Battle Jalapa: Quesada vs. Plasencia

Battle Jalapa

Two iconic cigar makers clash in a battle of titans: Nestor Placencia versus Manuel “Manolo” Quesada, distinguished gentlemen of the leaf. Their choice of weapon: Nicaraguan tobacco from the Jalapa Valley.

That’s how it was supposed to be. But then I learned that the wrapper used by Quesada for his Jalapa blend is in fact from one of Plasencia’s farms. So instead of a cataclysmic battle of the ages we have some kind of royal intermarriage. I guess I’ll have to leave the battling tobaqueros to the ads in the cigar catalogs.

But I still can’t resist comparing the Quesada Jalapa to the Plasencia-driven Montecristo Espada. Both employ Jalapa tobacco to great advantage. Does one do it better?

Quesada Jalapa

The Quesada Jalapa has its roots in a cigar I’ve only read about: the Quesada Selección España. It was designed for the Spanish market exclusively, but when American cigar heavyweights had an opportunity to try it at the ProCigar festival in 2011, they reportedly went bananas over it. The problem is that Quesada could not increase production of the Selección España because the wrapper, an Ecuadorian Arapiraca, is rare and in short supply. So he went looking for an alternative to the Arapiraca. He found it in Jalapa. In one of Nestor Plasencia’s barns. Plasencia had produced the wrapper in 2002 as an experiment, and he had a few hundred bales just waiting around for Quesada to discover.

The binder and fillers employed for the Quesada Jalapa are the same as the ones used in the Seleccion Espana: the binder is Dominican, and the fillers are Dominican and Nicaraguan. The only difference is the wrapper, which is Plasencia’s Jalapa. The blend is made in three sizes:

  • Belicoso – 6 1/8 x 52
  • Robusto – 47/8 x 50
  • Prominente – 7 5/8 x 49

Quesada Jalapa

Construction Notes

The Belicoso is a stately looking cigar, solid with a soft claro wrapper through which the texture of the binder shows. The tip is rolled well, though I have had a few of these split at the head after spending a few months in 70% humidity. The draw is good to excellent. The cigar burns slowly and evenly.

Overall construction: Very good.

Tasting Notes

The Quesada Jalapa is a creamy and aromatic cigar with just a touch of pepper on the finish. The base flavor is earthy — even mushroomy at times — with an occasional whiff of sulfur. The earthy flavor turns musky in due course, complemented by a woody aroma with some floral notes.

The smoke texture is full, creamy, and well balanced. The cigar picks up an extra shake of black pepper in the last lap, but aside from this there are no dramatic transitions. Consistent, tasty, and moderately complex.

Montecristo Espada

The Espada is Montecristo’s first Nicaraguan puro, blended by Nestor Placencia in concert with Altadis’s “Grupo de Maestros.” The name of the cigar is a tribute to the Montecristo insignia depicting crossed swords in a triangular pattern — espada is  the Spanish word for sword.

The wrapper is a habano-seed leaf grown in Jalapa. The binder and a good part of the filler are also from Placencia’s Jalapa farms, bolstered by tobaccos from Condega and the volcanic island of Ometepe. The cigar is made in the Placencia S.A factory in three sizes (the frontmarks are technical names for parts of the guard section of a sword) :

  • Ricasso – 5 x 54
  • Guard – 6 x 50
  • Quillon – 7 x 56

Montecristo Espada

Construction Notes

The Espada is made with the craftsmanship expected of a Montecristo — an attractive golden brown wrapper, a perfectly executed flat cap, a solid roll and a draw with just the right amount of resistance.

Overall construction: Excellent

Tasting Notes

The Espada Guard is similar in one respect to the Quesada Jalapa: the smoke texture is rich and creamy. But the Espada is spicier, and it packs a bigger punch. Black pepper blends with oak on the nose and earth on the palate. The smoke is smooth and refined, but more assertive than the Quesada. As the Guard burns to the finish the flavors intensify but don’t transition too much. The cigar is refined, well balanced and expressive, but not tremendously complex.

