While the benefits of ageing fine wine are widely recognised, I’m frequently surprised when I talk to enthusiastic cigar smokers to discover how little they know about the concept of maturing cigars. In essence, ageing cigars offers similar benefits to cellaring fine wines – bolder flavours and sharper notes mellow down, and time lends extra complexity and finesse.
There is no exact science as to what sort of cigar will age best. As a general rule, though, cigars with darker, heavier leaves and bolder blends will be better candidates for long-term ageing (just as more powerful tannins help a wine last longer). So bigger vitolas (sizes), which tend to use heavier, richer tobacco, are better candidates for longer spells in the humidor. The acclaimed Cohiba Behike – whose blend contains the darker, richly-flavoured and relatively rare medio tiempo leaf – should generally age beautifully. But there are also many ageworthy lighter cigars, such as very old H Upmanns and the Davidoff cigars from the 1970s.
Cigars with darker, heavier leaves and bolder blends will be better candidates for long-term ageing
Ultimately, a cigar’s optimum length of maturation depends on the conditions – including temperature and humidity – in which it is kept. If these conditions are perfect, it can age almost indefinitely. Mitchell Orchant, managing director of C.Gars, one of London’s major specialists, has examples dating back to the 1890s, found in a disused wine cellar in Bordeaux, that had been sealed in an ammunition case and wrapped in the newspaper of the day. ‘The brand was [Flor de] Valle and they were surprisingly decent considering their age,’ he says. Orchant notes that cigars can be aged in a normal humidor, but the temperature should be slightly lower than standard room temperature. Some suggest 12-18C ensures better and smoother ageing; others keep their cigars at a slightly higher temperature on the basis that they are products of hot countries.
When it comes to what is collectible, there are various classifications to seek out, starting with ‘vintage’ – when the master blender works with tobacco leaves from a single year’s crop. Cigar houses will also release limited editions and one-off expressions – some pure marketing, others of excellent quality. Daniel Marshall – a renowned American cigar and humidor maker – makes wonderful bespoke humidors for Hollywood stars and statesmen alike. In 2011 he created a celebration cigar wrapped in 24k gold foil, the Daniel Marshall 24KT Golden Torpedo, that can easily fetch £300-£500, depending on the retailer. Orchant says cigars from the 1940s and 1950s are particularly popular at the moment. ‘Prices fluctuate but a petit corona will cost around £25-£70 per cigar in a cabinet of 50 in good condition.’
And it is not only Cuban cigars that are collectible. While Cubans will tell you that nothing can equal their tobacco, there are many fine cigars from the Dominican Republic, Honduras or Nicaragua that hold their own against their Cuban counterparts. The reason? The tobacco is usually grown from Cuban seeds.
Eight older cigars to seek out
DAVIDOFF ORO BLANCO
Released in 2016 after 12 years of ageing, purpose-planted Dominican tobaccos rolled by Davidoff’s master blender undergo a further 18 months of ageing. One of the rarest cigars on the market, it is balanced, elegant and refined. It is also one of the most complex cigars available with a plethora of well-composed aromas and flavours of wood, spices, fine herbs, chocolate and patisserie.
£450 single cigar in presentation box. Pre-order
DAVIDOFF ROYAL RELEASE
The Royal Release’s journey from seed to cigar takes 10 years and the heritage of the latest releases can be traced back to the harvest of 2004/5. A majestic, elegant cigar with a generous draw of creamy smoke. Oak and balsa wood notes, saddle leather and sweet almonds play along, creating a beautiful sweet and spicy finish. Quite simply one of the best cigars I’ve ever tasted.
£800 for a box of 10
PLASENCIA ALMA FUERTE SALOMON GENERACION V
One of Cuba’s biggest growers, when Plasencia decided to create its own brand it had great access to aged tobacco. This is a blend of tobaccos over 12 years old, grown in the highest quality soil, accentuating bold, vibrant and intense flavours. Probably the boldest and heaviest cigar of this selection, with chocolate ganache, nougat and even treacle notes.
