January 2015 release

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Añejados

The words Romeo and Julieta bring to mind an ancient Italian tale made famous by the fabled scribe Shakespeare, featuring a tragedy that has been translated into more than 80 languages. Thankfully for Habano passionados, the words Romeo y Julieta bring to mind rather different thoughts – particularly those of an illustrious Cuban brand tracing its roots back to 1875 that showcases the zenith of natural aromatic sweetness of Cuban premium tobacco from the Vuelta Abajo out of all the 27 Habanos brands.

The latest vitola from the brand to hit the shelves is the second of the Añejados series, along with the recently tasted Montecristo Churchill Añejados, the rolled and boxed cigars were aged for a minimum of 5 years in their natural storage environment in Cuba and made available for the delectation of cigar lovers only after having been certified as ready by the Ligadors. In a new size for the brand (the current production Campanas being shorter at 140mm), the supplementary length and ageing (to the standard minimum 12 months) should permit the cigars to develop a deeper, mellower and more refined taste.

Japanese whiskey has enjoyed much veneration in the last few months, with the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 whiskey voted the “best whiskey in the world” for 2014 by one celebrated whisky writer in November last year. Having enjoyed Japanese whiskey for several years, and particularly being a fan of the range of Suntory (which was established in 1899), I unexpectedly stumbled upon the previously unknown Hibiki 12 Years Old blended Japanese whiskey. However, as the words “blended” and “whiskey” paired together are not my favourite at the best of times, I needed some assurance of its value. Fortunately, I was impressed to learn of the numerous celebrated international whisky golden awards bestowed upon it, as well as its reasonable price (as Japanese whiskey tends to be much more expensive than the equivalent range Scotch in the UK).

I seized the opportunity to try this much-lauded sweet and perfumed whiskey (which utilises both grain whiskey and some interestingly matured in ex-plum wine casks in addition to the standard malt), with the latest medium strength Romeo y Julieta – and it proved to be rewarding. The delicious taste of the Hibiki reflected perfectly the initial nose that featured marmalade and orange pieces with a detectable hint of the grain element, giving the whiskey greater body and a slightly chewy texture covering the whole palate with a pleasingly long and cleansing aftertaste.

A perfect draw was a great start for the Pirámides, with the pre-light notes exhibiting sweetness and very little ammonia, as expected with over 6 years of box ageing. With a minor uneven initial burn, the ample smoke was a little earthier and stronger than expected. Stabilising after the first inch, the mellower and sweeter notes were a true delight on the retrohale. The second third was where the true character with subtler flavours of dried fruit and clove spices were revealed on both the palate and retrohale. The final third increased in strength to subdue the subtler and spicier elements, but still smoked well with only an inch remaining to give me a favourable view of the latest addition to the Habanos collection.

Tasting notes and details:

Romeo y Julieta Pirámides Añejados

Factory NamePirámides

Size52 x 6.125”  (20.68 x 156)mm

Box code and dateGEA AGO08

WrapperColorado-maduro with a light sheen.

Draw – Perfect. No hint of ammonia but some sweetness and a hint of toasted wood present on the pre-light draw.

First third – Plenty of aroma and smoke to begin and a little stronger than expected. Stabilises after the first inch and mellows with sweeter notes on the retrohale.

Second third – Ageing becomes more apparent with crisper, subtler flavours of dried fruit. Some more spice developing along with sweetness and a roasted woody undertone.

Last third – Increase in strength and subtler flavours as well as the spicier elements become muted. Sweeter notes still shining through with only an inch left.

PairingHibiki 12 Years Old – Japanese blended whiskey – 43%. Very refreshing for the palate and a perfect harmonious companion to interact and enhance all the flavours of both the cigar and whiskey itself. Certainly a great whiskey in its own right.

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Montecristo Churchill Añejados

Montecristo is the most ubiquitous of all Cuban cigars brands, with the majority of Habanos S.A.’s revenue coming from sales of the soon to be octogenarian brand (having been established in 1935). This is the first documented release of Montecristo cigars for public sale of this vitola – a parejo of the Julieta No.2 factory appellation, commonly known since 1947 as the “Churchill” size, and showcased with great fanfare at this week’s Festival del Habano XVII as part of the new line of Añejados (rolled and boxed Habanos aged between 5-8 years before release).

