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.


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.

Trinidad Paradox Toro

Trinidad Paradox Toro

Cigar giant Altadis USA managed to sneak in this extension to the well respected Trinidad line last year: Trinidad Paradox, a medium to full bodied blend with a Mexican Criollo 98 wrapper. I tend to shy away from Mexican tobacco, but I will usually make an exception for leaf grown in the San Andres area, and this is one of those instances.

The binder is a Dominican piloto leaf, with filler from Nicaragua, and — gulp — more of the dreaded Mexican. The cigar is box pressed and presented in odd, but attractively lacquered rhomboid boxes of 16. I guess that fits in with the Paradox allusion.

According to a very short blurb in Cigar Insider, the “paradox” is the “combination of modern tastes and traditional cigar-making.” But is that really a paradox? I thought that was just the way cigars are made today. Then again, I am perpetually mystified by cigar companies’ marketing strategies, so maybe “paradox” is more revealing than it appears at first glance.

Trinidad Paradox is made in the colossal Tabacalera de Garcia factory in the Dominican Republic, and it is available in four sizes:

  • Churchill – 7 x 57
  • Toro – 6 x 54
  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Belicoso – 6 1/8 x 52

Construction Notes

The Criollo wrapper on the Paradox is a dry colorado claro, but the leaf is consistent in color and not overly rustic. The stick is finished with the typical Altadis “Cullman” style rounded head and a functional cap. This cigar is box pressed, but even so it is a little soft to the touch. This hardly matters, since the draw is consistently good and it burns evenly.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Paradox cigar

Tasting Notes

Trinidad Paradox is billed as a medium-to-full bodied cigar, but I think it is probably more in the middle of the range. It starts up with a mild cocoa and brown sugar flavor. In the first part of the cigar there is an underlying earthy flavor that grows slightly musty, but in a pleasant way.

The cigar picks up some black pepper as the ash grows longer, but compared to some of the cigars coming out of Esteli these days it can hardly be called “spicy.” The pepper blends nicely with the other flavors, which continue to provide depth and complexity. The aroma remains sweet and slightly pungent, despite the continuing notes of cocoa and coffee.

The toro seems to wind up a bit prematurely, a half-inch above the band, but my enthusiasm for the cigar might have inspired me to puff a little too frequently. It starts to char at this point, and that is my signal to put the butt to bed.


Serious cigar enthusiasts often pass over cigars from huge cigar conglomerates like Altadis USA. I guess those of us in search of the perfect cigar experience expect mediocrity from the mainstream, and that expectation is frequently warranted. Nor is this phenomenon unique to cigar smokers — haute cuisine, fine wine, and nearly every other specialized subset of aficionado has its share of snobs. I’ve been guilty of snobbery, I admit. But I try to be fair.

I’m glad I gave this cigar a chance. Even though it uses Mexican leaf, and even though it is made in the world’s largest cigar factory, Trinidad Paradox is a very respectable smoke. The flavors are nicely balanced and complex for a medium-bodied cigar. MSRP is in the $6-7 USD range. Bigger is not often better, but this Altadis USA blend rates a look.


Final Score: 89

Undercrown by Drew Estate

I’m not sure what an undercrown is exactly. Is it like a cardinal’s zucchetto? Or more like a football player’s do-rag?  When the pontiff comes home after a hard day and hangs up his mitre, does he look a little like Deion Sanders in his undercrown?  I’m guessing no.

Maybe the only true Undercrown is Drew Estate’s recent creation,  a version of their extremely popular Liga Privada No. 9 and T52 blends. But anyone who has ever set foot in a cigar lounge knows there has to be an “interesting story” to accompany the cigar’s genesis. And no, it isn’t the one about the newly discovered bale of Cuban leaf mysteriously concealed in the cellar for fifty years. The story is that the torcedors in the Drew Estate factory were smoking up too many Liga Privadas, thereby depleting the precious Connecticut wrapper and other choice cuts of leaf necessary for building that primo smoke. Plant supervisors ordered the rollers to stop smoking the damn product, but the torcedors were so distressed by this sensible business decision that they started rolling a different but very similar blend to smoke in place of Liga Privadas. Ha! That’ll show those meddling supervisors.

Stories aside, the Undercrown is evidently designed to be a less exclusive blend that still bears some similarity to the Liga No. 9. Instead of the Connecticut broadleaf that torcedors love beyond all measure, a Mexican San Andres wrapper is employed, and a different priming of the same Connecticut broadleaf is used as binder. The filler is a blend of Brazilian Mata Fina and Nicaraguan Habano seed.

