Friday morning in Santiago, Dominican Republic, I walked into the spacious (and annoyingly non-smoking) lobby of the Gran Almirante Hotel, laptop in hand. As I sat down to write, I watched groups of those gathered here for the ProCigar Festival head out into the sunshine with golf clubs or beach gear. Many were heading over the mountains to Puerto Plata for some R&R. But for me (and for many others) the cigar tours continued.
I love golf, but I'm glad I missed the round, because I joined the folks of La Aurora S.A. for an intriguing presentation on wrappers and cigars.
Guillermo León, who heads La Aurora's cigar division, welcomed us to the small factory, which makes Guillermo León, Aurora and León Jimenes cigars. He introduced Jose Blanco, the vice president of sales for the company, who was going to lead the group of 30 or so through a tasting.
We were given a very special cigar—it had been rolled with five wrappers. Not five atop one another, not intertwined wrappers, but one cigar with five strips of different wrappers. The cigar was made this way to allow the smoker to taste the change in flavor as the cigar burned from one wrapper leaf to another. Blanco said it was León's idea to make the cigar.
We lit up the cigar (which actually didn't have any wrapper on the foot, so we began by smoking the bunch only). Soon we hit the first little strip of wrapper, which was light in color. The cigar took on a slightly creamy, somewhat hay-like character, and was mild. It was Connecticut-seed wrapper, and we were smoking a textbook example.
I shot a video of the cigar at this point (standing away from the seminar so you could hear better) then walked back to the presentation so you could see a little of Jose in action. Take a look.
Jose is an animated speaker, and engaged the audience. He wanted to get their input, their tasting notes, get them to notice the change. He salted the presentation with some smoking tips, including the cautionary tale of watching a cigar smoker puff away on a double corona and smoking it to a stub in 20 minutes. "Houdini couldn't have made it disappear so fast!" he said.
Soon the cigar burned enough to move to the second strip, and sure enough the flavor of the cigar began to change, taking on more flavor, and becoming toasty and nutty, with a mild to medium body. It improved dramatically (for my taste). It turned out to be Cameroon wrapper, something I like quite a bit.
As we moved from Cameroon into the next leaf segment, the power kicked up quite a bit, taking on some salty, roasted nut flavors. I even got a hint of chocolate after awhile. This was Ecuador Sumatra and like the second blend, it had a very pleasant flavor.
The fourth segment was my least favorite. The cigar took on some coppery notes, with some minerality. It was Brazilian maduro, which I tend to like, but with this particular blend it didn't seem to work, in my opinion.
Then we hit the final wrapper. The cigar got rich, leather notes emerged, and it was probably the best blend yet. It was Dominican Corojo—good stuff.
Not everyone agreed on the tasting notes, but I think all involved realized just how much the wrapper can affect the taste of a cigar. The smoke clearly changed as we moved from wrapper to wrapper. Each was distinctive.
Friday night was the final event of the festival, a formal dinner at the private Centro Español club in Santiago. There were ever more cigars and a charity auction benefiting the Voluntario de Jesus con los Niños, for ill children, and Hospicio San Vicente de Paul, for the poor and old.
The next day, the groups of visitors headed their separate ways, most to the airport, their bags filled with Dominican cigars, while a few stayed on to enjoy a little more of the beautiful weather in Santiago. The ProCigar Festival was over, and for me it was time to head back home.