Altadis USA boasts an enormous array of brands, with many lines within each. In fact, the company overseas so many cigar lines that it can be a challenge for each cigar to stand out among the rest. To make the Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Nicaragua released earlier this year, Rafael Nodal enlisted the talents of master blender/grower AJ Fernandez to create a Nicaraguan puro using tobaccos from AJ’s farm.
These two men have crafted many wonderful cigars that have received numerous accolades in the industry. Having smoked this blind I was not surprised to find out that they were at the helm. The quality was evident.
Cigar Reviewed: Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Nicaragua
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Habano
Size 6″ × 54 (toro)
Appearance and Construction
The Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Nicaragua toro is covered in an oily wrapper with some accented veins. When I squeeze the cigar, I feel a little give, but there aren’t any soft spots and the filler tobaccos seem sufficient to the touch. The foot smelled of leather and slight barnyard notes.
Flavor & Smoking Characteristics
The cap on the Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Nicaragua clips perfectly. The cold draw is loose, airy and has a some must to the taste. Using a cigar taper I gently toast the stick and the first puffs deliver salt and cedar. The Reserva Real Nicaragua has a medium body to start and with a retrohale raisin and oak waft through the sinuses. The smoke intensifies, with rich tobacco notes that become sweet with cinnamon toast on the finish. The body at this point is medium and the burn line is a bit crooked.
Thankfully by midway the burn line has corrected itself. Almond and spice become the dominated flavors, with secondary cashew and oak notes. I take another retrohale and find a sweeter touch as well as raisinated flavors. Construction wise, the ash is white and flaky, falling off in small pieces as I taking draws from the cigar. From oak to cedar, the wood notes on the Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Nicaragua come on strong as the cigar progresses.
As I reach the last third of the cigar, leather and spice intertwine with a drying sensation on the mouthfeel. The body continues to be in a solid medium range, never reaching anything fuller. The woodiness in the Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Nicaragua is really oaky, like the smell of fresh cut wood. What began as raisinated flavors are now more dark plum along with spice finishing with leather.
The final puffs of the Reserva Real Nicaragua deliver a vanilla sweetness that ends with hay and freshly tanned leather.
The Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Nicaragua is another fine example of the talents of AJ Fernandez and Rafael Nodal. The tobaccos are well processed and offer lots of wood, toast and sweetness while maintaining a steady medium bodied profile. The nuttiness that developed along with raisins and spice added to the balance of the cigar. This would be a great midday smoke when perhaps your palate is fresher to appreciate the flavors as well as build your way up to a fuller cigar later on.
With a catalog as large as Altadis USA has, it’s nice to see a smoke that stands out in its quality and profile. I would recommend picking up a few as they’d be a pleasant addition to the novice and aficionado alike.
The H. Upmann Herman’s Batch is an additional line in Altadis U.S.A.’s profile paying tribute to the German banker Hermann Upmann who created the H. Upmann brand in Cuba in 1844. This is not the Cuban incarnation as it uses an Ecuadorian wrapper and Nicaraguan and Dominican fillers, but this is still an homage to the man by way of a collaboration between Rafael Nodal and the Grupo de Maestros at Tabacalera de Garcia in La Romana.
Visually I like the look of the Herman’s Batch, but of course with blind smoking the proof is in the puffing!
The H. Upmann Herman’s Batch is draped in a dark and oily Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. The cap has an elongated piece of wrapper that looks like a fuse running along the side of the cigar. The foot smells of barnyard and oolong tea.
Flavor and Smoke Characteristics
My Xikar cutter gives a sharp straight clip and I take a dry draw that is slightly firm with raisins, hay and barnyard notes. As I use my single flame Xikar EX and take a puff, I’m hit with full bodied ligero and a blast of pepper. The intensity soon subsides and a more toasty and woody profile emerges. On the retrohale rich black coffee and and spices come through with an oaky finish.
At midway the H. Upmann Herman’s Batch introduces leather, coffee and honeyed notes that remain on the palate for a bit. The razor sharp burn line and white ash show the admirable construction of the cigar. A few puffs later, lead and a vanilla bean sweetness emerge while the profile hovers at a medium strength. Another retrohale delivers wood with cinnamon tingling the nostrils.
