Avo Domaine No.30 Thursday, Jan 29 2009 

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Country: Dominican Republic
Wrapper: Ecuadorian Sun Grown
Binder: Dominican
Filler: Dominican
Size: Churchill 6.75″ x 48 ring
Courtesy of CigarsDirect.com

Avo cigars are the first premium cigars I ever smoked.  The classic Avo no. 2 may be the cigar responsible for setting me down the path of premium cigar smoking and collecting as a hobby.  It got me hooked on hand made premium cigars.  Way back then, the Avo no.2 was my expensive special occasion smoke, because in the beginning I had always thought that $7 for a cigar was extremely extravagant.  My how things have changed… lol.  Over the years I have moved away from the AVO brand as part of my regular rotation of smokes but it has still always held a special place in my heart because of its role in myearly days of cigar appreciation.  Today I have an Avo Domaine no.30 courtesy of my friends at CigarsDirect.com.

Avo Uvezian, the man behind the Avo brand, is a gentleman that exemplifies class and sophistication.  He is a respected cigar connoisseur and a accomplished musician.  The Avo brand of cigars mirrors its creators sense of style and class.  The cigars are know for being refined, smooth, and balanced.  The Domaine utilizes a beautiful Ecuadorian grown wrapper that is fermented a second time after being sent to Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic.  Some of the finest Dominican tobaccos are used for the filler and binder to lend a robust yet  balanced flavor when paired with the aromatic Ecuadorian wrapper.

This Churchill is a handsome cigar with a smooth silky wrapper.  Construction is almost never an Issue with Avo cigars.  The Domaine is a medium bodied smoke with an earthy, must core.  I also picked up strong grassy/vegetal notes and little hits of sourness as I made my way through the smoke.  It smoothed out a lot in the second half losing that vegetal quality that I have to say I was not enjoying.  It was predominately earth with notes of hay the rest of the way.  Smooth and enjoyable.  Overall this cigar is not my cup of tea, but it is well made and if they don’t always start out the way this one did, I’d consider it a nice mid afternoon smoke.  If they are always that grassy at the start, then I think I would just pass on this cigar.  If I were judging solely on the second half of this smoke I’d score it a solid B, maybe even a B+, but taking it as a whole I can only give it a C.

Rating – C

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Blind Review Wrap-Up Sunday, Jan 25 2009 

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So now it is time to reveal the results of the Blind Reviews.  A big thanks to Jamie of Zen and the Art of the Cigar for doing this with me.  The project was a lot of fun.  Jamie and I had a great conversation this past Thursday night as we went over the cigars and talked about the results of the blind tastings.  The results were very interesting and made for some great conversation.  One thing we discovered is that even when doing blind tastings it is possible for other influences outside of just knowing what the cigar is that can bias a review.  We also learned some of the things that make blind tastings so challenging.

Let’s start with the outside influences.  I believe the fact that I have such a strong preference for Pepin made cigars and have smoked so many of them, may have had me looking for some of the things I expect for those cigars.   By the same token, Jamie explained to me that the fact he knew I was such a big fan of Pepin had him looking for the same things and influenced him on how he approached the cigars he was smoking.  Much to his surprise I didn’t include any Pepin made cigars in the samples I gave him to smoke.   But more on that soon.

Now as for the unique challenges of a blind tasting.  I think I discovered that a big part of tasting cigars is in fact knowing what to expect.  When smoking a Pepin smoke you look for the black pepper at the start and the robust earthiness at the core of a lot of his blends.  If you smoked a new cigar from him and it didn’t have those tell tale flavors you’d notice it right off and start to focus in on what it was you are tasting.  It is a different game when you have no idea what to expect, no idea what to look for.  It raises the degree of difficulty in confidently identifying what it is you are tasting.

