Ambos Mundos by Tatuaje

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There is no cigar cliché that gets under my skin more than the image of the fat cat lighting up his churchill with a hundred dollar bill. Aside from being moronic (rich people don’t get that way by burning money) it justifies in the minds of many non-smokers the marginalization of cigar enthusiasts and the taxing of cigars. The reality is that most of us checking out cigar reviews and eyeballing the auction sites are doing our best to manage a tight budget in a challenging economic environment.  It’s been a while since I saw any fat cats licking their paws around my neighborhood.

It wasn’t due to the stormy economy that Pete Johnson decided to blend a cigar with affordability in mind, but price control was definitely an objective in developing Ambos Mundos. Tatuaje has been a runaway success for “Tattoo” Pete, but like many Miami-rolled cigars, they’re pricey. By producing this cigar in Nicaragua with lower grade (but still high-quality) tobaccos, he is hoping to keep the price down and fill the bargain cigar niche for his label.

As Pete told Cigar Insider,

This value-priced cigar uses B and C – grade tobacco. In other words, it’s tobacco that was not used on Tatuaje, the premium brand,  which uses A – grade. It’s very good tobacco, but just needs more time to be processed and needs more fermentation, taking a little longer to get out all the impurities. These bales don’t cost as much, so it’s a way to pass on the savings using some really good tobacco.

Ambos Mundos differs a bit from Tatuaje’s other budget-priced cigar, the Tatuaje Serie P, in that the latter is a short filler cigar made from the scraps of the standard Tatuaje line. AmbosAdAmbos Mundos is a long filler cigar that uses tobacco that just didn’t make the cut for standard Tatuaje cigars.

Only two sizes are in production so far (a robusto and a toro) but they are available  in two different wrappers: Ecuadorian Sumatra (red label) and  Nicaraguan Habano (white label.)  They are rolled in Jaime Garcia’s Tabacalera Garcia factory in Esteli, Nicaragua.

Construction Notes

I smoked the Habano (white label) Ambos Mundos Toro first and found that it has just the quality construction you’d expect from Tatuaje and Tabacalera Cubana. A toothy wrapper tops off a solid roll, finished with Garcia’s trademark triple cap. Once lit, the Habano set to building a solid white ash. The burn was steady and even from start to finish. The draw was just a little bit firm, but that was the only demerit it received. Aside from that it was perfect.

The Sumatra (red label) version has a leathery looking wrapper, a little smoother and a little oilier than the Habano. The same good construction qualities were in evidence here, though the draw on these seemed to be a little better, while the burn was more erratic and required a couple touchups. The ash on the Sumatra was more variegated in color, but held just as well as the Habano.

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Tasting Notes

Both of these toro-sized cigars are lighter in body than the standard Tatuaje line, but the Sumatra seems a little bolder than the Habano version. Both cigars score well in terms of aroma — the Habano had a woody spiciness to it, while the Sumatra was a little meatier with notes of leather. Both versions have Pepin’s characteristic tartness, especially in the first inch or so, but also a sharpness and an irritating burn at the back of the throat, with the Sumatra being heavier, more peppery, and more aggressive in this regard. Some aging might temper this quality.

The white label Habano starts up with an earthy flavor and a good dose of tannin. The aroma is a pleasantly spicy, but for the first couple inches this is a simple and straightforward smoke. It transitions to aromas of hardwood with a touch of caramel and about an inch from the band picks up a good pinch of black pepper. The last third gets fairly sharp, but it’s smokeable. The Habano reminds me of some of Pepin’s milder offerings, but with less complexity.

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The red label Sumatra starts up where the white label leaves off — with lots of pepper. The difference between the two is immediately apparent. The Sumatra is a meaty and leathery smoke while the white label is woody. The tannins still make an appearance, but they seem to be overpowered by the wrapper’s rich flavor and aroma.  It’s slightly sweet with a dry finish. The last third increases in intensity until it unexpectly sours about a half inch from the band.