Quesada Jalapa 2

Conclusion

Montecristo’s Jalapa entry is everything I expect from a Montecristo — it’s a sophisticated and classy smoke, but predictable. Predictably good, but not as adventurous or unique as I’d hoped. Quesada’s Jalapa is a bit milder than the Espada, but it makes up for this with complexity.

The Quesada is also a little less expensive, coming in at around $8 USD to the Montecristo’s $11. Both are excellent cigars, but in my opinion the complexity of Quesada’s Jalapa trumps the refinement of Placencia’s Montecristo. But since the wrapper leaf on the Quesada bears the stamp of Placencia, I have to say that both cigar makers come out on top.

 

Advertisements

Casa Magna Domus Magnus Limitada

Casa Magna won the critics’ hearts in 2008 with its original release, the Casa Magna Colorado. It won my heart as well, and its modest price has kept me coming back for more. So it’s no surprise that the team of Quesada and Plasencia have extended the brand twice now, and as far as I’m concerned it’s just getting better.

Domus Magnus is a Nicaraguan puro utilizing a sun grown wrapper leaf from Jalapa. The blenders do not disclose too much detail about the rest of the cigar’s composition, merely noting that the binder and filler are Nicaraguan. Only two sizes are made, a  5 3/4 x 52 size called “Optimus” and a slightly larger 6 1/2 x 55 parejo called “Primus.” The cigars are presented in 10-count boxes in a limited release.

SAG Imports states that the Domus Magnus

…is a full bodied cigar that should be enjoyed after a steak dinner and paired with a single malt Scotch from the Speyside sub-region of the Scotland Highlands.

 So I naturally smoked mine after a burger and paired it with a Sierra Nevada pale ale from the sub-region of my refrigerator’s bottom shelf.

Construction Notes

The Casa Magna Domus Magnus is a box-pressed cigar presented in boxes of 10.  The wrapper is a soft ruddy color, somewhat dry but smooth with a few fine veins. The cap is well constructed and terminates in a pig-tail which has been clipped instead of tied in the traditional knot.

I really dislike foot bands, but this one is easy to remove and discard. The draw is firm and the roll is solid. I would have preferred the draw to be slightly looser, but the few reservations I had about the draw were compensated by a rock-solid ash. The burn was mostly even, above average for a pressed stick, and required no correction.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

My first impression was that this is a much smoother cigar than the Casa Magna Colorado. The smoke texture is mild to medium, but the flavors are quite complex, especially on the nose. Woody aromas predominate — cedary spice and softer notes of sandalwood, while the palate flavor is understated, at least for the first half of the cigar.

In the second half the smoke picks up a little more body and palate structure as flavors of nuts and earth emerge. The scents on the nose continue to complement these new flavors, but the increasing richness of the earthy component tends to overpower those more delicate subtleties. Some black pepper appears in the last inch of the cigar, just to verify the blend’s Nicaraguan birthright.

Conclusion

I was pleased but not thrilled by the Domus Magnus’ opening act, but the dramatic transition in the second half was truly impressive. A little more body in the first part of the smoke and this could easily be a Top Ten cigar for me. As it is, it’s still a very fine cigar.

At around 8 to 9 USD this incarnation of the Casa Magna is not a cheap thrill, but for fans of complex and medium-bodied cigars, I think it’s well worth the expense. This is a limited edition blend, so be sure to snap up a few of these if you can.

Final Score: 90

Famous 70th Anniversary by Plasencia

To celebrate 70 years of continued success in the cigar business, Famous Smoke Shop enlisted ten of the industry’s key players to each create a 70th Anniversary blend. I managed to lowball a box of the Plasencia version on the Famous auction site, and since Plasencia makes some decent econo-smokes I was willing to take a blind shot at them.

