Tuesday, 18 July, 2006

Cigar Quest – Part I

Posted in Cigars at 11:30 am by glpease

I love a good cigar, especially in the warmer months. If I had Franklins to burn, my walk-in humidors would always be well stocked with Lonsdales, my preferred shape, from Davidoff, H. Upmann (Cuban and Dominican – I love them both, though I have a special fondness for the old Canarian version that was replaced in the early 1980s by the Dominican), Raphael Gonzalez, and, of course, the venerable Partagas 8-9-8 – Habanos, of course. I like the occasional Corona, too, but in fantasy land, I can always just light a Lonsdale, and toss it away when I’ve smoked a Corona’s worth, or have my most trusted assistant simply cut the longer cigar down to the smaller vitola before bringing it to me on a silver tray with my after-dinner Armangac.

I don’t think it’s possible to find a cigar made with more attention to detail or greater consistency than the Davidoff range. Granted, I’ve not smoked a great many of them; at the price, I’d end up selling my baseball card collection to support that addiction. However every one I’ve smoked has been superbly consistent – beautifully constructed, with lovely, lively wrappers, a perfect draw and wonderful flavor. I wish I could say any of this about a lot of the stuff that’s being peddled today.

The Cuban and Dominican Upmanns, both, are a delight. They have a richness and a breadth that is perfect to my tastes, especially after a couple years in the humidor. So are the exquisite Raphael Gonzalez offerings, though a bit lighter, and, of course, the Partagas is legendary. If I could get Cohiba Lanceros like they used to be, I’d have some of those, too.

Reality is a somewhat different matter. Good cigars, Really Good Cigars, are increasingly difficult to find at less than stratospheric prices. My pal Richard and I have set out to find stogies that are both enjoyable and affordable. I’ll report back as we make progress in our pursuit.

I should probably explain what a “Really Good Cigar” is to me; I’ll leave most of the discussion about what’s wrong with so many of today’s stogies, and why I think this trend has occurred for another time.

My Really Good Cigar has depth, richness, a little sweetness. Importantly, it has balance. All the elements come together into a harmonious chord. Simpler cigars are the major triads, while the more complex ones are big altered and extended jazz chords, with every note articulated. (Richard will probably agree with that.) I have room for both. What I will not make space in my humidor for is a cigar that deliver a full scale assault on my palate at the first puff, and relentlessly attempts to beat my senses into complete submission before I’ve reached the half-way point.

The Really Good Cigar is well made. It’s not spongy, nor packed like a brick. It’s got a beautiful wrapper that’s lovely to look at. It’s color is true – personally, I prefer a nice natural, EMS or Colorado Maduro wrapper, and generally avoid the extremes of Candella or Oscuro. A Truly Good Cigar almost makes you want to touch it, to carress it.

It has a warm, inviting aroma with not even the slightest hint of ammonia. Ideally, it’s been aged for some weeks without being swaddled and suffocated by cellophane. If I’m fortunate enough to have a box, the scent that greets me when I open the lid is deep, a little earthy, a little musty, but overall, it’s inviting. It makes me want to repeatedly open the box and take deep whiffs. Sometimes, there are notes of warm spices, sometimes a hint of camphor. In some cases, especially where Brazlian leaf is present, the smell of rich soil is there. If the aroma makes me wince, or scrunch up my nose and turn away, they’re not for me – and, I’m sorry to say, these days a lot of cigars, even some that are highly regarded, do that. (Once again, I’ll leave that discussion for a future date.)

Now that I’ve shared what a Really Good Cigar is to me, I’ll close with the first results of our formidable quest: Two offerings from JR Cigars.

Richard loves the Royal Jamaica Gold, but doesn’t like the price. On a lark, he ordered up a bundle of JR’s Special Jamaicans with maduro wrappers in Size A, their Lonsdale shape. The cigar has a US grown Connecticut broadleaf wrapper (yes, there’s Connecticut broadleaf grown other places), Mexican binder and Dominican filler. (The only thing Jamaican about them is the name.) These cigars are nicely made, have a deeply mottled colorado maduro to maduro wrapper (that, ideally, could be a little shinier), are ripe and round, and smoke just a bit tight. There are water spots on some of the cigars, but at well under $2 each, I can live with that. The rich, deep, earthy, sweet notes ride on layers of blond coffee tones with a velvety smoothness. They’re not as complex as the RJ Gold, which I suspect to contain some Brazilian leaf, nor do they have that sensuously lingering finish, but, the two cigars really shouldn’t be compared with each other; these are a nice, pleasant cigar in their own right. As for the tightness, I suspect a couple months in the humidor will help that, as they dry back just a bit. Mild to medium in body, well balanced, good rich flavor, with an enticing, though not long-lingering finish. All that, and, they’re nicely made.

I love the H. Upmann Dominicans; count how many times I’ve mentioned the brand in this entry for proof of that. Is there something I can get for a lot less money that will make me equally as happy? We tried the JR Alternative to the Dominican Upmann Lonsdale. This cigar is as much a disappointment as the Special Jamaican was a surprise. The construction is uneven – quite a few of the cigars are lumpy and gnarled, more like a Kentucky cheroot than a fine cigar, and at their worst, they’re soft as a sponge. The first one I smoked was so loosely packed that the cigar went from Lonsdale to Petit Corona in about 10 minutes – and I’m a slow smoker. Subsequent trials fared a little better, but the overall inconsistency is enough to keep me from going back for more. The flavor is actually fairly good, with an impression of linseed oil coming through early, gradually giving way to toasty, slightly bitter tastes. I found these to lack body, and have a subdued, woodsy finish that just didn’t hold my interest. On the positive side, they’re quite smooth, and lack any suggestion of ammonia. Obviously, the tobacco quality is high, it’s just the blend and the construction that I have problems with. Can’t win ’em all. I’ll finish my half of the bundle, but these are in no way a replacement for my beloved Upmanns.

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4 Comments »

  1. Sandi said,

    I am interested in knowing the worth of an H Upmann empty cigar box dated back to wheb Taft was our President. Box is plain and cigars were made especially for Delmonicos of New York. This is stated inside the box.
    I hope you can help me or perhaps tell me who would have this knowledge..
    Thank you.
    Sandi

  2. Mark Oldstrom said,

    I’ve found the CAO Brazilia Gol and Sambo both meet your criteria. $4-5 is not a astromical price for an hour or more contemplation. If you have more money to spend, the the Padron Anniversario line in ring guages 48 and above are a smoke you should experience before you die.

  3. tovorinok said,

    Hello

    Great book. I just want to say what a fantastic thing you are doing! Good luck!

    Bye

  4. jdavid said,

    Nice bit of writing. As a professional writer living near Las Vegas and a fan of H. Upmann Dominicans as well, I thoroughly enjoyed this romp. Be cool.


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