Conclusion

Both versions of the Ambos Mundos are good, but not great cigars. Personally I’d rather pony up the full price for an “A-grade” Tat than settle for a C-grade alternative that pales by comparison.  If this were a 2 dollar bundle stick I’d  be impressed, but it isn’t, and my opinion of this cigar suffers for it. For nearly the same price you could be smoking a DPG Black or an Illusione, better cigars that are similar in style as well as price.

Ambos Mundos is a long filler cigar set to retail around 5 USD per stick, or around $115 per box of 25. This stretches my definition of “bargain” a little bit, but it’s still a reasonable price for a premium cigar.  Just remember that there is a fair amount of competition in this price range.

Final Scores

Ambos Mundos White Label Habano: 85

Ambos Mundos Red Label Sumatra: 79

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Other Points of View

Her Humidor approves of Ambos Mundos as an everyday smoke.

The Great Torpedo thinks the Sumatra version is a decent smoke for its price.

Barry gives the Sumatra an edge over the Habano.

Resident Tatuaje expert Matt lets both wrappers have both barrels.

~cigarfan

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Tabacos Baez Monarcas

Baez is a small town in the Villa Clara province of Cuba where in 1950 our hero José “Don Pepín” Garcia was born, presumably with chaveta in hand.  (The first infant ever to cut his own umbilical cord!) Tabacos Baez, a newish blend from Tabacalera Cubana, is named for that town.

Of course, Tatuaje’s Cabaiguan was also named for Pepin’s hometown. So was Cigar King’s Sancti Spiritus.

baezI’m sure if we were to scry deeply enough into the crystal ball of Pepinolatry that some clarity could be found — maybe in the fact that the provinces of Villa Clara and Sancti Spiritus are contiguous and were at one time two separate parts of one province called Las Villas, and Cabaiguan is a city within Sancti Spiritus. Or perhaps we’d see that Pepin is a quasi-religious figure in these lands and thus his birthplace is claimed by competing bands of disciples  — or we could just forget the magic carpet ride and smoke a cigar.

The Tabacos Baez brand name was at one time owned by Pete Johnson’s Havana Cellars, at which time they were the best of the student-rolled cigars coming out of Pepin’s factory.  In a Cigarcyclopedia.com article from July 2007, Pete said:

Tabacos Baez is one of those things we use for factory seconds or student-rolled cigars. We use that brand name for cigars that Pepin has trained people on. If [a batch of student-made] cigars seems good to me, we pack it up as Tabacos Baez. It’s gained a little cult following, since people found out that they are student-rolled cigars and are half the price. It’s made from similar leaves [as Tatuaje]; if a roller knows how to blend them properly, they’re pretty good.

The Tabacos Baez name appears to have passed back to El Rey de Los Habanos, and from the looks of things they are no longer student products. At around 7 or 8 USD retail they aren’t “half the price” either.

There appear to be three sizes available at the moment:

  • Monarcas (toro) – 6.5 x 52
  • Favoritas (belicoso) – 5.5 x 52
  • Robusto – 5 x 50

Some sites state that the wrapper used here is Connecticut Shade, others Ecuadorian Connecticut. I’m inclined to think that it is Ecuadorian Connecticut from the way that the cigar performs — it has that creamy, slightly salty flavor that I usually get from ECCT, and with its wide, almost parallel, veins it looks like Ecuadorian leaf.  It’s also a little darker than typical shade tobacco.

The balance of the tobaccos in this cigar are Nicaraguan, as you’d expect from Don Pepín.

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Construction Notes

This is a stout and well packed cigar that scored perfectly in terms of appearance and roll. The wrapper is a smooth and oily golden brown and the triple cap is a work of art. A gorgeous stick.

The draw is good, but a couple cracks in the wrapper resulted in thin smoke volume at times. The cracks were small and near the foot, so I burned through them in short order. The burn was a little erratic at first, threatening to tunnel (which it did not) and it required a couple of corrections. After the first third these problems unnaccountably disappeared and the stick behaved perfectly.

