Los Blancos NINE Toro

Los Blancos cigars have been in production since 1998, but this blend — NINE — has made the biggest splash of them all. It may be because this is the heaviest cigar in Los Blancos’ stable — the heaviest swingers seem to get the most press for some reason — or it may be because it’s simply the best. NINE has been recommended to me by several posters, and after the last comment a few weeks ago I decided I really had to give this blend a test run.

Los Blancos Cigar Company is based in Chicago, Illinois, but their cigars are produced in Esteli, Nicaragua. The Blanco family has a storied past that is similar to many in the industry, having been exiled from Cuba after the revolution, but they are fortunate to be cousins to the Plasencia family.  The Plasencias oversee all of the farming and manufacturing of Los Blancos cigars in Honduras and Nicaragua, and they produce NINE in the Segovia factory in Esteli.

Evidently this blend was originally a house blend for C.I.G.A.R. in San Antonio, and the name derives from the number of attempts required to arrive at the final blend. It has been available on a wider basis since 2009. (For the full story, see Charlie’s review of the Lancero at The Cigar Feed.)

Los Blancos NINE is a Nicaraguan puro with a corojo oscuro wrapper.  Five sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 52
  • Double Corona – 7 x 52
  • Toro – 6 x 52
  • Torpedo – 6 1/2 x 52
  • Lancero – 7 x 38

Construction Notes

The NINE toro is a solid chunk of cigar. The oscuro wrapper is not really as dark as the name implies, but the shade is nothing lighter than maduro. The leaf is slightly veiny but quite oily. It has a flat head and broad shoulders, and is finished with an attractive single cap. It strikes me as a masculine looking smoke, though I’m not sure what that means. (I’m hearing Luca Brasi: “May your first cigar be a masculine cigar.”)

The draw is firm but not tight and it burns evenly most of the time. It needs no supervision while it constructs a solid ash.

Overall construction excellent.

Tasting Notes

The first time I lit up the NINE I was expecting a blast of pepper, but the toro saves that for later. It opens with a smooth blend of cedar and cocoa that is surprisingly easy on the palate. The aroma is sweet, spicy, and somewhat woody. The flavor on the palate is notably acidic, quintessentially Nicaraguan. (This flavor is often described as tea-like, which seems accurate. Maybe I need to start drinking more tea.)

The cocoa flavors briefly turn to caramel in the middle third and then the spice takes over. The flavors turn deeper and darker. The smoke texture is medium in body but it develops a discernible bite. This is where the NINE gets serious.

In the last third the pepper on the palate drowns out most of the subtlety that this cigar has to offer. The sweet cocoa and caramel flavors linger in the aroma, but the battle on the palate takes center stage. The transition from subtle to powerful is gradual, but impressive.

Conclusion

Los Blancos clearly has a hit with the NINE, and now I can see why. It has all of the flavor of the big Pepin blends, but opens with a lot more subtlety. It has the sweetness of maduro, the cocoa and coffee flavors of top-shelf Nicaraguans, and the spicy pop that I love in a corojo wrapper. The storm of black pepper and char in the last inch might be a bit much for some palates, but it is a fitting conclusion for a dramatic smoke.

The NINE runs in the 8 to 9 USD range, and that is not at all unreasonable for this cigar.

Final Score: 91

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Aging Report: Cubao No. 5

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I have been aging cigars for a few years now and have come to the tentative conclusion that aging does not immeasurably enhance the quality of most non-Cuban cigars. Despite this I still have a few boxes put away for testing and comparison purposes.

I have all but given up on aging mild to medium-bodied cigars because the effects of aging seem to be a gradual diminishing of flavor. On the other hand, medium to full bodied cigars are able to withstand and possibly benefit from this moderation, especially when the cigar is a little too aggressive in its fresh state.

The Cubao No. 5 falls into this latter category: a medium-bodied smoke with a few rough edges that might smooth out with some age. After about a year in storage, it’s time to break them out and file a progress report.

My original assessment from September of last year ran as follows:

This toro starts up with that trademark Pepin pepper, but it’s not as powerful as a lot of his heavier blends. … After an inch I’m tasting cocoa and coffee with cream types of flavors, and the aroma from the foot is quite nice. …the way the sweet wood on the nose melds with the spiced cocoa on the palate.

There isn’t a lot of transition in the second half of the cigar, but I’m noticing a dry finish and a little scratch on the throat. Nothing a cold pale ale can’t take of. The intensity doesn’t pick up too much until I hit the band where the pepper ratchets up a bit. The flavor remains sweetly woody up front with cocoa notes in the margin. The pepper stays in the background and in the aftertaste, which is otherwise pretty clean.

Cubao cigars are brought to you by Espinosa y Ortega, makers of 601 and Mi Barrio cigars. They are manufactured by the Garcia family’s Tabacalera Cubana in Esteli, Nicaragua, with Nicaraguan filler and binder leaves and topped off with a dark Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper. Six sizes are available. At 6 1/8  x 50, the No. 5 is their toro entry.

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Construction Notes

A year in the coolerador hasn’t done much for these cigars’ complexion, but of course that wasn’t expected to improve. The Cubao No. 5 is a masculine looking cigar — the wrapper is rough and mottled dark brown to almost black in places. The roll is a little soft, but that may be due to storage. Storage conditions were 60-65% relative humidity, and judging by the loose draw they might do better with a little higher RH. Despite this the stick burned perfectly and never got hot, so no points were lost on that count.

Overall very good construction.

Tasting Notes

I’m not sure why, but it always seems like aged cigars take a minute or two to wake up. The first few puffs of the Cubao are straightforward tobacco, nothing too interesting, but certainly not unpleasant either. After a minute the flavor gets grainier, like cereal with some natural sweetness and a dash of pepper.  The aroma from the smoldering wrapper carries the most interest here — it’s leathery, with a muskiness to it that is very nice.

After twenty or thirty minutes the heart of the cigar opens up and pours out its sad story. “I’ve been locked away for so long in that dark damp cooler and I’ve missed you so much, man.” It’s a familiar story, bittersweet with a dry finish. (A cold beverage is recommended at this point, and put some Hank Williams on while you’re at it.) Coffee and chocolate accents accompany the woody dry flavor, and the aroma continues its heartfelt refrain. “I’m so lonesome, I could cry…”

The last third is where the Cubao becomes most complex, and where the aging difference becomes most evident. The flavor doesn’t change dramatically, remaining sweet and woody for the most part, but the pepper intensifies and the body becomes almost wine-like. The smoke is very smooth and sippable, but still moderate in strength and medium in body. Chocolate notes are more pronounced in the fragrance, making this cigar almost like smoking mole. (As in mole poblano, not the rodent, wise guy.)

A small scratch at the back of the throat is the only real negative here, but it is not as severe as it was in its bolder, fresh state.

Conclusion

A year is not a long time in terms of serious cigar aging, but the effects are still apparent with the Cubao No. 5. In a year’s time these cigars have mellowed a little bit and are starting to show increased complexity. This is a very good cigar to start with, so it’s basically a matter of comparing subtleties. I detected a wider range of different flavors in the aged stock, including some things I didn’t pick up a year ago — notes of leather and musk, and more flavors in the transition after the mid-point. Combined with a slightly less aggressive attack on the back palate, I’m going to say the Cubao is a very good candidate for aging.

For now I will have to retract my conclusion about aging non-Cuban cigars — and revisit these in another year, if I can resist them that long.

Final Score: 90


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