Sounds good to me. I prefer San Andres to Connecticut anyway.

Five chunky sizes are currently in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Gran Toro – 6 x 52
  • Belicoso – 6 x 52
  • Corona Doble – 7 x 54
  • Gordito – 6 x 60

Construction Notes

The wrapper on the Undercrown Robusto is perfectly even in hue and much smoother than most Connecticut broadleaf. It’s an oily dark maduro that in some cases might arouse suspicion because it’s so even and consistent. But the roll is almost as perfect — firm and even as a dowel rod but with an excellent draw. The head of the cigar is simple, just a single cap that needs no fancy winding because the edges of the cap are almost seamless.

The burn is remarkably even for a maduro-wrapped cigar, and the burn line is extremely sharp. It burns slowly, perhaps due to the robust ring gauge, and the solid ash is smooth and light gray in tone. It doesn’t really act like a maduro — it’s far too civilized. But its civility only goes so far.

Overall construction excellent.

Tasting Notes

The trademark characteristic of the Undercrown is an immense amount of resting smoke. The room scent is very powerful and it starts up almost immediately, so if you want to clear the room of non-smokers light up an Undercrown and watch them fly.

The initial flavors are smooth and somewhat dry with just the right amount of pepper on the palate. The main flavors are typical of maduro style cigars — cocoa and chocolate, but there is a note of cedar buried under all this. The smoke texture is so full in body that it is almost palpable on the tongue. The volume of smoke this cigar produces is  astounding, but the taste is not overwhelming at all. This is another example of a cigar with a full-bodied texture that is not a nicotine shillelagh.

The taste of this cigar is quite concentrated, but the flavors are not terribly complex. The smoke is almost too rich to carry a whole lot of subtlety, but in the last third I detected some raisins and increasing spiciness swirled in with the chocolate and cocoa-based flavors. It’s certainly complex enough to keep my attention, and probably more complex than most maduros.


Anyone who appreciates a good maduro will get a kick out of this cigar. Those looking for a high octane thrill may need to look elsewhere, but if rich, thick, chocolatey smoke with a pinch of spice — all in a moderate strength package — strikes your fancy, you’ll want to check this one out.  Prices are in the $7-8 USD range, which falls outside my everyday smoke zone, but I could fit this guy in once or twice a week easily.

Final Score: 91

La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor Magnifico

Legend has it that La Aroma de Cuba was one of Winston Churchill’s preferred brands. That would be La Aroma de Cuba de Cuba, a brand which exists today only in the protected vaults of highly disciplined cigar collectors. But all is not lost for the rest of us. “Never give in!” as the old man said.  For we still have Don Pepin. And with the able assistance of the Ashton Cigar Company we have La Aroma de Cuba redux.

There are three distinct blends of La Aroma de Cuba: the non-extension LADC with a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper (and distinguished red foot band), the Edicion Especial with a sun-grown Ecuadorian wrapper (and secondary EE band), and this one, Mi Amor. This incarnation features a Cuban-seed wrapper grown in Mexico. I’m not sure where in Mexico, but I’m guessing it’s not Tijuana. My guess would be somewhere in the San Andres Valley, one of the only regions in the world that produces leaf with the maduro potential of Connecticut’s broadleaf.

More detailed information about the San Andres region is available on the Montecristo Reserva Negra post. Come to think of it, the LADC Mi Amor reminded me a bit of the Monte Reserva — I wouldn’t be surprised if the wrapper is the same leaf, or at least a close relative. They look quite similar and they taste quite similar… so they must be, um, similar.

Mi Amor was reportedly in planning for two years prior to its release at the IPCPR convention last year. Since then it has garnered rave reviews, including the No. 6 spot on Cigar Aficionado’s Best Cigars of 2010. I don’t always agree with CA, but I think they got it right this time.

LADC Mi Amor is made by My Father Cigars in Esteli, Nicaragua. Five sizes are in production:

  • Robusto – 5 x 50
  • Magnifico – 6 x 52
  • Valentino – 5 3/4 x 58
  • Churchill – 7 x 50
  • Belicoso – 5 1/2 x 54

Construction Notes

La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor is not billed as a maduro cigar, but it looks like one, and it tastes like one, so I’m going to say it is one. The wrapper shade is a medium dark maduro, but the wrapper is a little drier and much toothier than what you get with typical maduro processing.

