Food & Drink

Cigars and Wine: Tell me something I didn’t know

After lighting an upmarket, medium to full bodied petit corona, the Winston Churchill Chartwell made by Davidoff, I could not even smell the Chandesais Pinot. I could not taste the wine…well, I take that back. Next to that assertive cigar this elegant, delicious wine tasted more like low-grade red wine vinegar. So, no, not a match.

I also had a California Chardonnay open: Oak Grove 2011 Reserve. With a Gold Medal (O.C. Fair), a Silver Medal (L.A. Co. Fair), and weighing in at only $8.00 a bottle, it’s an amazing value –a great match for mussels cooked in garlic butter. The Chardonnay fared better with the Chartwell than the Pinot did. Its sunshine managed to peek through the clouds, so to speak. If there were nothing else to drink, it would do the trick, but sacrificing much of the wine’s zestful character and subtleties. So still, not really a good match.

What else did I have open that wasn’t a Port? Ah, yes: Miles Madeira 5 Years Old Malmsey. With its caramelized sweetness, slightly tangy/lemony finish and penetrating, brandy-fortified bouquet, not only did this Madeira stand up to my cigar, but savoring the two together actually enhanced my enjoyment of both.
Ding-ding! Now we were getting somewhere.

I did have a bottle of Port open — Martinez Late Bottled Vintage Porto 1994. Might as well try it…It did not show as well paired with the cigar as the Madeira! Wow.

The next night I lit one of my faves, an Ambos Mundos Sumatra by Pete Johnson of Tatuaje Cigars fame. This cigar also proved to be too much for both the above dinner wines. The Madeira stood right up to it.

It looked like I had to tame things down a bit tobacco-wise. So for my next tasting session I chose a Rocky Patel Cruz Real Mexico Natural Robusto. Happily, it went quite nicely with the Chardonnay Reserve. Yes, the cigar did mute the wine’s flavors some, but I still found the pairing pleasant. Again we were getting somewhere. Yet something told me I should try the Madeira …Nice. A darn good combination. Hmmm…

The next night I upped the ante on the wine with a bottle of Seven Deadly Zins Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel 2008, delivering 15% alcohol and a panoply of deep, complex dark fruit elements. I selected an Ambos Mundos Habano for after dinner. And, while the wine did perform well enough next to the cigar, it had shown itself so much more deadly next to our London Broil. When I sampled the Oak Grove Chardonnay against this cigar, I could only smell and taste about 30% of the wine’s aromatic characteristics. Bear in mind that 85% of taste is olfactory, the sense of smell. It was rapidly becoming all too apparent that cigars tend to overwhelm the olfactory subtleties which make table wines so food friendly. As expected, the Madeira held its own against the hearty Pete Johnson/Pepin Garcia collaboration.

I pressed on the next day with an old school Double Claro Lonsdale to smoke with the hearty Lodi Zin and voila! The combination worked quite well. I could smell and taste both the wine and the mild cigar. Progress. In an effort to confirm my findings, a bit later I smoked yet another obscure brand of candela, a petit corona –this one finished with a sweetened head! Again on the mild side it went just as well with the Big Zin as the Lonsdale had –even a little better, owing to the sugared wrapper. Then I snuck a wee dram of a “Marquee Selection” Australian Vintage Port 2001, made by father/daughter team, Chris and Jan Pfeiffer. It also went very nicely with the sweet-tipped short smoke. I went back to the Miles Madeira, just to check it out. (As with every previous cigar that I had put it next to, I found the Madeira to be a quite satisfying accompaniment.) And believe me, I did not start out with the intention of championing Madeira as possibly the ultimate cigar wine. Surprised the heck out of me.**

But wait …what about Connecticut and Maduro? Before dinner I opened a good Chianti and paired it with one of my “go to” cheapie-quickie mild smokes, the Mosaico Connecticut Petite. An unchallenging smoke, it went well with the Chianti. I jumped ahead to our dessert wine, the light, moderately sweet Sutter Home Moscato 2009, and found that this wine also worked nicely with the easy-going Mosaico. After pasta and dessert, I paired these same two wines with a Perdomo Patriarch Maduro Robusto. Unexpectedly, the dry Chianti threw this wonderful cigar’s flavor “off” making it taste almost cardboard-like. But the juicy Moscato saved the day by actually enhancing the richness of that classically mellow Perdomo. As an interesting side note, our dessert had proven to be overwhelmingly too sweet for the Moscato. Yes, vanilla ice cream made this award winning, delicately fruity wine taste watery and sour. However, I violated a simple basic rule governing dessert service: THE DESSERT WINE MUST ALWAYS BE SWEETER THAN THE DESSERT.

If only it was that easy with cigars. No simple rules here. Some guidelines, yes. As far as table wines go, milder cigars –and sweeter wines– seem to offer the greatest potential for successful match-ups. Stronger cigars obviously require gutsier libations. But this is my palate. Go ahead and taste as many combinations as you have a mind to. The possibilities are infinite. Dry wines with cigars? I don’t recommend it personally, but your feedback is welcomed. I just hope that you were able to find something in the above that you didn’t already know.
* An informative review of this wine is available at thekeyofkels blog.
** In a search of the net I found the Miles 5 Years Old Malmsey Madeira offered for a quite reasonable $25.00 per bottle — and sporting a very respectable Wine Spectator “92” rating.

About the Author
Larry Tepper, noted wine industry professional and wine writer, is best known for conducting educational wine and food pairing classes for three universities: California State University Northridge (CSUN), UCLA and USC over a period which spans more than twenty-five years. As managing editor of the Melrose Avenue (Hollywood-based) Nucleus Nuance Restaurant and Wine News, his “Celebrity Wine Interview” column appears regularly. Larry has also produced and hosted more than 60 segments of Continental Cablevision’s Let’s Talk Wine program.
The Vacu Vin Wine Saver Larry referrs to above is a must for every serious wine enthusiast. The vacuum pump extracts the air from an opened bottle of wine, which slows down the oxidation process, and re-seals the wine bottle with a re-usable rubber stopper.

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