At first glance, its sturdy structure certainly makes it look like a flavoursome cigar to enjoy after a grand meal in the evening with a worthily paired digestif. On closer inspection, the light and somewhat speckled colorado shade of wrapper exhibited in all the boxes when they were first made available in the UK may not be that impressive – especially to those like me, who prefer a darker shade on the capa.

Contemplating an accompaniment to this aged Montecristo left me concerned not to choose anything overpowering, yet still embodying a crucial sweetness and long finish to compensate the expected earthiness the brand is famous for. A bottle of Rémy Martin Reserve Cellar Selection Cellar N°28 cognac that I shrewdly purchased in LAX duty free (set for first European release in April 2015) came to mind. Rémy Martin’s twenty-nine ageing cellars in Domaine de Merpins in the Cognac region of France each have different layouts, temperatures and humidity levels to induce different aromatic impressions to their respective maturing liquid gold. The Maître de Chai (Cellar Master) selection of Cellar N°28 celebrates the unique aromatic style of the eaux-de-vie from that particular cellar with its “rich candied fruit notes”. Designated as an XO (above 20 years old), using some of the rarest blends available, I hoped that this would be the right match.

The good pre-light draw without any bitter ammonia notes turned out to be a misjudged indication as to what came next. The first few puffs had expected earthiness but certainly more spice than I anticipated. Barely an inch into the tasting, a sudden kick of white pepper flashed on the retrohale. Furthermore, the somewhat ‘meagre’ cepo felt awkward to begin with, as the volume of smoke was not as generous as I have grown accustomed to, principally smoking much thicker cigars.

Nonetheless, a sip of the Selection du Maître de Chai refreshed my palate with rich dried fruits and a wonderfully long finish. The Churchill may have sensed my plea for more subtlety and mellower and creamier, milk chocolate notes graciously came to pass. With the second third starting to showcase the complexity of the aged tobacco, a hint of anise on the retrohale was satisfying. The last third developed further with darker chocolate notes veiled with complex earthiness and spice. With barely an inch left, my Añejado experience concluded with the promising thought that only a few more years of ageing would refine the balance and pleasure of a future tasting.

Tasting notes and details:

Montecristo Churchill Añejados

Factory NameJulieta No.2

Size47 x 7.0”  (18.65 x 178)mm

Box code and dateASB  JUL06

WrapperColorado capa with no protruding veins. A few faint beauty spots present.

Draw – Good draw. Box age very apparent as pre-light notes exhibit complete lack of ammonia. Faint nuances of earthiness.

First third – Earthiness from the start but also a burst of white pepper which thankfully mellows out to some delicate milk chocolate notes.

Second third – Starts to further show its age with greater complexity coming through. A hint of anise in addition to more milk chocolate and earthiness on the retrohale.

Last third – Darker chocolate veiled by earthiness and stronger spice. Still smoking well with only an inch left.

PairingRémy Martin Reserve Cellar Selection Cellar N°28 (travel retail exclusive) cognac – 40%. Nose of red candied fruits does not disappoint with the silky texture wrapping the taste buds with a lingering finish and refreshing the palate for the later complex flavours of the cigar.


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Partagás D No.6

As a devotee of history, Cuban cigars and their chronicles do not disappoint. Flor de Tabacos de Partagás (its full name), has to be one of the most interesting of the Cuban cigar marques. Founded by the Catalan Don Jaime Partagás Ravelo in 1827, its success due in part to his ownership of many of the best vegas finas in the Vuelta Abajo region, culminated in the construction of its famous (and for the time, very large) factory in 1845 which still stands to this day behind the Capitol building in Havana. Don Jaime is accredited to be one of the earliest pioneers of innovation in cigar production, having explored the fermentation and ageing of the tobaccos rather than undiscerningly relying on customary techniques. Unfortunately for Don Jaime, his luck ran out in 1868 when he was shot and mortally wounded in one of his plantations for reasons that have never been clear; rumours the slaying being revenge for his extramarital amorous activities.

