Plus: A 13-year-old cigar company you'll meet for the first time today! Los Angeles, April 18 - Partagas. H. Upmann. Fonseca. Ramon Allones. Arturo Fuente.
All of these are cigar brands named for their founders, individuals who had a specific vision of what a blend should be, how a cigar should be made and what kind of enjoyment they wanted to deliver to those who smoked their brands.
That spirit is alive today in brands large and small and this week we sampled brands from two men with their own ideas of what cigars should be.
Jesus Fuego has been in the tobacco game for a long time, but his cigar lines are just now drawing attention after he expanded his sales efforts outside of Florida. The much younger Luis Falto turned his passion for cigars into a business and is now breaking into the U.S. market with his self-named lines. We tried both to see what these new brands could offer.
J. Fuego Gran Reserva - Corojo No. 1 series: [Honduras: available in 5 sizes]
With a family tradition in tobacco that dates back more than 100 years, Jesus Fuego oozes with enthusiasm for his cigars and he has a right to be proud. His Gran Reserva Corojo No. 1 series was displayed to a national retail audience for the first time last summer at the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America (now IPCPR) convention and trade show and by the end of the four days, people were asking for him by name. His Gran Reserva series was the reason why.
Made in Honduras, the Gran Reserva line looks delicious. The extra-dark brown, Honduran-grown Corojo wrapper is flawless and the feel of this cigar is firm and oily. It is described as medium-to-full in body, but we found it to be medium-bodied with a toasty aroma.
The flavor is rich and caramelized, with a long finish that leaves a welcome sweetness on the tongue. The concentration of flavor can be so tantalizing that it is easy to over-smoke this cigar in search of even more richness, but that's a mistake. This blend, with a Costa Rican binder and Costa Rican, Honduran and Nicaraguan filler, smokes slowly and asks for your patience.
The taste pattern stays consistent throughout, although the intensity recedes in the second half. If you have the discipline, the larger sizes - Elegante (7 1/2 inches by 50 ring) and Grande (6 1/2 x 58) can be very rewarding, but the pint-sized Corona (4 1/2 x 46) is not to be underestimated, especially as an after-lunch selection if you have time.
The Gran Reserva Corojo No. 1 series comes in uniquely-packed boxes of 21 cigars, each with three layers of seven cigars inside. The prices are reasonable but toward the high end, at suggested retail of $7.00 for the Corona up to $10.00 for the Grande, not including local sales and tobacco taxes.
J. Fuego Gran Reserva - Natural series: [Honduras: available in 5 sizes]
The Gran Reserva line with a Nicaraguan-grown natural-shade wrapper is lighter and less complex than its brother, the Corojo No. 1 series. Also medium in body, it has a toasty and slightly spicy aroma and features a creamy taste that's actually quite delicate. There's just a hint of spice on the finish in the first half.
This cigar smokes easily and is very well balanced. More spice and a peppery note are apparent in the second half, but the creamy thread continues through to the end. Pricing is reasonable, ranging from $5.50 for the Corona (4 1/2 x 46), up to $7.75 for the Belicoso (6 x 54), not including local sales and tobacco taxes. Like the Corojo No. 1 series, all sizes are offered in 7 x 7 x 7 boxes of 21.
Overall grade: B+: Very Good.
Puerto Rican-born Luis Falto founded the La Garita Cigar Company in 1995 and has had his cigars manufactured exclusively at the La Aurora factory in the Dominican Republic. With his own concept of what Cuban cigars should be, he has steadily grown his Falto lines to include six blends, now making their debut in national distribution in the United States. We tried two of the more complex blends to see what kind of statement he had in mind.
Falto Legado: [Dominican Republic: available in one size]
The Legado blend was created in 2005 to mark the 10th anniversary of La Garita and is available only in a Corona Gorda size of 5 3/4 inches by 47 ring gauge. It's well made, featuring a Nicaraguan-grown wrapper and draws easily with a spicy aroma.
This is a pleasant cigar, nicely balanced with a creamy and sweet flavor and a dash of spice on the medium finish. With an even burn and a medium-to-full body, the Legado blend relaxes you and is never overpowering. It's easy to enjoy and offered in boxes of 25.
Overall grade: A-: Excellent.
La Garita Cigar Co. Delirio Cabinet Selection: [Dominican Republic: available in one size]
Lonsdales aren't the preferred size that they used to be, but are still among the most elegant of all cigar sizes. The Delirio Cabinet Selection comes only in a 6 3/4-inch by 43-ring Lonsdale format, but is stylishly presented in small boxes of 10 that are easy to take with you on any occasion.
The cigar itself is delightful, with perfect construction and burn and a Dominican-grown, Corojo wrapper and binder. It's medium in body with a spicy aroma that's an excellent compliment to the light but satisfying caramelized taste. There's a suggestion of spice on the medium finish that adds a nice accent.
The blend is well balanced and while the intensity of flavor lessens in the second half, the Delirio sails smoothly through to the end without an unpleasant puff to mark its journey.
Overall grade: A-: Excellent.
The individual visions of Jesus Fuego and Luis Falto come out in their unique blends. That's one of the best things about the wild and unrestrained world of the American cigar market: the seemingly endless ideas and blends about what cigars can be and should be. Both of these cigar makers add a voice worth listening to, ones that add to the richness of that discussion.
Friday, April 18, 2008