Tasting Notes

The first half-inch of the Baez Monarca is hallmark Pepin — an aggressive peppery bite, accompanied by a slightly greenish tasting tannin. The wrapper contributes a smooth buttery element — at this point it’s reminiscent of the 601 Connect, also blended by Pepín. But soon the bite subsides and the flavor slides into mild cocoa. The aroma becomes more pronounced, somewhat floral and slightly caramel-like, almost like a mild corojo.

The middle section is quite mild in flavor while remaining a little tannic. The smoke texture is medium in body, mild in strength, and short on action. There are lightly spiced woody flavors here, but unless smooth and uninteresting is your thing you might want to get a book.

The last section returns with the black pepper that kicked things off, though not as intense and less tannic, and a dry finish that begs for a liquid refreshment.

This blend definitely goes through some changes, but they aren’t dramatic ones. The first inch of this cigar reminded me of EO’s 601 Connect — a relatively robust Pepin creation with a Connecticut wrapper — but the rest of this Tabacos Baez reminded me of a knockoff Cabaiguan. The flavors were smooth and familiar, but not as refined –or as interesting — as the Cabaiguan. (It even had some of the construction issues I’ve experienced with Cabaiguan.)

Overall, this is an above average smoke that just about anyone will enjoy. But for the same price (around $7 a stick) or only slightly more, you could be smoking a Cabaiguan Coronas Extra (about $8 each). If that’s the style of cigar you enjoy, as indeed I do, I recommend you compare and invest accordingly.

Final Score: 87

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Other Points of View

The Baccy Bodhisattva meditates on the Monarcas

Lisa selects a Monarcas from Her Humidor

George meets the Quick Smoke deadline with a Monarcas for Stogie Guys

~cigarfan

Aging Report: 601 Oscuro Tronco

United Tobacco’s 601 series manufactured by Pepin Garcia has been a smashing success, and the Green Label is one of my favorites in the line. It hasn’t been easy to resist the siren’s call over the past year, but I still have a few of these left from the 2007 box that made it to the top ten list for the year.

This is a heavy cigar by design, and I was really curious to see how it would age. Many of the cigars I’ve chosen for “Aging Reports” have not benefited from their extended naps, but the ones that have are the sluggers like this one. I’m coming to the conclusion that as tobacco ages its strength and body attenuate, but in return more subtle nuances appear. So depending on the cigar, and the cigar smoker, this can be either a good or a bad thing.

I gravitate toward medium-bodied blends, with occasional forays into full-bodied and mild territory, so I was sort of looking forward to this one settling down a little. But only sort of, because the flavor is dynamite even if it’s not really in my weight class. So I still found myself picking at the box over the past year, handing a few out with both warnings and accolades, and now I have only a few left. But the year is up. Time for a visit from the ghost of Green Label past.

The first thing I noticed about the aged 601 Oscuro is that it doesn’t start up with the blast of pepper I was expecting — it’s certainly spicy, especially for the first half inch or so, but age has pacified the beast. The next thing I notice is that it burns very slowly, so slowly in fact that the time I allotted to smoke this robusto wasn’t enough to finish the cigar. But this being the 601 Green, two-thirds was enough. I’ve seen how this movie ends.

Despite the slow burn (and somewhat erratic burn line) the Green produces plenty of smoke. There is a sweet char on the nose that gradually becomes more chocolatey. On the palate I get wood with a nice black licorice accent, accompanied by a lingering but not overpowering aftertaste of chocolate and char. Ignoring the spicy overture, this is a medium bodied cigar that quickly becomes full bodied with a good nicotine hit, but it’s not the monster it was a year ago.

The bottom line is that the boldness of this cigar has faded somewhat. There’s plenty of flavor left for smokers of medium to full-bodied cigars, but if you love the explosion of pepper and tannin that a lot of Pepin blends offer when fresh, you’ll want to smoke these within a year of packing. But even after a year the Green Label is still a fantastic cigar, especially if you prefer a mellower profile. It looks like it’s time for me to restock.