Unfortunately, four of the five reviews of this cigar on the Famous website are scathing, calling it, among other things, terrible, very poor, and “worst cigar I have bought.”  Three of the negative reviews complain about its lack of flavor, comparing it to the Perdomo and Pepin Garcia versions.  Needless to say, these reviews gave me a moment’s pause about my winning bid. On the other hand, I must give Famous Smoke Shop a tremendous amount of credit for letting anonymous reviewers publicly slam their merchandise on the very same page they are using to sell it.

But those reviews ring hollow. To me, complaining about a light-medium bodied cigar because it’s not full-bodied enough is like going to an Italian restaurant and complaining because they don’t have sashimi.

Which is not to say that a cigar can’t live up to your expectations, assuming that there is enough information available to base an expectation on. In the case of the Famous 70th Anniversary series, there is little to go on except information from Famous.  Nestor Plasencia is one of the largest, if not the largest tobacco grower in Central America, but he keeps a pretty low profile.

Plasencia’s 70th Anniversary blend for Famous is primarily Nicaraguan, but it incorporates no ligero in the blend. This information is front and center in the catalog description for good reason: no cigar is going to make the heavyweight division without some ligero, some medio tiempo, or at least a sungrown wrapper.

The wrapper and binder are both Nicaraguan Habano, though the wrapper is a little finer and receives the designation “Rosado.” The filler is a blend of Nicaraguan and Honduran leaf, and since I can’t conceive of Plasencia having to buy tobacco from anyone I will venture that all of this is grown on the Plasencia farms in Nicaragua and Honduras.

Three sizes are available:

  • Churchill – 7 x 50
  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Toro – 6 x 50

Construction Notes

I’ve smoked five of the toros so far, and all of them have burned perfectly: an even burn requiring no attention, a solid ash, and an easy draw. And they’re attractive as well — not Don Pepin attractive, but still easy on the eyes. The wrapper is described as “rosado” but I think I’d settle on colorado claro;  in any case it’s a smooth looking smoke.

Overall construction: excellent.

Tasting Notes

This is an extremely approachable and  mild tasting cigar from start to finish. It opens with a cedary aroma and a mild tingle on the tongue — it’s not a brawny cigar, but it’s still Nicaraguan. The smoke texture is medium in body, creamy and smooth but not thick. The aftertaste is earthy, maybe even a bit chalky. I can see how some might not appreciate that, but I don’t mind it too much.

The aroma of this cigar is intriguing, especially in the mid-section where it gets quite sweet. It moves from a base note of cedar to a chocolatey pecan type of flavor. It remains smooth with a fleeting finish of earth.

The last third gets a little spicier, but only by comparison to the rest of the cigar. The strength builds a little bit, but it still barely scratches the palate.  The chocolate and sweetness fades close to the band, leaving a dash of pepper and some earthiness on the palate.

Conclusion

The Famous 70th Anniversary by Plasencia isn’t a bad cigar at all, certainly undeserving of the harsh critiques it receives on the seller’s website. But it isn’t a cigar for everyone either —  this is a demure smoke with a mild disposition and an attractive aroma. It is best smoked earlier in the day or by fans of milder cigars. Approached in this frame of mind I think it is quite enjoyable.

The retail price for the Toro is around 5 USD per stick, but deals may be had on Cigarauctioneer.com

Final Score: 87

Casa Magna Colorado Corona

casa-magna

Like any other publication that purports to recommend or dismiss consumer products,  Cigar Aficionado magazine is sometimes accused of bias in favor of companies that advertise in its pages. This is an argument the premier publisher of cigar news and views can win only by refusing to favorably review its advertisers’ products. If this were even possible, given the wide range of cigars they review, it would probably be financial suicide.  The wisest response is probably no response at all, and that seems to be the magazine’s stance.

