of the wrapper, I don’t doubt it. There are some prominent veins and the head is a little lopsided, but I don’t really mind that in a rustic maduro cigar. I also like the band — a feature I usually try to ignore — for its simplicity.

The very best and the very worst qualities of the Special Selection are apparent as soon as flame meets foot. The best is an aroma of sweet hickory char that rises with the first thick puff. The worst is a burn that slacks off like a high school senior in May.

There isn’t a whole lot of transition from start to finish, but what it starts with it carries to the finish line and personally I never got tired of it. It’s a medium to full bodied blend with a medium length finish that has no sharpness at all. After a couple inches the smoke becomes a little creamier in texture, but the flavors remain consistent — it’s basically what you expect from a maduro, sweet char, but with an aroma like grilled meat and maple syrup. Scrumptious!

Construction values are high with regard to the roll and the draw, but the wrapper is as ornery as it is tasty. It burns unevenly, with difficulty, and requires frequent correction. Threats of tunneling have to be kept in constant check and detract from an enjoyment of the rich flavor this cigar has to offer.

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It also produces one of the darkest, most crumbly and generally unpleasant ashes I’ve ever seen. It’s so ugly it’s actually interesting to look at. So I guess in a way that adds to its entertainment value, but not in a way that enhances the experience exactly.

Overall, I really found this to be a cigar of distinction, in more ways than one. I really enjoyed the flavor but the burn was alternately annoying and fascinating in its perversity. Ultimately I think the outstanding flavor outweighs its problems, and in terms of flavor it’s one of the better maduro cigars out there. Unfortunately when I went back to the B&M where I initially found these they were sold out, with no expectation of resupply.

They are still available from a few online vendors at a reasonable price — around $100 a box. I can’t recommend this cigar completely without reservation, but if you don’t mind tending the burn in exchange for a rich woodsy flavor and a heady aroma, go for it.

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