As the final third of the cigar comes around, the smoke develops cereal notes surrounded by an earthy quality. The medium profile continues along with chocolate, toast and graphite on the finish. The draw then seems to open up as the cigar burns down and ample amounts of smoke flourish through the air. The coffee comes back–more like cafe au lait than rich espresso–along with toast that creates a fine finish to the medium bodied cigar. An easy smoking toro.
The H. Upmann Herman’s Batch shows the true highlights of a Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. When done like it is here, I very much enjoy it. Although the full bodied ligero blast of tobacco was a bit much to start, the cigar segued into toast and coffee which was excellent. The leather and honeyed notes showed a tasty evolution and the toasty finish enhanced its medium profile.
This was the first H. Upmann Herman’s Batch I’ve smoked and I can say Rafael’s assistance in the blend made it more memorable for me and once again shows the craftsmanship he puts into everything he does. I would seek this size out and a box purchase would be a sound investment.
Editors Note: the following is the first in a series of articles focused on blenders, makers, and growers in the art and process of cigars.
This article is about legendary cigar blender Rafael Nodal, owner of Boutique Blends Cigars and currentl Head of Product Capability at Tabacalera USA. The article is written from two points of view: that of Stephen Tesher, a new lover of great cigars (The Newbie) and Andrew Perelson (The Enthusiast).
Andrew Perelson: The Enthusiast
One autumn day around six years ago on the train heading into Manhattan for a couple of client meetings, I realized I would have time (lots) between customer meetings. So I searched up the nearest decent cigar retailer on Wall Street which happened to be Barclay Rex (now moved to Pearl St). This particular NYC retailer is on par with the Davidoff experience. Truthfully, my budget is never much and I usually look to buy only what I will be smoking and, if I love it, a couple of more for the humidor.
As I entered, I saw a well-dressed gentleman fronting several beautiful looking boxes of smokes. He greeted me saying, “My name is Rafael and I have a small brand called Aging Room. Would you like to try some of my cigars?” After measuring me up like a good tailor with some questions about preferences he suggested his Aging Room Quattro F-55. I looked around and realized I was one of only two customers in the premises; the other was in the lounge yacking away loudly on a cell phone (probably selling his Myspace shares).
The first thing about Rafael Nodal you notice is he smokes a cigar like most people drink an extremely fine wine or whisky. He keeps it lit perfectly and the most persnickety person could not ever think of telling him to put it out. I am pretty sure he could smoke a cigar with no interruption on the Capitol Veranda or in the lobby of the St. Regis without anyone blinking.
As we all know, a great cigar stirs great thoughts. I told him I had been sitting on many questions about the industry, and asked if he would mind discussing some of them. He listened graciously and provided the level of detail only rivaled by a passionate professor. For my questions, I started slow, asking where he sourced his tobacco and where he made his cigars. Then I moved into his “who’s who” of who he works with and how those relationships improve his product. I also asked about how a cigar goes to market. The conversation lasted two cigars (for me…his just kept going).
This conversation introduced me to a level of product excellence that I didn’t know existed. I knew he could continue answering questions, but I had enough to chew on and some notes I would research when I hit my home office.
Beyond his expertise, I learned we had in common a love of great music and the ability to play (he classically and me rock/punk), as well as personal rule of putting family first. He is not political, but he is a patriot. He told me how he came to this country on a flotilla from Cuba as a young man and how he wakes up each day knowing the opportunities this country provides are the stuff of dreams. He spends those moments when he is not “preaching” just relaxing with family, looking at the ocean, or visiting the opera. It’s clear to me now that my passion for cigars and everything behind them was launched by a desire to be a Rafael Nodal superfan.
Before I left, I went to the desk and counted all my cash and bought several more cigars not knowing when I would find more. Right before I walked out the door to my next appointment, I asked Rafael if I could friend him on Facebook. To my surprise, he said yes. This is how we have kept in touch for these years. I realized he had a hobby of living a great life while working on the road and preaching. I am amazed at what he can squeeze into a day in Dallas, Madrid, or Lyndhurst. In one of our many meet ups over the years we had snacks and drinks with a couple of lobbyists and Christian Eiroa in DC and after, I found out that the cigar he gave me was the very first Romeo by Aging Room released into the wild. This cigar remains my all-time favorite anywhere.