The cigar is box pressed and sports a flat Cuban-style head and My Father Cigars’ impeccable triple-cap. The draw is excellent, and it burns slowly and evenly. The ash is a solid light gray verging on white, though it flakes slightly.

Overall construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Mi Amor Magnifico (the toro of the family) opens with a combination of earth and chocolate. In the first half-inch there is an old attic-like aroma, somewhat mushroomy, but sweetness soon takes over and the chocolate and coffee flavors prevail. When those somewhat outlandish initial flavors settle down the base flavor of the Nicaraguan filler comes through: a bright acidic tang on the palate. The smoke is rich and smooth.

The chocolate and coffee blend and simmer down to a smooth cocoa in the mid-section of the cigar, but the aroma is still distinctly sweet and the earth tones have almost entirely disappeared.

Some pepper enters the fray in the last third and the smoke is a little sharper on the tongue, though it never becomes harsh. On the nose it’s mostly coffee, but I’m surprised by the floral accents that remind me of another cigar with a romantic reputation — the Cuban Romeo y Julieta.


La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor is a damn fine smoke. It’s flavorful, smooth, rich, and almost perfectly balanced. The initial earthy flavors quickly mellow into the sweet ones, and the underlying zing keeps the palate popping. The smoke is smooth and the cigar burns beautifully.

After smoking a few of these I immediately went looking for the box price. A heavenly choir did not emerge from a cloud of smoke to sing the under $100 hymn, but I can’t say I was surprised. Around $170 USD is the going rate for the Magnifico. A little outside my range for boxes, but that puts them in the $7-8 range for a single, which I can manage every once in a while. And for a cigar this good, you can bet I will.

Final Score: 93

H. Upmann Reserve Maduro

Altadis USA introduced the H. Upmann Reserve Maduro in 2008, around the same time that they also unleashed the Montecristo Reserva Negra (which is a spankin’ good cigar.)  I liked that Montecristo so much that it made my top ten for the year, but I have to say that I made the choice with some hesitation.

Last year Imperial Tobacco hoovered up Altadis like a dust bunny, making it not only the owner of major brands like Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta, but also 50% owner of Habanos S.A.  And as much as I’d like to say that the size and power of the company — and its reputation as the neighborhood bully —  has proved a detriment to the quality of its cigars, I can’t.

The fact is that I don’t like a lot of Altadis cigars. A gargantuan international conglomerate can be expected to produce a homogenized product with mass-market appeal, and they do. But occasionally they also produce something special, like the Reserva Negra and the RyJ Museum Edition.

So I was looking forward to seeing if the Upmann Reserve Maduro could live up to the Reserva Negra. They use the same wrapper, a San Andres Morron from Mexico, which I have come to believe is the tastiest maduro wrapper in use.  The filler is a Nicaraguan and Honduran blend, and the binder is from Nicaragua.

Six sizes are in production:

  • Sir Winston – 7 x 50
  • Belicoso – 6 1/8 x 52
  • Titan – 6 x 60
  • Toro – 6 x 54
  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Corona – 5 x 44

I smoked this in both the Belicoso and the Robusto sizes and found no significant difference in flavor between sizes.

Construction Notes

Like most Altadis cigars, the H. Upmann Reserve Maduro is built pretty consistently — the roll is solid and it’s a nice looking stick. The dark brown maduro wrapper does not look over-processed, the way some oily black maduro wrappers can be, and is finely toothed. Some moderate veining does not detract too much from its overall appearance.

Both the robusto and the belicoso burned evenly and produced a solid light gray ash. Both sizes draw very well, almost too well at times — the final third of the belicoso was a little too loose and I had to ease up on the throttle to avoid a hot burn.

Overall very good construction.

Tasting Notes

The Reserve Maduro is a mild to medium-bodied cigar that is framed by the aroma of its wrapper. The base flavor for the first couple of inches is grassy with soft bittersweet chocolate accents.

The herbal foundation of the cigar gradually gives way to a woodier flavor with a slightly tannic finish. It remains mild and mellow but the aroma intensifies, adding a shot of espresso to the sweetening chocolate.

Without much drama the cigar gently transitions to a nutty flavor and the chocolate overtones dissipate, leaving a slightly bitter aftertaste that is easily masked by a few swigs of black coffee.