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Some recent reviews of the 601 Oscuro Tronco:

Linus gives it a 7.5 out of 10 for Cigar Newbie.

Beezer goes toe to toe with the Tronco and learns his lesson.

Cubao No. 5

Cubao is the latest offering from Erik Espinosa and Eddie Ortega’s United Tobacco, blended by Pepin Garcia and manufactured at the Tabacalera Cubana factory in Esteli, Nicaragua. The No. 5 is the toro in the line, and comes equipped with a rough looking oscuro Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper. The boxes are really interesting — the wood almost looks salvaged, like it was recovered from an old barn.

From the Habanos-style parchment included in the box:

Cu-bao – The Taino word for “where fertile land is abundant” or “a great place.”

Cuba is the most populous insular nation in the Caribbean. Its people, culture and customs draw from several sources including the aboriginal Taino and Ciboney tribes. It is believed that the name “Cuba” comes from the Taino word “cubao” which can be translated into either “where fertile land is abundant” or “a great place” (coabana.)

We have selected the finest filler and binder grown in the Jalapa and Esteli region of Nicaragua — where the soil is as rich as Cuba’s Pinar del Rio — and wrapped it in a rich flavorful Ecuadorian grown Sumatra oscuro wrapper to create CUBAO.

The tobacco growing is overseen by experts, the rolling is done by skilled torcedors, practiced in this centuries old art. We believe we have created a cigar with a truly old world flavor. We hope you will agree.

The wrapper on this cigar mirrors the distressed look of the box — it’s not black (as you might expect from an “oscuro”) but dark brown with some black mottling.The wrappers bear the scars of thorough fermentation and the result is a weather beaten appearance. But the compensation for this less than gorgeous appearance is the flavor.

The 6 x 50 Cubao No. 5 lights up easily and burns almost perfectly for the duration of the smoke. The draw is excellent and the smoke production is generous. It forms a solid light gray ash that seems to hold for about an inch and a half before cracks form. Draw whatever comparisons you like to the fine cigars of Havana, the Cubao has them outflanked in the construction department.

This toro starts up with that trademark Pepin pepper, but it’s not as powerful as a lot of his heavier blends. It’s certainly lighter than any of the 601 cigars, and as usual this flavor dissipates after an inch but never really exits the stage completely. After an inch I’m tasting cocoa and coffee with cream types of flavors, and the aroma from the foot is quite nice, though non-smokers will find it pretty pungent. Stogie connoisseurs, on the other hand, will appreciate 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.

Overall I’d say this is a medium to full bodied cigar, though regular Pepin smokers will think it’s more on the medium side. It certainly heavier than the Rey de Los Habanos (Red Label) or Vegas Cubanas, but it seems lighter than the 601s, San Cristobal, and most of the Tatuaje family. But for me it’s still most definitely an after-dinner smoke.

These are going for around 6 or 7 bucks, which is a great deal for the complexity you’re getting. I think most DPG fans will like this cigar as a flavorful medium-bodied departure from the heavyweights, and for those new to Pepin’s many blends, this is a great place to start. It’s not the prettiest cigar in the Pepin stable, but it definitely smokes better than it looks. And finally, an added bonus: these seem to be getting better after only a couple months in storage.

Other Reviews of the Cubao Line

The Stogie Guys review the No. 4

Walt’s review of the No. 5 at The Stogie Review

A Cigar Smoker checks out the No. 6

The Maytag Man on the No. 5

Cigar Jack digs the pre-release No. 1

La Riqueza No. 3

La Riqueza is the latest offering from Pete Johnson, maker of popular Tatuaje and Cabaiguan cigars. Not surprisingly, La Riqueza is also manufactured by Jose “Don Pepín” Garcia, this time around in his Nicaraguan factory.

