A.J. Fernandez Bellas Artes Maduro Robusto
A.J. Fernandez Bellas Artes Maduro Robusto
Image: HalfWheel

A common question that I get asked, particularly when seen with one in my hand, is “what is your favourite cigar?” This is usually preceded by “Is that a Cuban?” which is a another conversation in itself, perhaps for another time.

Starting out primarily with Cuban varieties, the deeper I delved into the world of cigars, the more brands I found. Committed to sampling at will, I have gradually found what I like, according to my unique palate. As a result, I indulge in a wide range of cigars and regularly try new ones. I have also, on occasion, binged on specific brands for a couple of months, forcing me to take an extended break from those thereafter.

I have had a Gurkha phase, in particular the Cellar Reserve 15-year KOI and the Godzilla sampler pack; and an Alec Bradley phase, which included the Prensado series and the Black Market series. While I still enjoy them occasionally, I don’t puff on them as much as I used to.

My answer to the question about my favourite cigar is that I do not have a specific favourite but rather a collection of go-to cigars, and these change. I often rotate five or six different ones, and the following three are on heavy rotation:

A.J. Fernandez Bellas Artes Maduro Robusto

Readily available in SA for the past year, I sampled quite a few of the A.J. Fernandez cigars, including the San Lotano Requiem Habano Gran Toro, the Last Call Maduro and Habano Chiquitas, the New World Cameroon Toro, the New Oscuro Redondo and the Bellas Artes Hybrid Robusto. But, from first draw, it is the Bellas Artes Maduro Robusto, that has me hooked.

The Maduro Robusto is box-pressed and has a Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper (grown in the Recôncavo, near Brazil’s northeastern coast), a Mexican San Andres wrapper (more than likely grown by the Turrent family in Mexico) and a Nicaraguan filler (said to be a combination of tobacco grown in Estelí, Condega and Jalapa).

Listed as medium to full bodied, it is a complex, dense smoke that can be tangy, particularly in the first third. It does settle as you work your way through it, but it’s definitely not for the light- or medium-bodied smoker.

Oliva Serie V Maduro Especial Double Robusto

The Oliva Serie V Double Robusto has been my main go-to for coming on six years. It always delivers what it promises: a solid, rich and consistent smoke. It was even Cigar Aficionado’s Cigar of the Year in 2008. Imagine my excitement when I got my hands (and lips) on the Oliva Serie V Maduro Especial Double Robusto.

Acquired by Belgian cigar company J. Cortès in 2016, Oliva Cigar Comany’s roots stretch back to the late 1800s in Cuba where patriarch Melanio Oliva grew tobacco. They have been producing award-winning cigars since Melanio’s grandson Gilberto established the Gilberto Oliva brand in the mid-1990s.

I was not disappointed by the Especial Double Robusto once I got past the first couple of draws, which were a tad harsh and biting. It leans towards full bodied and smooths out as you smoke, with a creaminess that lingers, making it rich and balanced. Taking your time, you get hints of coffee, chocolate and wood.

It has a Mexican San Andres Maduro Wrapper, with the binder and filler both coming from Nicaragua, in particular the Jalapa Valley and Esteli regions.

Oliva Serie V Maduro Especial Double Robusto
Oliva Serie V Maduro Especial Double Robusto
Image: Halfwheel

Plasencia Alma del Fuego Concepcion

I lean towards Robusto cigars. I often find Toros and Gordo overwhelming and overpowering, especially the last third. Plus, after a Toro, I rarely have the desire to sample something else; with a Robusto, I can jump into something else, in the same sitting.

Yet, with the Plasencia Alma del Fuego range, I find myself returning to the Concepcion Toro, as opposed to the Robusto. With a long history of growing tobacco for many cigar brands, Plasencia launched their own cigar brand in 2017, with the Alma del Fuego (Soul of the Fire) being the third in the Alma series.

While medium-bodied, the Alma del Fuego makes up for the “reduced” strength (for me, at least) with a bouquet of flavours, including spice, coffee beans, dried fruit and wood.

The tobacco all comes from Nicaragua with a significant leaf helping from Ometepe island, which was born out of two volcanoes and has soil that is rich and, therefore, brings a unique character.

Plasencia Alma del Fuego Concepcion.
Plasencia Alma del Fuego Concepcion.
Image: Developing Palates
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