If the Montecristo Reserva Negra is like a rich Godiva chocolate, then the H. Upmann Reserve Maduro is a handful of peanut M&Ms. The chocolatey aroma characteristic of San Andres maduro is utilized to great effect in both cases, but the Upmann is by far a milder bodied, less serious cigar.

My only complaint about the Upmann Reserve Maduro is the lack of transition — from start to finish this is a somewhat montonous smoke. Its one tune is sweet and easy listening, but after thirty minutes I wanted to change the station.

The Reserve Maduros are packed 27 to the box and retail for around 5 or 6 dollars per stick. If you’re a sucker for mild and sweet maduros, you’ll want to put this one on your sampling menu.

Final Score: 86

Montecristo Reserva Negra Robusto

montecristonegraAltadis USA is engaging in extension frenzy once again with its Montecristo Reserva Negra, increasing the number of Montecristo blends currently available  to seven.  Introduced last summer, this is the first “official” Montecristo to arrive dressed in a maduro wrapper, and it’s a dandy.

I was really surprised by the appearance of this cigar, since I expect nothing less than sheer class from Montecristo — the wrapper on this stick is a lackluster dark brown color, a matte brown (if there is such a thing.) It is strangely lacking in oil, which I find a little off-putting in a maduro. If it weren’t for the elegant looking band I would not take it for a premium smoke at all.

This unprepossessing wrapper is a product of Mexico. I see you eyeing the exit sign, but stay with me for a minute, because the San Andres valley produces some stellar maduro.


Situated in the mountains of the coastal state of Veracruz, the San Andres valley is in an area called “Los Tuxtlas.” The region is dominated by dormant volcanoes and the giant lake Catemaco. Agricultural activity has being going on here for over 5000 years, and today the Cuban expatriates who grow tobacco in San Andres are adding to that history.

The soil in San Andres Tuxtla has been compared to that of Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo — a mixture of rich clay and volcanic sand. I suppose every cigar producing country has their “just like Cuba” claim — for Mexico, this valley is their Pinar del Rio.

The major tobacco producer here is Alberto Turrent, a fifth generation tobacco man whose great-grandfather used to throw seeds randomly on the mountainside and return a month later to find healthy plants big enough for replanting in the field. Today the process is of course more controlled, but the soil and the climate are the same.

tuxtlas1Several types of tobacco are grown here, including the leaf for Mexican puros like Te Amo and A. Turrent cigars, but what I’m primarily interested in are the crops destined to become maduro — what is usually called San Andres Negro or San Andres Marrón. (I’ve seen it spelled Morrón and even Moron, but since Marrón means “chestnut brown,” Morón is a hill, and Morrón isn’t in mi dictionario —  I’m going with Marrón.)

San Andres Marrón is fairly rare. It’s used in a few other Altadis made cigars: Gispert Maduro and Saint Luis Rey Maduro as well as the new H. Upmann Reserve Maduro but very few others. San Andres Negro is what you usually get with a Mexican maduro wrapper — a shiny nearly oscuro colored maduro leaf. If I had to guess I’d say this is why the Marrón is used so infrequently — the appearance. But as far as taste goes, Brown is the new Black.

The Montecristo Reserva Negra is available in five sizes, all of which are slightly larger in diameter than is traditional:

  • Churchill – 7 x 56
  • Belicoso – 6 1/8 x 52
  • Toro – 6 x 54
  • Robusto – 5 x 54
  • Corona – 5 x 44

In addition to the San Andres Marrón wrapper this line utilizes a Nicaraguan binder and fillers from Honduras and Nicaragua. All cigars are square pressed.

Construction Notes

I’ve gloated about the wrapper already, but believe me, my appreciation is not based on appearance — the wrapper looks like it’s been soaked and dried in the sun, and there’s a glue smear or two for emphasis. Without the snazzy black and gold Montecristo band this would be one seriously ugly duckling.

The robusto is a heavy cigar that feels very solid in the hand. It’s nicely packed, and the draw has just the right amount of resistance. It burns very slowly and consistently, making this a good 60 minute smoke. The ash is a little bit flaky at times, but it holds and falls firmly when tipped into the ashtray. The burn was mostly even, better than average for a square pressed cigar. Overall the construction values here were excellent.

Tasting Notes

It starts out deceptively mild, with an herbal or grassy base, to which the wrapper contributes a rich baker’s chocolate and mild spice. The smoke is very smooth and creamy in texture.

