The Art of the Good Cigar

A Matter of Taste

Cigars in review: Pre-embargo Hoyo de Monterrey

Posted by herfergrrl on July 6, 2009

Some dinners are made to be followed by a potent cigar, the pleasant digestive aroma of which can settle a feast of Lucullan proportions. Let us wistfully imagine such an occasion for a moment.

For such a meal, everything should be just right. The wine must be red, strong and subtle, the pure captured distillation of a summer many years past. The same sun that warmed the skins of dark wild blackberries in the field and the tall stands of sweet-scented fennel is preserved forever in this bottle of magical liquid. In its solemn depths you can taste the secret hearts of ripe black plums, the astringent softness of peach-fuzz, and the faintly leathery notes of cedar. It is a worthy companion.

The meal opens with rich pate’ de foie gras and segues on smoothly through the crisp brown pheasant with truffled Madeira sauce, its glistening skin hot and crackling. The roast baron of beef is presented with a flourish, breaking open the steamy, fragrant crust of sea salt and seaside herbs that enclosed it so lovingly, and lifting the tender, jellylike meat from within. Rich soups and sauces abound within your easy reach, and dessert is a chocolate fantasy that makes you want to weep aloud and cry praise to the old Pagan gods of the table for the privilege of sitting down to it. The coffee is even better than that.

What can follow this but a good cigar? A powerhouse of a cigar, a robust old champion that will fight doughtily for a memorable place on your palate regardless of the rich things you have dulled it with this evening. Only certain cigars will do – Montecristo, Bolivar, Cohiba, Partagas, Punch – and only those of proper age and maturity. Tonight you do not want to smoke a cigar with the crude temperment of a belligerent young punk, showing his muscles to intimidate without subtlety. Better by far is a mature general of war, supremely confident and potent, whose winning strategy is to surround your pate’-armored palate with conquering volumes of fine, robust smoke so that he can overcome without doing violence to the preceding dinner. Such is the blessing of a good old strong cigar.

But strength alone is not all there is to a cigar. Yesterday I smoked a Hoyo de Monterrey from 1958. The smooth subtlety of age gave way to the faintly dusty bite of chocolate and the cellar-must of old wine and truffles, again and again in a lively, neverending dance of wispy pale smoke and complexity on my willing tongue. Of the original firm backbone of strength that must have held its flavors together, there remained only a subtle delicacy of intricate structure, like antique fragile lace.

Smoking a true vintage cigar is like communing with a whispering ghost, ancient and wise and a little tragic. You are the instigator of its funeral pyre, this precious historical leaf, and you are determined to smoke it down to dust and take all of its evanescent aroma into yourself. It is a powerful and memorable experience.

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