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Blind Review #5 Thursday, Jan 22 2009 

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This review is part of a series of blind reviews I am doing in conjunction with Jamie of Zen and the Art of the Cigar. We each exchanged three unbanded cigars. The only previously agreed upon criteria for the exchange was the there would be one value cigar, one mid-range cigar. and one premium cigar. The cigars were numbered randomly. I will be reviewing cigars number 1, 3, and 5. Cigars numbers 2, 4 and 6 will be reviewed by Jamie and can be read on his blog. The reviews will be posted over the next two weeks and at the end of the series a summary of all the blind reviews will be posted.

Cigar #5

Cigar number 5 is a good looking cigar.  The wrapper is smooth and silky with very few, small veins.  The wrapper is expertly applied as is the cap.  Inspecting the clipped head and the foot revels a good looking bunch of the filler tobacco and the pre-light draw is perfect.  It has a mild earthy aroma and the wrapper is leathery, and a uniform rich brown in color. It looks to be about a 46 ring and is 5 inches long. There was a small patch on the wrapper near the head about the size of the nail on my pinky finger.  What is particularly interesting about this patch is that I almost didn’t see it even given the fact that I went over this stick with a fine tooth comb.  Because it is a blind review I paid closer than usual attention to the physical appearance of the cigar and I still almost didn’t see this patch.  It was simply the best patch job I have ever seen on a cigar.  Even with the patch this is the best looking of the three cigars.  That alone doesn’t mean it is the premium stick in the bunch, but if I had to guess just based on appearance this would be my pick.

This cigar is very smooth right from the start.  Mild to medium bodied. The flavors are balanced and delicate.  It smokes like a cigar with a little bit of age on it.  At the beginning there are notes of espresso and bakers cocoa.  It wasn’t long before this smoke started changing on me.  It developed woody/oak overtones with smooth creamy notes.  Halfway through it got more robust but was still on the mild side of medium in body and flavor.  It developed a leathery core complimented with roasted coffee beans.  It always put off thick clouds of creamy white smoke and had a wonderful room bouquet.  The finish was long, smooth, and pleasant.  The ash was well formed and firm.  Flavor and construction on this cigar was superb.  It was a complex, well balanced, delicate smoke.

After all that, I have no clue as to what this cigar was or where it came from.  I can take a wild stab and say, due to its mildness, that it is a Dominican cigar but I really don’t know.  That is just a wild gues on my part.  It was a very good smoke, not typical of the robust powerhouses I have grown most fond of, but I must say as good as this was, I could see myself enjoying this cigar more regularly. Putting together its appearance, flavor, complexity and construction I would think this is a premium top-shelf smoke.  If it isn’t then it is a heck of a value.

Check out  the review of Cigar #6 at Zen and the Art of the Cigar

So now all the reviews are done for this little project.  I have to say it has been a lot of fun up to this point but now comes the most exciting part.  Jamie and I will be hanging out tonight at our local cigar shop and we will be discussing all the cigars.  Expect a wrap-up to be posted in the next few days.

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Blind Review #3 Sunday, Jan 18 2009 

This review is part of a series of blind reviews I am doing in conjunction with Jamie of Zen and the Art of the Cigar. We each exchanged three unbanded cigars. The only previously agreed upon criteria for the exchange was the there would be one value cigar, one mid-range cigar. and one premium cigar. The cigars were numbered randomly. I will be reviewing cigars number 1, 3, and 5. Cigars numbers 2, 4 and 6 will be reviewed by Jamie and can be read on his blog. The reviews will be posted over the next two weeks and at the end of the series a summary of all the blind reviews will be posted.

Cigar #3

Cigar number 3 in this series of blind reviews is a Torpedo. I don’t have a ring gauge guide to measure it with but it looks to be about 52 to 54 ring and is 61/4 inches long. It has a leathery brown wrapper covered in small veins and a little bit of tooth. Examining the foot , it shows a nice, neatly done bunch in the filler. the same could be said for the head after I clipped it. The draw pre-light is excellent and it has a somewhat nondescript aroma.