My beef with the magazine is not that it’s biased — it’s that only a quarter of the coverage is devoted to cigars. I don’t golf, and I am currently one yacht and one Audi short of living the “good life…for men,” so I have to content myself with a microbrew and a decent smoke every now and again.

But the fact that the magazine is geared toward the stereotypical man of wealth and taste made their selection for 2008’s “Best Cigar of the Year” even more surprising.  It wasn’t a 25 dollar Cuban, a 20 dollar Padron Anniversary, or a Fuente rarity. It was a 5 dollar Nicaraguan cigar made by guys who usually make cigars for regular blokes.

Casa Magna Colorado is the result of a joint endeavor between Manuel Quesada, maker of Fonseca and the founder of MATASA, and Nestor Plasencia, who is possibly Central America’s largest cigar tobacco producer and produces dozens of affordable blends.

Apparently when the maker of Joya de Nicaragua pulled its line from Quesada’s SAG Imports (the U.S. distribution wing of MATASA) it left an opening for a star player. Casa Magna made the tryout, impressed at the call back, and won the part.

Quesada and Plasencia’s newly crowned creation is a Nicaraguan puro utilizing tobaccos from Esteli and the Jalapa Valley regions. Six sizes are currently produced by Plasencia’s Segovia factory in Esteli:

  • Corona – 5 5/8 x 42
  • Gran Toro – 6 x 58
  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Torito – 4 3/4 x 60
  • Belicoso – 6.25 x 54
  • Pikito – 4 3/4 x 42

casa-magna-2

Construction Notes

The Casa Magna corona makes a significant first impression: the colorado wrapper on this stick is saturated with oil. It quite literally glistens, enhancing the rich ruddy color of the cigar.  The cap is somewhat flattened, and while not as perfect as a Cuban or Pepin made stick, it is quite presentable. The overall appearance of this cigar is superb. The roll is quite solid and regular.

After clipping the cap I discovered that the draw was a bit tight — in both samples, which were from the same box. Both cigars smoked well enough, but I had to work my buccinators a little more than usual to get a good puff. I work hard to buy good cigars so that I don’t have to work so hard to smoke them, ya know?

The slow burn went a little off kilter from time to time, but never needed correction. The ash was solid but flaked a little.

Tasting Notes

Like many top notch Nicaraguans, this one opens up with a peppery blast that attenuates gradually but doesn’t entirely vanish. The aroma from this outstanding wrapper leaf is sweet and hickory-like. The first couple inches of this cigar reminded me of the Illusione blend, but it’s not quite as sharp tasting or as clean, and it’s not as full bodied. Casa Magna by comparison seems about medium-bodied and it stays that way for the duration.

The cigar transitions through several distinct flavors in the middle section — leather, some woody spice, and a touch of caramel. I really enjoyed the range of different flavors this cigar serves up. The is one of the more complex smokes I’ve reviewed this year.

The last third enters beany territory — coffee primarily — but turns up the caramel accents a tad before it dives back to earth with a peppery flourish. The finish grows substantially and leaves an aftertaste of earth, char, and pepper.

Conclusion

Starting up with that trademark Nicaraguan pepper and marching though leather and spicy wood to a smooth earthy finale, I wasn’t bored for a minute. The sweet hickory-caramel aroma popped up from time to time, adding yet another voice to the conversation. I was really impressed by the complexity of this cigar, though somewhat disappointed with a tight draw. All things considered, I enjoyed this cigar a lot.

The obvious question is whether the Casa Magna is deserving of Cigar Aficionado‘s “Best Cigar of the Year.” I think it’s certainly deserving of a place on the top ten list, though I would be hard pressed to say it was the King of the Hill.

Factor in the price, however, and it could definitely be a contender. For around 5 to 6 USD per stick retail this is a most excellent smoke.  The distributor is discouraging online or catalog sales, so definitely give them a shot if you can snag a few at your local tobacconist. They might not be your Numero Uno, but they may just make your fab five.

Final Score: 89

casa-magna-3

~cigarfan