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Archive for March, 2011

Getting the Right Cut

Novice cigar smokers quickly learn the value of a properly executed cut. A haphazard cut can cause an uneven draw, leave unsightly bits of tobacco in the mouth, and can even split the wrapper badly enough to leave the cigar unraveling in your hand. A proper cut from the deft hands of an aficionado will leave a perfect draw, a smooth head that feels satisfyingly rounded in the mouth, and a cigar that will stay firmly together for the duration of the smoke.

There are several tools that can be used to cut a cigar, but the double bladed guillotine cutter is by far the most popular – and for good reason. These cutters make a straight, even cut across the cap that almost always results in a lush draw. Slowly close the blades of the cutter until they just touch the shoulder of the cigar. The secret to a perfectly straight cut is to push on the cutter slightly as you close the blades. Pushing against the curve of the cigar will keep the blades from sliding off the rounded shoulder and making a crooked cut. Now bring the blades through the cap in one fluid and assertive stroke. A top quality cutter is a smart investment for any cigar smoker. Blades that are not properly sharpened, deburred, and hand-polished tend to crush or pinch the cigar before the cut is made. Try out the cutter before you make the purchase. It should feel comfortable in the hand and should be balanced so that the blades can be closed without excessive movement of the aperture. A fine hand rolled cigar deserves an equally impeccable cut.

Remember, a dry cigar will crack no matter how well it’s cut. Beginning with a perfectly humidified cigar is essential.

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The Dominican Republic has long been known for great tobacco, but a Dominican puro was almost unheard of until 1995 – the year Carlos Fuente Jr. of Tabacalera A. Fuente bucked common wisdom and produced a cigar made entirely of Dominican tobacco. That cigar was, of course, the Fuente Fuente OpusX. Sixteen year later, the OpusX continues to set the standard to which all Dominican cigarmakers aspire.

The Fuente Fuente OpusX Belicoso is one of the smallest cigars in the line; however, it is perhaps the most powerful. The Belicoso is a full-bodied masterpiece teeming with a masterful balance of complex flavors. An initial tasting shows spice and leather, along with a Dominican trademark of toasty sweetness on the finish. Secondary notes of cedar, earth, and nuts compliment the base flavors as the cigar warms. This OpusX was smoked fresh; however, some of the pungent leather gives way to more subtle nuance as the cigar ages for a few years. Try it — if you have the patience.

-94 points

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Tolaini Valdisanti 2008

Tolaini Valdisanti is an exceptional red from Tuscany, Italy that really surprised me with its solid performance. It is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, and 5% Cabernet Franc. The wine has a floral nose blossoming with raspberries and vanilla. Best described as a beautifully deep pyrope garnet red, the hue of the Tolaini Valdisanti is simply enchanting. Tasting reveals a rich and decadent full body with smooth tannins and notes of leather, coffee bean, cherry, and French vanilla. Clear and well balanced. The finish is rich and continues to build for what seems like an eternity. This is a wine to truly get lost in and has ample acidity to age for several years.

91 points

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Padrón

Padrón is a family owned and operated cigar company that started with a dream – and a hammer. The story surrounding the roots of the company is compelling; José Orlando Padrón arrived in Miami in 1962 at the age of thirty-six, receiving only $60 monthly from the government in the form of aid given to Cuban refugees. After searching for a job with no success, a friend at the Cuban Refugee Office gave José a hammer and told him to make good use of it. José worked nights as a carpenter for two years until he was able to save enough money to start Padrón Cigars in 1964.

Today, Padrón Cigars regularly produces cigars for three different product lines – the standard Padrón Series, the 1964 Anniversary Series, and the 1926 Serie. All Padrón cigars are Nicaraguan puros (the filler, binder, and wrapper are all grown in Nicaragua). José doesn’t believe in rushing the hands of time or pushing out inferior cigars, and this quality over quantity approach shows in their final product. Their higher end cigars utilize tobacco aged for many years to give a remarkably smooth and refined flavor not found outside of Cuba. The standard line of cigars is offered in sizes ranging from short panatela to gigantes in either natural or maduro wrappers. Cigars from the standard line are inexpensive but don’t let the cost or starkly rustic appearance fool you, they are full-bodied cigars full of sweet, earthy notes of dark coffee and cocoa.

Cigars in the 1964 Anniversary Series are much more uniform and neat in appearance but are twice the cost of the standard line. These cigars have the same core flavors of the standard line but are much smoother, more balanced, and offer the discerning smoker much more complexity with secondary notes of wood and nuts, along with a longer finish.

The top of the line 1926 Serie cigars are truly world class smokes. They are so expensive that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy them save for the fact that I am regularly sent several samples free of charge as a reviewer for an online cigar publication. Despite the extreme expense they are not overpriced as many critics would argue. It is important to appreciate how expensive it is for a company to age entire crops of leaves for ten or more years and control the quality of each cigar’s construction on the most granular level. This obsessive level of attention to detail is the only way to ensure a flawless world class smoking experience every time. I have never smoked a 1926 that didn’t burn or draw flawlessly – something I cannot say about any other line of cigar, even the vaunted Fuente Fuente OpusX. These cigars are astoundingly smooth and provide deeply complex, earthy, and slightly sweet flavors of coffee, nuts, cocoa, vanilla, cedar, and even cherry. The finish continues to build and evolve on the palate for over a minute after putting the cigar down. Cigar Aficionado gave the 1926 No. 9 a score of 97 out of 100 points – the highest rating of any recent production non-vintage cigar in years. The Padrón family is clearly at the pinnacle of their art. 

 José Orlando Padrón

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Riesling is an intriguing varietal. It’s a hardy, frost-resistant vine, which makes it ideal for the cool vineyards of northern Europe. Riesling can produce wines ranging in style from bone dry to lusciously sweet. The Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Harvest Select Riesling is a sweet wine – slightly sweeter than their Columbia Valley offering.

The Ste. Michelle Riesling opens with a delicate and floral bouquet. The wine is very sweet and presents crisp flavors of peach and apricot with a short finish smacking of dried apricots. The wine is one dimensional, but the flavors are clear and pleasant. The one flaw with this wine is that it does not possess adequate acidity to balance the high levels of natural sweetness. Nevertheless, the sweet character of the wine virtually eliminates any tart or bitter acids to please even the most casual of wine drinkers.

86 points

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