Putting the foot to flame the first few draws deliver a blast of black pepper and a rich earthiness. After I worked my way past that first inch or so of black pepper there was a core of coffee and earth. I don’t want to hazard a guess this early in the smoke but I have to say that the start of this cigar is very “Pepinesque” and if it isn’t one of his there is almost certainly have to be Nicaraguan tobacco in this cigar. There, I put myself out there a bit with that statement. I am even more anxious to find out what this cigar is now. The last third was excellent. Robust with tons of spice and earth and a nice creamy, cocoa finish. The burn was a little erratic and the ash a little flaky but this was a well made cigar packed full of tobacco. It was a very good smoke.

I am going to stand by my initial impression of this cigar. I am guessing it is a Don Pepin made smoke and if not one of his, it had a very Nicaraguan flavor to it. I even go as far as to say it was very much like a Cubao I had recently. I hope I’m not too far off and end up embarrassing myself.

Be sure to check out the review of Cigar #4 over at Zen and the Art of the Cigar.

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Blind Review #1 Wednesday, Jan 14 2009 

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This review is part of a series of blind reviews I am doing in conjunction with Jamie of Zen and the Art of the Cigar.  We each exchanged three unbanded cigars.  The only previously agreed upon criteria for the exchange was the there would be one value cigar, one mid-range cigar. and one premium cigar.  The cigars were numbered randomly.  I will be reviewing cigars number 1, 3, and 5.  Cigars numbers 2, 4 and 6 will be reviewed by Jamie and can be read on his blog.  The reviews will be posted over the next two weeks and at the end of the series a summary of all the blind reviews will be posted.

Cigar #1

This cigar looks to a be a Robusto, 5″ x 50 or 52 ring gauge.  The cap is sloppily applied.  The wrapper is veiny and dry looking.  Inspection of the foot reveals several small stems.  I expected to find the same in the head after clipping it, but there were none there.  Its pre-light aroma was a nondescript tobacco.  The flavors were a bit muddled but I picked up notes of leather and tobacco and flashes of grass.  The finish was long and bitter.

Construction wise, this looks and smokes like a cheap cigar.  The burn was all over the place and I found a huge tunnel in the filler less than an inch into the smoke.  The gaping hole continued all the way down until the last 2 inches.  The ash was loose and flaky requiring that it be tapped frequently.  It was medium bodied and one dimensional. There was also a lot of sticky tar in the head.  I ran my finger across the head and strings of brown tar came off the head and stuck to my finger tip.   I really didn’t enjoy this one very much.  The construction issues make me think this was either a cheap bundle type cigar or a bum stick that slipped through someones QA department undetected.

Now I am going to take a stab at identification.  I expect to be very wrong here.  I freely admit, when you don’t know anything about a cigar it is very difficult to identify it.  I don’t think I’m that good, but I’ll give it a shot here with the wrapper at least.  I think the wrapper is Sumatran.  The cigar reminded me a bit of other Sumatran wrapped cigars I’ve tried like the Flor de Oliva.  I can hardly wait to see how far off I am…

Be sure to check out the review of Cigar #2 over at Zen and the Art of the Cigar.

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Going Blind Saturday, Jan 10 2009 

Fuente, Padron, Macanudo.  As you read those names what went through your mind?  Maybe you thought something like “great cigars, good cigars, …ewww yuck” or maybe it was something like “Overrated cigars, Fantastic smokes, …what’s that doing there?”  OK enough beating up on Macanudo. The point I am belaboring to make is that the sight of a brand name or cigar band can instantly color your perception of a particular cigar as can knowing how much it cost.  Do these preconceptions come to bare on cigar reviews?  We’d like to think not.  Do they color my reviews?  I hope not, but I am human just like the rest of you so maybe in some circumstances it does.  I know I am predisposed to like a Tatuaje cigar.  I have enjoyed so many of that brand.  When I smoke one and review it I try not to let that predisposition come into play as I evaluate my overall experience with the smoke.  Am I successful?  I’d like to think so, but I can’t say for certain.  To do so would be arrogant and disingenuous.

