Tasting Notes: Cohiba Esplendidos

A few weeks back I attended my best friends wedding, through the fog of the end of the festivities I seem to hazily recall that we had reached a point where cigars were being passed out, though I was hardly in any shape to enjoy a fine cigar. Even besotted so, something had looked to me to be a little off about the box labels, but when someone offers you a $100 cigar you accept it gratefully without looking a gift-horse in the mouth as they say.

The next morning, with a sorely pounding head I took inventory of my suit pockets and therein I found 2 Cohiba Esplendidos, both painfully dry and with some wrapper damage but in surprisingly good shape for having ridden out all of the swaying and stumbling and surviving in the heap of my carelessly strewn clothes.

I set about to some immediate repair work on the wrapper damage and by the end of that day they were resting comfortably in my humidor beginning the slow process of rehabilitation. Dried cigars can be re-hydrated with the right technique but caring for cigars should probably be a whole other post. About a week in I carefully wrapped the cigars in cedar sleeves that had only ever touched high-end Cubans, I enjoy a woody cigar so this is just a personal preference. It was at this time that I noticed that the new-style bands looked a little off, and I started getting a sinking feeling that I had wasted all this time and effort on dreaded fake cigars.

Now I know from experience that there are varying degrees of ‘fake’ Cubans. You can end up with trashy ‘peso cigars’ that have been re-banded. Sometimes cheaper machine- rolled short-filler Cubans get a Cohiba band slapped on them. You can even end up with completely fake cigars filled with banana leaves. The holy-grail of fake-cigars that exist in the real black-market of Cuba (not the tourist hustler on the beach) are authentic factory seconds. Some hand-rolled cigars are pulled off the line due to slight imperfections (like wrapper damage); premium Cuban brands have very exacting standards. The employees of the factory can acquire these un-banded cigars and slowly rebuild boxes which end up on the black market. The one problem is that is often very hard to tell which type of fake you have without cutting one open, or smoking it.

Aside from the bands missing the holograms, these cigars seemed to check out. They had a triple-cap, the foot looked appropriate; the seams looked to be both handmade and skilfully done. The smell and dry draw didn’t seem particularly wrong. I wasn’t about to dissect one just to satisfy my curiosity, so I just put them back in the humidor and carried on with the rehab work, although with slightly less enthusiasm. The uncertainty of the situation kept nagging at me until I finally broke and decided to smoke one.

Now I have smoked me some Cohiba in my day, enough to know that while they are certainly top-shelf, and often imitated, they are not to my personal taste. I like my cigars like I like my women, with just the right amount of dirty in them. Cohiba doesn’t have the cedar profile of a Romeo y Julieta, or the floral tones of an H. Upmann, or the earthen notes of a Quintero y Hno.; the predominant flavour of a standard Cohiba is of tobacco, quality Cuban tobacco of course, but all in all it is a middle of the road, crowd pleasing, medium bodied cigar. Cohiba might be the most expensive premium Cuban brand, but I would never go as far as saying they are the ‘best’ cigars.

I also do not routinely smoke this format; the Esplendido is basically a full-Churchill of Romeo fame, a 7 inch monster that takes more than an hour to smoke. As I fired it up my heart sank a bit, it was almost flavourless. I had to remind myself that with a long cigar the smoke has longer to cool before it reaches your palette and the volatile oils that flavour a cigar are heat activated so it should be expected that the first third would be pretty mild. The first few draws confirmed that it was indeed Cuban filler, beyond that however I would need to keep puffing to find out…

There wasn’t enough depth for me to say for sure, it seemed vaguely Cohiba-like though it could pass for a Montecristo(Cuban, not Dominican). The length of the ash though definitively marked it as whole-leaf long filler. The second-third started to get a little interesting, a note here of leather, a hint there of vanilla, the tobacco flavour came through clear enough that I now knew that I had the holy-grail, a factory second. By the bottom third it started to get very good, still as incredibly subtle as when it started, the leather and vanilla were joined by cedar, black-pepper and cloves. It was an uninteresting smoke but thoroughly satisfying all the same…

Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of ‘damn that’s a good cigar’ moments, but overall not to die for. Will I save the other one for a special occasion? You’d bet I will. Would I buy one in Cuba from a licensed Casa shop? Perhaps…Would I pay through the nose to buy one here in Canada, not in a million years…

2 Comments Add yours

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