by Gary Korb
I can’t remember how many times over the years I’ve told inquiring minds that there are better cigars coming out of Nicaragua than Cuba. Certainly, Cuban cigars have their place, but when you look at most of the non-Cuban cigars that are getting the high scores and word-of-mouth referrals, it’s the Nicaraguan cigars that stand out. Names like Padron, Oliva, Perdomo, and Don Pepin Garcia immediately come to mind by the mere mentioning of the words “Nicaraguan cigars.”
One of the reasons for this is Nicaragua‘s climate (remarkably close to Cuba‘s), and its rich, black soil. Moreover, Nicaraguan tobacco has a character and strength so distinctive, it’s been used for years by manufacturers in The Dominican Republic, Honduras, and even Cuba, allegedly, to add more power to their blends. It’s also one of the reasons Nicaragua produces such great tasting puros, or cigars made with leaves all from one country. Likewise, the Nicaraguan cigars chosen below offer an outstanding representation of the Central American nation’s variety.
A short course in Nicaraguan tobacco:
Because Nicaragua has such a varied terrain, it is capable of producing a wide variety of tobaccos with their own unique flavor properties.
Esteli leaf is the strongest and spiciest Nicaraguan tobacco, and used primarily for filler. Esteli soil is jet black and highly rich in minerals. As a result, the tobacco is characteristically dark with plenty of body, flavor and aroma.
Condega leaf is grown in rocky soil and produces a much thinner leaf that’s also more medium in body. Used mainly for filler and binder, it is also used for wrapper. Because it is mainly sun grown, the leaf is very oily and ideal for adding complexity to the blend.
Jalapa leaf is the lightest and naturally sweetest Nicaraguan tobacco. It is grown in the northernmost part of the country near the border of Honduras, where the soil has vast red clay deposits. Due to its attractiveness, soft texture, rich-tasting character and complex aroma, it is used often for wrapper.
Ometempe leaf is grown in the volcanic soil of Ometempe Island in Lake Nicaragua. Because it is so rich in minerals, Ometempe tobacco has good strength and an earthy-sweet character that lends more depth to the blend.
Nuts and dark chocolate: the perfect complement to your cigar
Many cigar epicureans believe that eating nuts and dark, semi-sweet chocolate while smoking a cigar can enhance its flavors. Moreover, at last year’s IPCPR Show, Miami Cigar & Company (La Aurora, Don Lino, Leon Jimenes) was handing out 99% pure dark chocolate with their cigars. I tried it myself at the show, and earlier this year with some almond bark I bought at a gourmet candy store – crushed almonds coated with dark chocolate, pressed into flat sheets. I can’t testify for certain that it draws more flavors from the smoke to the palate, but it sure did enhance the experience. Give it a whirl and taste for yourself. Either way, it makes a great combination.
Mi Barrio El Billetero (5¾” x 52)
Esteli and Jalapa leaves dovetail with an oily Habano wrapper. Full-bodied, leathery, and nutty with a sweet-spiciness.
601 Maduro BP (Blue) Prominente (5½” x 56)
A hefty, medium-full, box-pressed puro with dark, sweet and spicy elements. Deliciously creamy and complex.
CAO Brazilia Gol! (5″ x 56)
Dark, spicy Brazilian wrappers cap a Nicaraguan core for a hearty, heady, powerhouse of a smoke.
A full-flavored and affordably-priced cigar chock full of earthiness, enhanced by notes of coffee and cocoa bean.
Oliva Serie G Robusto (4½” x 50)
A medium-bodied blend of rich-tasting Nicaraguan longfillers box pressed in a naturally sweet Cameroon wrapper.
Carlos Torano Signature Robusto (5″ x 52)
A Dominican-Nicaraguan core with a spicy Brazilian wrapper makes for a spicy, complex after-dinner smoke.
(Made in Honduras, but the Torano Family Cigar Co. also manufactures cigars in Nicaragua.)