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

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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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