As Rafael’s leadership at Altadis USA grows, I have told him about my desire to again crank up my learning by digging into the Grupo de Maestros from Tabacalero Garcia. I’d also like to understand his strategy for raising an already high bar for the Altadis brands inclusive of H. Upmann, Montecristo, and Romeo y Julieta. One of the things that is clear to me is that the Altadis brands with the Grupo de Maestros of Tabacalero Garcia (and Flor de Copan) are in the process of performing a transformation led by Rafael and special guests.
Stephen Tesher: The Newbie
On a hot and humid New York summer evening, Andrew and I walk into The Carnegie Club for a cigar event hosted by Matthias Clock and Fine Tobacco NYC. As soon as we enter, it’s like we’ve crossed through time, back to a day when smoking indoors was not only accepted, it was encouraged. The Carnegie Club is a true New York establishment. The greatest Jazz musicians and performers played here, and the place holds on to a time-gone-by, protecting it, preciously and joyously.
Immediately upon entering a stout man plucked an Aging Room Pura Cepa cigar from an open box, snipped the cap with a straight cut, and stuck it in my hands. Without pause, he lights a torch lighter, properly toasts the end of my cigar, and gets the thing going. With one puff I enter 1950’s New York. A smoke-filled joint. A jazz band, playing classic standards. A woman’s sultry singing. I’m looking for Sinatra, and Jackie Gleason somewhere in the room. Sadly, they’re not there. But Rafael Nodal is, and I’m smoking his cigar.
I could feel the legacy of great cigar lovers of yesterday, like Babe Ruth, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With plenty of couches and arm chairs, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The place was full. Mostly with men and a couple of ladies. Guys in suits, or business casual. Some in a t-shirt, but most dressed respectably. This is where a sophisticated working man comes to relax, have a drink, maybe meet a girl who like cigars, too.
Andrew’s filled me in on Rafael Nodal. Andrew has a talent for painting people as larger than life figures. He is truly fascinated by people and sees the best in them. It’s a gift that makes him a great salesman, and a great friend. In this case, Rafael met the description. He was generous and warm. Hanging with the cigar-smoking men of New York City is not my comfort zone, but Rafael eased me in, and made me feel part of the greater cigar-lovers family.
The Aging Room brand and its parent Boutique Blends are Rafael’s creation and his stewardship is noticeable in each release under Altadis distribution. Moreover, the Pura Cepa was made by his colleague and friend Nestor Plasencia for Boutique Blends.
As an apprentice of the art of cigar appreciation, I found this blend to be magnificent. Its flavor and intensity remained consistent and complex from end to end. It’s a smooth smoke, less peppery than most of similar strength; velvety by intent, but not thick on the palette. I can tell you it paired wonderfully with the house Ginger Ale and a bottle of Pelegrino.
What’s What and Who’s Who with Rafael Nodal
His Company: Boutique Brands
His Distribution and Partnership: Tabacalera USA and their Altadis division
His personal brands: Aging Room, La Boheme, Swag, Oliveros plus the Altadis brands as he is integral to their direction
His makers: Tabacalera Palma, Tabacalera de Garcia in Dominican Republic, and Plasencia S.A., and A.J. Fernandez in Nicaragua
Hobbies: Road Warrior, Cuban Coffee, Cooking, and Music
His people: His awesome wife Alina, sons Carlos and Rafael A. Nodal, Abdel Yousef Fernandez, Grupo De Maestros de Garcia, Jochy Blanco, Nestor Plasencia, and EPC (Ernesto Carillo)
About the Authors
Andrew Perelson has been creating innovation and concepts for technically focused businesses for 25 years. He also has some easily identified passions like his wife, kids, and family. In the summer he splits time between Metropolitan New York and the Adirondacks where he gets to pursue a boat that runs, great cigars, and a campfire.
Stephen Tesher is a writer and educator. He writes plays, screenplays and novels. He writes a column for ProFootballTalkLine.com and maintains a blog called Teshtalk.com. Tesher is currently co-authoring a book about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for EdTechTeam due out in early 2019. As an educator, he would like to tear apart the entire system and start over, making education meaningful in the lives of students and teachers. Until that happens, he creates real-world learning opportunities that make a positive effect in the lives of his students. As far as cigars are concerned, Stephen Tesher blames Andrew Perelson for introducing him to the world of fine tobaccos.