Five sizes have been released, curiously numbered one through five:

  • No. 1 — 6 1/2 x 42
  • No. 2  — 5 1/2 x 52
  • No. 3  — 5 5/8 x 46
  • No. 4 — 5 x 48
  • No. 5 — 4 3/8 x 42

Even more curious is the wrapper on this cigar — it’s Connecticut broadleaf. We have become so accustomed to to Johnson’s (and Pepín’s) Nicaraguan puros, and his corojo wrappers in particular, that a broadleaf wrapper invites special scrutiny. There’s something inherently less refined about broadleaf, an impression inspired mostly by its rough and dry appearance.

Broadleaf tends to be thick and veiny, and unlike its shade-grown brethren it bears the full brunt of the weather. While Connecticut Shade is beautiful, refined, and mild, broadleaf is much bolder and more flavorful. But this amplified bravado is accompanied by a reduction in finesse. For all these reasons it is most often used as binder — it’s tough and flavorful, but for aesthetic reasons best kept under wraps.

Further piquing my interest is the fact that the Riqueza wrapper is the product of the Oliva Tobacco Company. Oliva grows and processes tobacco for some of the most prestigious labels in the business: Fuente and Newman being at the top of the list. The Angel 100 is the only cigar the Oliva Tobacco Company has actually produced themselves, and to my eye (and nose) there is in fact a similarity between the Angel 100 and La Riqueza.

The Riqueza is box pressed and bears the classic triple cap we expect from Pepin’s Tabacalera Cubana. The dark wrapper looks like a maduro, but it is reportedly a naturally dark broadleaf that hasn’t received maduro fermentation. The wrapper leaf is just barely oily and a close examination reveals a few fine crystals glittering in the tooth.

The draw on this cigar is spot on perfect.  It burns evenly and builds a solid light gray ash. Overall construction values are excellent.

La Riqueza No. 3 lights easily and produces billows of smoke from the start. The smoke texture is smooth and the initial flavor is moderately peppery with a mild bite. Pretty much what you’d expect from Pepin, but within half an inch the cigar opens up and becomes something completely different.

The flavor on the palate is coffee-like, but the aroma is very sweet, floral but also spicy. There is a lingering aftertaste of wood and pepper, and the overall effect is complex.

Into the second third the flavors lose some of their nuance and focus on earth. There is still a smattering of pepper on the palate, and the fragrance remains spicy sweet. The smoke gathers strength at this point as well, becoming slightly harsh on the back of the throat and sinuses.

The last section of the Riqueza No. 3 delivers rich earthy tobacco flavors — exactly what you’d expect from broadleaf — but the concentration of this flavor begins to overpower the subtle aromas in the last third. By an inch from the band the aftertaste surpasses earthiness and borders on dirty, becoming a little bitter, a little dry, and a little too much in my opinion.

What is remarkable about this cigar is the aroma, which is similar in some respects to what I’ve found in the Cuban Romeo y Julieta. But even more than that, it reminds me of the wrapper on the Angel 100 — the overall impression La Riqueza creates in combination with the flavor on the palate is more complex than the Angel, but the floral spiciness is quite similar. I have to wonder if these will age as well as the Angels, and if they will eventually lose some of their sharpness, especially in the back third. My only criticism of this cigar is that it seems to end about an inch and half too soon.

Aside from the unpleasant turn this one took in the last lap I think it’s a fine cigar. With age it should mellow into a great medium bodied Nicaraguan style smoke, one with a fantastic bouquet. If a retail tag of 9 USD isn’t a sticking point for you, I’d recommend picking up a box and letting it simmer for a year or two.

For other opinions of La Riqueza check out the Great Torpedo’s video review of the No. 3 at the Stogie Review, and Lisa’s review of the robusto size at Her Humidor.

