Back to the mail bag for more of our readers’ cigar questions: cutting cigars to size, punches vs. guillotines, about tobacco primings and whether we think cigars are bad for you. We thought our answers were worth sharing out loud – Watch now!
CA REVIEW PANEL: Onyx Esteli Cigar Review (Video)
The Onyx Estelí Back Story
Onyx Estelí cigars are the Onyx cigar for the next generation. Offering a bolder change-up from the original Onyx Reserve cigars that took the 90s Cigar Boom by storm and become a perennial favorite, Onyx Estelí was blended by AJ Fernandez.
The dark, shimmery Mexican San Andrés Maduro wrappers come from a rare harvest whose appearance, texture, and flavor AJ loved. Having made several other blends expressly for Famous Smoke Shop, AJ offered it to Famous for use in a future blend. Agreeing that it would make a great addition to Famous’s other “Estelí” selections, Altadis U.S.A. and AJ created something exceptional for cigar smokers who enjoy bold Nicaraguan blends, while presenting an inviting new experience for die-hard Onyx fans.
The Onyx Estelí selection is handcrafted in three popular formats and presented in boxes of 16 cigars: Seleccion No.1 (5″ x 54 Robusto), Seleccion No.2 (6″ x 54 Toro), and Seleccion No.3 (6″ x 60 Grande).
ONYX ESTELI CIGAR REVIEW – SELECCION NO. 1
Country of Origin/Factory: Nicaragua / Tabacalera Fernandez, S.A., Estelí
Size: 5″ x 54/Robusto
Wrapper: Mexican San Andrés Maduro
Filler: Nicaraguan & Honduran Criollo ’98
Gary Korb’s Tasting Notes…
Construction: Excellent. Well built and seamlessly rolled with a dark, oily (almost Oscuro), Maduro wrapper.
Draw: Excellent. Smoke draws effortlessly through the head and foot throughout.
Pre-light flavor: Leathery.
First few puffs: Earthy with sweet spice notes and white pepper on the finish.
Base flavors: Earth, oak, sweet spice, espresso, light pepper.
Aroma: Hardy with some honeyed redolence.
Burn / Ash Quality: Very good. The cigar burns evenly exposing a mostly grey ash, which is flaky to start, then firmer as the cigar progresses.
Balance of flavors: Excellent. Highly consistent throughout.
Summary: Notes of earth and sweet spice roll out of the gate as white pepper lingers on a long finish. Shortly thereafter, the smoke rounds-out to a full-flavored and creamy mix of earthiness, oak, sweet spice, and a lighter layer of pepper. The smoke is well-balanced and consistent throughout with a hardy, semi-sweet aroma.
The second act continues along its well-balanced flavor path as a note of espresso enters the mix of earth and wood. Sweet spice is also dominant, while the pepper has faded from the mix and is little more than a trace on the finish. The last act offers little change. Mostly earth, oak, and espresso, with only a slight vestige of sweetness remaining. The flavors are consistent and well-balanced to the nub.
Overall, the Onyx Estelí Seleccion No.1 is an impressive medium to full-bodied cigar that hit the critique marks on all counts. There’s plenty of dark, earthy Nicaraguan flavor to be had, along with some appealing sweetness from the wrapper, as well as plenty of creamy smoke with dead-center balance. By comparison, the Seleccion No.2, a Toro, offers a bit more sweetness, while the 6 x 60 Seleccion No.3 is the heartiest and boldest of the trio.
The Onyx Estelí selection should be a welcome invitation to loyal Onyx cigar smokers, as well as to new and experienced cigar smokers who have become accustomed to full-flavored Nicaraguan blends. This line should pair well with most all coffee types, a fine Bourbon, sweeter Single Malts and dark Rums, or for beer lovers, the tart Weyerbacher Riserva.
John Pullo’s Tasting Notes…
Construction: Nice dark San Andrés Maduro, with nearly invisible seams; firmly made.
Pre-light flavor: Licorice, dark earth and fermented tobacco.
Toasting & Light: Spice and hickory.
Base flavors: Wood, pepper, espresso, molasses.
Retrohale: Big kicks of wood and spice.
Aroma: Dark and woodsy.
Burn & Ash Quality: The white ash stacks well, albeit a little flaky; burns with a slight angle throughout – but no touch ups.
Balance of flavors: Very consistent with those Estelí flavors from start to finish.
Summary: The trademark Onyx looks are here…black, gold and white label over a dark ‘n velvety maduro, rolled to a fat 54 RG. Burns a bit on the quick side, with huge rips of smoke.
The Onyx Estelí turns in a very traditional Nicaraguan performance: woody at the start, you’ll also notice a layer of spice; the smoke has a loooong finish, giving you plenty of time to feel that tingle across the tongue and lips. Expect to add a dark espresso to that list; this is an Estelí cigar, after all.
By one-third, the spice pretty much drops out…from there it’s earth, wood and espresso the rest of the way, with a little barley mixed in. Any lingering spice trades out for a bit of pepper bite and rides that combo to the finish.
The surprise: if you’re looking for that “Maduro sweetness” – be patient, as a subtle molasses kind of taste seeps in very slowly, at about halfway.
We have sampled all the sizes (Selecciones 1, 2 and 3), and size really does matter here – as it seems the blend smokes profoundly differently between 54 and 60 ring gauges. The thicker 60 RG version smokes with much more pepper and wood…for me, anyway.
Some may look at the band and say, “Eh…it’s a grandpa smoke.” Don’t make that mistake, as Onyx Estelí is more “Estelí” than it is Onyx; meaning, this is a straightforward smoke packed with the flavors you expect – and want – from a solid Nicaraguan cigar.
Tommy Zman’s Tasting Notes…
Construction: Beautifully made cigar.
Pre-light flavor: Dark wood.
First Few Puffs: Zesty.
Base flavors: Dark wood, pepper, black licorice, molasses.
Aroma: Rich and toasty.
Burn & Ash Quality: Perfect burn and ash.
Balance of flavors: Well-balanced as it grows from medium to full.
Summary: We the reviewers all agreed that this brand new version of the Onyx made in Estelí, Nicaragua is a whole lot different than the original Onyx Reserve. I just think it’s got more depth and much richer flavors, and for those who love a good Nicaraguan smoke, well, this was made for you.
First off, that San Andrés wrapper leaf is dark, oily and flat-out beauteous and the thing burns and draws with perfection, much like all AJ Fernandez made smokes. There’s just great attention to detail here. But, the interesting thing that makes this AJ different from others is that it starts out on the medium side in body and strength, then continues to change and grow into a full-bodied treat. There’s a smoky/woody component, almost like a hickory as John Pullo mentions in the Panel Review video. There’s also a bit of pepper, but that gets counter-balanced by notes of sweet black licorice and a hint of molasses.
This really is one hell of a well-made cigar: construction-wise, and in flavor and complexity. We all said it’s not your grand-daddy’s Onyx, and while that may upset your pop-pop, I don’t think you’ll mind this change of pace one bit.