£340 for a box of 10
CUABA DIADEMAS 2004
My friend Athila Roos, sommelier at London’s Arts Club, acquired this cigar from the Edward Sahakian Cigar Lounge. There’s over two hours of smoke in this stick; a truly elegant experience. Cuaba always has a fresh green, grassy note, plenty of hay and toasted nuts, even cinnamon and cassia bark in some cases. Later some chocolate and cedar wood notes appear.
£150 to £200 per single cigar at auction only
OLIVA SERIE V DOUBLE ROBUSTO
One of my favourite Nicaraguan cigars, made with beautifully oily, sun-grown wrapper leaves, it’s at the full-bodied, complex end of the spectrum. Blended with specially fermented Jalapa Valley Ligero leaves, this delivers full-strength taste while maintaining unparalleled smoothness. Dark wood smoke, fine dark chocolate, coffee and nougat notes make this a real heavyweight example, but with elegance and balance supporting the power, and pronounced flavours.
£350 for a box of 25
BOLIVAR CORONAS GIGANTES 1999
Another discontinued cigar from the Aged & Rare Collection, Bolivar has great ageing potential. Some say it should be matured for a few years before its powerful notes can be enjoyed. A touch of black pepper, plenty of cedar wood and the scent of mahogany with bonfire notes. Maturation has made this more complex and a tad smoother without changing its robust personality too much.
From the Aged & Rare Collection £3,350. Cabinet box (of 50)
ROMEO Y JULIETA PETIT CORONA 1960ES AND ROMEO Y JULIETA CORONA 1970ES
What a privilege it is to travel back in time to light one of these old and smooth delights. They are both extremely smooth and finely evolved with a lot of autumn leaves, toasted nuts and a touch of nutmeg. They are also so refined and gentle for a relatively small cigar that can be a bit hotter and punchier when younger.
£35 per stick, available from C.Gars
CHARATAN COLINA SPECIAL EDITION
A new UK-exclusive special edition released in limited quantities with four-years aged Nicaraguan tobacco
from the Esteli and Jalapa Valley. A fairly light cigar with plenty of hay and floral notes building up a fine and elegant toasted almond and cedar wood finish, with a nice constant draw and a touch of coffee and milk chocolate. Disclaimer: I was involved in selecting the final blend of this cigar.
£200 for a box of 10
Where to buy and smoke
- JAMES J FOX
Centuries-old merchant patronised by Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde, with a spacious sampling lounge.
19 St James’s St, SW1A 1ES
- DAVIDOFF OF LONDON
Next door to Berry Bros; a fine selection of Havanas and Dominicans; sampling lounge.
35 St James’s St, SW1A 1HD
Arguably London’s finest cigar retailer.
106 Mount Street W1K 2TW and 8 Raphael Street SW7 1DL
- TURMEAUS OF MAYFAIR
Smoking room and whisky selection, as well as own-brand Peruvian cigars.
Shepherd Market, W1J 7LB
- GENTLEMAN 1919
Eccentric and much-loved secret smoking lounge behind a barbershop – plus bar.
11 Jean-Mermoz Street, 75008
- GRAND HAVANA ROOMS
Mahogany panelling, blue velvet curtains and clubby armchairs. Also in LA.
666 Fifth Avenue, 39th Floor, New York, NY, 10103; and 301 N Canon Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
- COHIBA ATMOSPHERE
Swank galore on Hong Kong Island, part of a worldwide chain run by the Pacific Cigar Co.
21/F, Hing Wai Building, 36 Queen’s Road, Central
Don’t get burned
There’s one rule with vintage cigars: buyer beware. Provenance is all: the greatest cigar kept in inappropriate conditions will spoil. Only buy from retailers with a stellar reputation. Look for the seals and production date stamps, the quality of the box and uniformity of the cigars. In Cuba, steer well clear of anyone who tells you: ‘My brother works in the factory.’ Never buy a box with a see-through lid – real boxes do not have Perspex windows. There are obvious fakes with uneven prints and roll quality, and slightly more sophisticated fakes, but ultimately it is exactly like buying fine wine: you’re safe if provenance is guaranteed.