EO 601 Habano Oscuro Tronco

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Of all the new cigars I’ve tried this year (new to me, that is) I think the 601 Connecticut Black Label is the most interesting. The juxtaposition of a creamy Connecticut seed wrapper with a spicy Pepin core blend is truly an epicurean experience. And even if it isn’t my favorite blend from the hands of Don Pepin, it demonstrates the manifold nature of his skill. Just when you’re ready to settle in for another welcome, but familiar smoking experience, he pulls out the rug and presents a new blend with its own distinguished and delicious qualities.

With years of experience as one of Cuba’s premier blenders and rollers, it should be no surprise that his talents are diverse. In some ways it seems more of a surprise that he has been able to both keep up with the demand, and at the same time create even more new blends with tobacco that is almost always from the same region. While other cigar makers feel it necessary to advertise their “six-country” blend, Pepin Garcia is happy with just…Nicaragua. And so far, so are we!

Corojo wrappers have been, and probably always will be, a mainstay for the primary Pepin blends, but this year he has been going to the maduro well with a little more frequency. The Series JJ Maduro, the 601 Maduro, and now the 601 Habano Oscuro. (Is it a mere coincidence that Habanos S.A. is now releasing maduros as well? Probably.)

The folks at United Tobacco Inc have gone to the dark side twice now with their EO 601 series — first with the 601 Maduro (Blue Label) and once again with the 601 Habano Oscuro (Green Label). The Greens were just introduced this year at the RTDA, and so far they have elicited nothing but praise from lovers of full bodied and rich tasting cigars.

The 601 Green is a Nicaraguan puro — filler, binder and wrapper all from farms in Nicaragua. Coming from Tabacalera Cubana this is a familiar formula, but the curve is in the wrapper: a deeply fermented Habano. Both Lucky7 and I were really impressed with the appearance of this toothy leaf: rich, oily, and shall we say, redolent of the pasture. Nice and smelly, the result of a thorough fermentation.

Five sizes of this blend have been released:

  • Trabuco (a whopping grand corona at 6 1/8 x 58)
  • La Fuerza (5 1/2 x 54 robusto)
  • La Punta ( 5 1/2 x 52 perfecto)
  • Tronco (5 x 52 robusto)
  • Corona (5 x 42)

Construction
Construction qualities are good to very good; both of us noticed that the draw was very firm. Otherwise, this stick burns slowly with a good volume of cool smoke. The ash is light to medium gray with some black striations. I thought the ash was a bit crumbly, but I have to admit that I approached this cigar with caution and smoked it very slowly which may have had an effect on the burn in general. I found a mostly even burn, while Lucky7 had to apply the torch a few times to keep his ash in line.

Flavor

I found the Habano Oscuro to be a full bodied ride from the first puff. The introductory Pepin pepper is present in the first half inch, but it’s not overwhelming; just a nice wake-up call. Both of us noted coffee and anise as core flavors in the first third; Lucky found some wood in the mix as well.

Into the second third I got lots of chocolate and a bouquet of licorice liqueur — smooth, pronounced, but not aggressive. (Did I mention that I take this cigar slooooowly?) Lucky found toasted nuts and cherry, a “creamy sweet” aroma, and a medium-length dark chocolate finish.

In the last third Lucky7 noted a little burnt cocoa and “a noticeable pickup in strength; not harsh, just strong with a little bitterness.” And as I lay reeling on the floor I found that I had to concur with his final comment: “big nicotine buzz.” No kidding. Tronco means trunk (or log) in Spanish, but it also has a colloquial meaning with a pejorative connotation — something like dolt, or dimwit. Kind of like the way I felt when I finished this cigar. But in a good way, of course.

Conclusion

The 601 Habano Oscuro Tronco is a big-boned cigar with lots of flavor and a surprisingly friendly disposition. It is indeed quite powerful, but take a little time with it and it won’t leave you legless. A full stomach and a little courage are all that’s required for middle-weights like myself. And for lovers of full-bodied cigars, it’s pretty much mandatory. Just smoke it.

Box prices are around 150 USD, about $8-$10 retail. This seems about standard rate for Pepin blends these days. A bit steep, but worth it, as usual.

-cigarfan & Lucky7