Production stopped inside the factory itself for long-due renovation to this iconic and arguably best known cigar factory in early-2012 and has not yet been completed. Notwithstanding, the Partagás Factory Casa del Habano store remains open and is certainly one of the best in Havana.

The publicity images of the Partagás Serie D No.6 during the Festival del Habano XVI in February 2014 did not in my view warrant interest befitting for the brand. At 90mm long, it looks akin to a cigar like a D No.4 (robusto, 124mm) that has been cut partly through smoking to finish later, (Cubans depreciatingly call this a “cabo de tabaco” – literally ‘stub of tobacco’). Surely, the D No.5 (petit robusto, 110mm), would be satisfying for a cigar lover yearning for a full flavoured, strong cigar that didn’t take more than 30 minutes to smoke? Furthermore, at £13.50 each for a D No.6 in the UK, a few pounds more for its aforementioned elder brother would make its market placing an unlikely commercial success.

Even so, I took the plunge and sampled one to decide for myself. For variation, I decided to enjoy the Habano with an afternoon Nespresso Arpeggio capsule which has the strength of a dark roast Arabica coffee to match the full-flavoured classification of the Partagás, whilst having a creamy texture to counteract the spiciness of the latter. With a hint of spice thinly veiled by an earthiness akin to a recently produced D No.4 robusto present on the pre-light draw, I knew there would be strength to this cigar and it didn’t disappoint.

The spice was certainly there, accompanied with an astringent woodiness at the back of the palate in the first few puffs. The Arpeggio espresso thankfully counteracts this well, with its intense body enhanced by cocoa notes. However, this does not suggest that any lower quality tripa larga tobacco has been used, if compared to the larger vitolas in the Partagás range; merely its expected youth is being conveyed.

With the first third of the cigar over whilst forming a consistent ash, the Arpeggio also happens to be finished. Therefore, I seize the opportunity to test the Decaffeinato version of the Arpeggio to verify its comparison to the original. The difference is noticeable, as is that of a non-alcoholic beer with its genuine kin, but it mercifully still measures up to the intensity of the Habano. The second third brings some more flavour but the earthiness of its youth still pervades. With only a couple of touch-ups and very good combustibility shown, the final third steps up the peppery character along with a particularly astringent woodiness and more black-pepper spice on the retrohale.

In summation, the quality of the tobacco was there, but with such little length to the cigar, the complexity was shackled to abort prematurely. This would not be an Habano of choice for me in the future, as I solely enjoy Partagás in the evening after a hearty dinner and would much prefer a vitola larger than even a robusto, with its added complexity. If I was constrained for time and the only full-flavoured cigar available was a D No.6, I would much prefer to practice patience until I could enjoy the full aromatic depth and unrestrained complexity of a bigger and preferably aged, alternative. Therefore, I suggest that only those passionados truly limited to 20-25 minutes of smoking time may enjoy this size with its voluminous smoke, along with the noble intention to avoid the waste of any precious Cuban tobacco.

Tasting notes and details:

Partagás D No.6

Factory NameNo.6 (totally new vitola)

Size50 x 3.5”  (19.84 x 90)mm

Box code and dateRAE  NOV14

Wrapper – Smooth, colorado capa with a glimpse of oiliness present.

Draw – compact to the touch (properly filled with tripa larga) but very good. Pre-light notes of some subtle spice and a hint of earthiness indicating its youth.

First third – Clearly a spicy Partagás blend with a hint more earthiness, like that of a young D Series vitola.

Second third – With more woodiness and earthy aromas, there is continuation of the strong flavour.

Last third – The astringent qualities pique and spice is even clearer on the retrohale. Complexity is clearly lacking.

PairingNespresso – Arpeggio capsule. With robust dark roast Arabica beans and creamy body, this pairs well as an espresso with the diminutive D No.6. The Decaffeinato version of the Arpeggio still works, but it does have a slightly more acidic finish compared to the original. Even so, it is a good replacement if there is concern for overindulging in caffeine.