In the second stage the grassy flavor turns woody with a slightly sharp tang that I find in many Nicaraguan cigars. The chocolate overtones mellow a little into cocoa, but the aroma is still sweet and very enjoyable.

The final section takes on an oaky flavor and gets gradually spicier. The woody flavors at last become more leathery, and the finish is concentrated. Lots of black pepper. And lest I forget, a pretty serious nicotine kick. I wasn’t expecting it, but this is one of the heavier hitters in the Altadis lineup.



All appearances to the contrary, this is a delicious maduro, the best I’ve smoked in many months. It’s smooth and gentle to start but then it picks up speed, eventually becoming full-bodied, spicy, and fairly powerful. The transition isn’t dramatic, but it provides just the right amount of complexity. Combined with excellent construction values,  this is a very high quality stick.

At around 8 to 10 USD per stick or $160 for a box of 20, it’s not an inexpensive smoke, but I daresay it’s worth it. I don’t go crazy for too many Altadis cigars, but this is one I’ll be thinking about when I hit the B&M next time around.

Final Score: 90


Montecristo Platinum Royale Delacroix

It’s been a while since I fired up a Monte Platinum, and to tell the truth I was a little hesitant about this one. Back in the day they used an Indonesian wrapper that really put me off my oats, but they switched to a San Andrés maduro which has made a big improvement. Even so, this one has been languishing in my humidor for a couple years.

The “Cigare des Artes” line was introduced by Consolidated Cigar in 1998 (before the company was swallowed up by Altadis USA) as a fuller bodied version of the standard Montecristo. The original line had a Nicaragua wrapper, and the packaging was extravagant: cedar-wrapped cigars in aluminum tubes sold in specially decorated boxes or ceramic jars.

The art chosen for the line was unusual for the American cigar market: the paintings of French artist Michel Delacroix, most of which feature cityscapes of Paris and its environs prior to World War II. He paints in the “naif” manner — a simplistic, folksy style that ignores perspective and looks sort of like the art of Grandma Moses. Given the slick, cosmopolitan images used in cigar advertising today, this isn’t what I expect to see on a cigar box.

The painting commissioned for this line is called “Montecristo Royal,” a crisp looking winter scene of the city that includes a huge sign on a building that reads “Montecristo Fine Cigars” with the Montecristo logo. The sign looks out of place, just as the painting does on a box of cigars. It took a while, but eventually I began to see its charm.

When the original “Cigare des Artes” blend was discontinued in 2002 it was replaced by the Platinum blend, but the commercial vitolas and the artwork still bore the impression of Michel Delacroix. The 7.25 x 52 double corona up for review here is called the “Royale Delacroix.” This size was discontinued in 2004, so this stick has a few years on it. (I received it in a trade about two years ago.)

The wrapper on this slugger is a Habana 2000 grown in the San Andrés Valley of Mexico, normally known as a great producer of maduro wrapper. The binder is Nicaraguan, and the filler is a blend of leaves from the Dominican Republic, Peru and Nicaragua. And like most (if not all) Montecristos, it is rolled in the Tabacalera Garcia factory in La Romana, DR.

The wrapper on this cigar is dark, nearly maduro, with a lot of oil. The overall appearance is rough, but attractive nevertheless. The roll is solid and the draw is just right. It lights up easily and starts to build a solid light gray ash.

The first third is marked by a sweet hickory flavor and a mild body. For the first inch there’s just a hint of bite, but this vanishes as some cocoa flavors make an entrance. Into the second third the finish grows and leaves an earthy aftertaste. The flavors get a little more chocolatey but in a muted rather than a robust way. A good contrast is the RP Olde World, which has similar flavors but articulates them much better. The aroma up to this point is of sweet wood and is generally quite pleasant.

After an hour I find that I’m becoming bored with this cigar. It’s burning well and tastes fine, but it’s lacking in substance. Maybe if I were sitting in a Paris cafe, circa 1895, watching the snow fall on a horse drawn carriage while I sipped my coffee, perhaps then I might find the patience to smoke this big boy to the end. As it is now, in the twenty first century, watching the jets streak across the night sky bound for Nellis AFB, I’m ready to call it quits.

The Montecristo Royale Delacroix is fine cigar, no doubt. Fans of mild to medium bodied cigars will find this double corona very enjoyable, but if you’re looking for a little more flavor, you may want to look elsewhere.