Many cigar enthusiasts say the best way to review a cigar is to do so blind.  A blind review is one in which the reviewer doesn’t know what he or she is smoking.  The band is removed prior to the reviewer receiving the cigar so that they can eliminate any of those prejudices that may be invoked by the site of the band and knowledge of the maker. In fact several of the professional reviewers, i.e. Cigar Insider, claim that all the reviews are done blind. (No need to debate these types of claims here).  I was talking with a good friend of mine, who also happens to have his own cigar blog , about this topic and we had an idea.  We have decided to team up for a short series of blind reviews to be published on our sites.I will be working with Jamie of Zen and the Art of the Cigar on this project.  We will each exchange three cigars.  Prior to exchanging the cigars we will remove the bands and relabel them with numbers to hide the identity of the cigars from each other .  I will know what cigars he will be reviewing and he will know which I will be reviewing.  In the end we hope to bring you six relatively bias free reviews.  We may also attempt to identify the cigars we review before revealing their identities to each other . I might take a stab at country of origin, maybe wrapper type, and if I feel I really have a bead on it, I’ll put a name to the cigar as well.  In the end I will probably just end up embarrassing myself with how far off I am with my guesses, but it will be fun to give it a try nonetheless.

Once we begin, we will post our blind review on our respective sites.  The review will of course contain a link to the blind review on the other site.  Once all six cigars have been reviewed we will post a recap of the project revealing the identities of all the cigars along with summaries of the reviews and our guesses about the origin and identity of each cigar. The exchange of cigars has already taken place so be sure to check back often for updates.  The first two reviews will be up later this week.

-Matt

The Reviews:
(Links will be added as reviews are posted)

H. Upmann Lonsdale Wednesday, Jan 7 2009 

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Country: Dominican Republic
Wrapper:  Indonesian TBN (Shade Grown)
Binder:  Dominican
Filler:  Dominican and Brazilian
Size: Lonsdale 6.5" x 44 ring
Courtesy of CigarsDirect.com

These H.Upmann cigars, which has no relation to the famous Cuban brand, are made by Altadas in the Dominican Republic.  They are wrapped in a little used shade grown Indonesian tobacco known as Indonesian TBN.  TBN stands for “Tembakau Bawah Naungan” which according to an article on Indonesian tobacco on CigarAficionado.com means “tobacco under sheet”; or in other words, it is shade grown.  I don’t know off the top of my head of any other cigars that use this tobacco other than another Altadis brand.  It does not seem to be a very popular wrapper choice these days.

The wrapper is laced with small veins and is the color of caramel. Outwardly it looks like a very well made cigar, neatly wrapped with a standard cap.  It is well filled with no soft spots and the bunch of the filler looks very well done in both the foot and head with no stems or rib veins visible.  The draw is very good, smooth with just the right amount of resistance.

It is no secret that I like lonsdales.  I have stated multiple times that I think the lonsdale is an ideal format for a cigar and that it is my favorite vitola.  I decided to visit the H. Upmann Lonsdale because I remembered that early on in my cigar smoking I used to enjoy this brand of cigar.  I remember thinking that it was a good bang for my buck.  Inexpensive, well made and very enjoyable.  Over the years I have moved away from this marca, not on purpose but rather as just a natural progression.  Other cigars grabbed my interest and the Upmann just faded from memory.  I thought it would be interesting to revisit it now and it seemed natural to try it in the size that has since become my preferred format.  Back when I was smoking these more regularly I was a robusto and toro fan.