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Trinidad Vigía

The brand Trinidad (named after the southern Cuban city of La Santísima Trinidad), like Cohiba, was for a long time only available as a diplomatic gift from the Cuban government and both were produced at the world-famous, yet mysterious El Laguito cigar factory in Havana (which is still off limits to most visitors, with only Cohiba Behikes as well as diplomatic cigars currently produced there). However, whereas the Cohiba brand was launched in Madrid in 1982 and released to the world the following year to great acclaim, Trinidad was made commercially available only as late as 1998. By late 2004, demand outstripped production capacity at El Laguito which forced the brand to be made in Pinar del Río City, at the heart of the Vuelta Abajo. The decision at Habanos S.A. to discontinue both the relatively new Robusto T (50 x 4.9”) and the Robusto Extra (50 x 6.1”) vitolas baffled many in the premium tobacco industry in 2012, without either having reached a decade of production.

The following year, I was fortunate enough to be gifted a test-blend white numbered banded puro by a good friend, who told me that this Habano was going to be a new Trinidad cigar (of particularly stalwart build, if I may add). Accordingly, with a long-held attraction to try new cigar sizes or blends, especially those of a more rotund construction with their added depth of flavour and voluminous smoke, I secured the most favourable moment to taste what seemed to promise to be something to remember. Fortunately, I very much enjoyed the blend and this was confirmed having sampled another, this time an officially banded example several months later in Havana on New Year’s Eve 2013 and in great company. With my encouraging tasting notes scribed the following morning, it was something undoubtedly to look forward to, for what I knew to be customarily released at the end of the year of its debut at the Habanos Festival XVI 2014. My judgement was vindicated with many passionados having sampled a festival pre-release example and given favouring reviews.

With their official UK release delayed to mid-January 2015, I decided to revisit the satisfyingly wide Vigía (“watch” or “watch tower” in Spanish) and thus justly epitheted Habano, as an afternoon enjoyment upon its UK release. Offered in boxes of 12 (the only Cuban brand to do so as a dozen or for some other Trinidad vitolas, its twofold), they at first seem short, being the same length as the diminutive petit corona. Nonetheless, once in hand, the sheen of the colorado-maduro wrapper bathes you in a sense of serenity and assurance of what delights await.

Its milder medium-strength classification drove me to decide to distance myself from a digestif, and dive straight into the tasting after a satisfying afternoon lunch. Having not tasted Trinidad for a while, the cedared dry notes came flooding back along with a mighty initial rush of leather. The subsequent softer notes of the first third gave way to a youthful second stage with greater intensity and depth of woodiness and hints of spice on the retrohale with a somewhat dry finish. The final third and its growing earthiness were rather more intense from what I recalled and the balance was not quite there.

Nevertheless, with its excellent combustibility and the unmistakable class of tobacco shining through, this vitola would certainly be one to wait to mature into what should be a wonderful medium-strength Habano. The scarcity of stock within a few of weeks of their release (with more “coming at the end of February”) was somewhat surprising, but the consensus appears to be that they are worth tasting, even now. Admittedly, it is ever so tempting to investigate this premise of ageing forthwith considering I have one more example of the restricted white-banded test-blend Vigía in my humidor!

Tasting notes and details:

Trinidad Vigía

Factory NameTorres (totally new vitola)

Size54 x 4 3/8  (21.43 x 110)mm

Box code and dateSUE  OCT14

Wrapper – lovely colorado-maduro wrapper with some alluring sheen. One faintly protrusive vein visible.

Draw – good draw with a slight pull on it. Pre-light notes of cedar, touches of leather and a hint of grassiness.

First third – flavourful from the start. Its youth is evident as it packs a bit of an unexpected punch; unusual not only for its medium strength classification, but also the fact that heavy ring gauge cigars are usually mild at the very beginning. Thankfully this dissipates within a few puffs into a more mellowed, soft smoke with a bit of a dry, cedared finish.

Second third – the strength certainly develops and becomes bolder. A toasty, leathery and slight clove profile present on the retrohale. With lots of smoke, it becomes grassier showing its youth.

Last third – richer with more spice and peppery notes coming through along with ever-present trace of grassiness and earthiness. Balance not quite there yet, but nothing that a few years of aging cannot solve.

PairingSparkling mineral water – simple but effective for a medium-strength quality Habano.

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