The cigar started off a little tannic with an unpleasant bitterness on the finish.  It quickly mellowed out.  There wasn’t much there to talk of.  No real flavor, no complexity.  It was just a run of the mill, mild Dominican smoke.  Slightly creamy with a basic tobacco flavor and no body to speak of.  Now I know why I eventually moved away from these.  Near the end it picked up a little bit with just a hint of spiciness and little more body, but it was far too little much too late.  The burn was ok and the ash was a little flaky.  The biggest problem I had was keeping it lit.  It went out several times even though I wasn’t setting it down very often.  This might serve a as decent easy going introduction to cigar smoking for some one brand new to cigars but I suspect, like I did, they will outgrow this cigar quickly.

Rating – C

Tatuaje (Black Label) Private Reserve Thursday, Jan 1 2009 

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Country: USA
Wrapper: Nicaraguan
Binder:  Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraguan
Size: Corona Gorda 55/8” x 46 ring
*My 100th Cigar Review*

The mystical, almost mythical Tatuaje Private Reserve, or as it is more commonly referred to the Tatuaje Black Label. Arguably the most sought after cigar of 2008, this cigar was originally made as Pete Johnson’s private cigar. It just seemed natural to me (after much internal debate) that I mark my 100th cigar review here at Matt’s Cigar Journal with a review of a rare and highly coveted Tatuaje.   After all, it is my favorite brand of cigar, and I did obsess and dream of the Black Label and it’s beautiful Jar for 6 months before I finally got my hands on it.   By the way, you all were very helpful in assisting me with my decision on what cigar to smoke for my 100th review, as evident from the poll results.   So here it is, my 100th cigar review… The Tatuaje Black Label Private Reserve.

The Black Label was rumored to be available only if you met Pete Johnson and he gave you one. When the announcement that the Black Label would be sold to the public in a limited release, packaged in a collectible ceramic jar, the frenzy began. First we were given a teaser, a little taste of what was to come. Many of the Tatuaje vendors received one or two cabinets of 24 Black Label cigars. These were quickly sold off and they served to heighten the anticipation of the release of the Jar. Finally in early 2008 the Jar hit the shelves and I was one of the lucky ones who managed to purchase one. It comes with 19 of the cigars inside, secured with a yellow ribbon and then wrapped in foil. The Jar is a work of art. Just click here to see photos of my jar from just about every conceivable angle. Yeah, I was/am a little obsessed with the Jar. The Black Labels are still hard to find, but not impossible if you search hard enough. They are even available in a second size now. Black Label Robustos can be purchased in packs of three if you attend a Tatuaje event.

It is immediately apparent that this cigar was not designed to be “pretty”.  It was made to look tough.  The wrapper is rustic and bumpy, spider-webbed with small veins.  The color is a dark mottled brown.  It has a rough fuma style head that comes to a slight nipple and the foot is closed with a shaggy bit of wrapper covering it up.    And then there is the band.  Simple, black, classic.  It just adds to the toughness of this cigar.  It’s overall appearance seems to compliment the look of its creator, Tattoo Pete.    The Black Label may look a little rough around the edges, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it is anything less than a top shelf cigar.  It is very well put together.  It burned straight with a firm ash that just did not want to fall off.  The draw was perfect as was most everything about this cigar. Putting the foot to flame you a hit with an initial burst of black pepper that quickly subsides.  Initially the flavors were mild spice and leather with a subtle sweetness on the lips.  This cigar is constantly changing as you smoke it.  I picked up notes of  ginger, oak, earth, nuts, cocoa and an occasional flash of hay early on… all weaving in and out around a spicy, leathery core. It was a medium to full bodied smoke with a rich tobacco aroma boasting some decent strength, but it isn’t a cigar that will knock you down.  The dichotomy of the cigar is amusing.  It looks rough and rustic but it smokes like a refined and elegant cigar, rich and complex.  The cigar was always changing, always doing something that demanded my undivided attention.

This was the third Black Label I have smoked and each one has been better than the last.  I can definitely say this cigar is a favorite of mine and it probably deserves a spot in my Top 5 the next time I update that list.

Rating – A+

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