Cigar Review: VegaFina Nicaragua Gran Toro

13 Oct 2015

The VegaFina brand made by tobacco giant Altadis usually takes a backseat to the more prominent names in the Altadis portfolio, including Montecristo, H. Upmann, and Romeo y Julieta. It’s positioned as more of a value play and marketed with the tagline, “Every day is the perfect time to enjoy a masterpiece.”

VegaFina Nicaragua Gran ToroIn January, VegaFina joined the growing list of brands that have launched line extensions with “Nicaragua” in the name, all of which are clearly aiming to cash in on the popularity of the Central American country that’s known for its strong, rich tobaccos.

Called simply VegaFina Nicaragua, the new series is an “impeccably blended and hand-rolled” cigar with “100% Nicaraguan” tobaccos from “the unique regions of Estelí and Jalapa.” The recipe includes a Habana 2000 wrapper, a Seco binder from Jalapa, and a mixture of Seco, Ligero, and Viso tobaccos.

Three sizes are available: Corona (5.75 x 42), Robusto (5 x 50), and Gran Toro (6 x 52). Each retails for $5.50-6.25 and is made at Altadis’ Tabacalera de García in the Dominican Republic.

The first time I took a Gran Toro out of its cellophane and held the cigar in person, I was taken aback by the color of the wrapper. Perhaps more dramatically than any other cigar I can recall, VegaFina Nicaragua is severely mottled (my picture doesn’t do this justice). There are dark streaks all over the dry surface, giving the Gran Toro an almost zebra-like appearance. I’m not saying this is an indictment of the cigar’s quality, mind you; but I also wouldn’t expect Altadis to include this wrapper on one of its flagship brands.

Once the Gran Toro is lit, delicate pre-light notes of sweet hay and grass give way to a medium-bodied profile of cream, cedar spice, paper, and café au lait. Given the blend’s name and makeup, I was expecting something bolder, spicier, and stronger. That said, the flavor is well-rounded and nuanced, and the texture strikes a surprisingly sophisticated tone.

As the Gran Toro progresses, it becomes clear the central theme is the interplay between the sweet creaminess and the spicy cedar—just the sort of cigar that pairs well with a light sipping rum. Throughout, as is to be expected from Altadis, construction is top-notch with a smooth draw, straight burn line, abundant smoke production, and solid white ash.

Seasoned cigar veterans who stray away from the likes of Altadis and General Cigar will be missing a value-priced smoke that sports great texture, balance, and complexity. Put simply, VegaFina Nicaragua is a good cigar for the money. The Gran Toro is worthy of an admirable rating of three and a half stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

News: Christopher Columbus’ Cigar Legacy

12 Oct 2015

[Editor’s Note: For Columbus Day we’re republishing an article first published five years ago about Columbus’ historical impact on tobacco and cigars.]

Today is Columbus Day, which means government employees and a few lucky others get a day off. The holiday celebrates Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas, which happens to be an important date for cigar fans.

ColumbusThat’s because Columbus is widely credited with introducing the tobacco plant to Europe, which set in motion a series of events that culminated in the cigar industry we see today. It was during Columbus’ voyages to the new world that Europeans first encountered the tobacco plant.

According to history, it was two of Columbus’ crew members who were most responsible for bringing tobacco to Europe. Both, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres, took a liking to tobacco after seeing native Americans smoking the leaf.

After arriving in Cuba in November 1492, which Columbus thought was the Asian coast, Columbus sent Torres and de Jerez inland to explore the country and to contact its ruler. The two men were received in an Indian village where they saw the native custom of drying leaves, inserting them in cane pipes, burning them, and inhaling the smoke.

Upon his return to Spain, Jerez continued smoking and introduced his habit to his home town of Ayamonte. The smoke reportedly frightened some of his neighbors, resulting in the Spanish Inquisition imprisoning him for his use of the “devil’s weed”—making Jerez the first victim of anti-tobacco laws. He spent seven years in prison for his “sin,” only to be released as smoking was becoming an accepted activity in Spain.

One legend has Torres being threatened with prison in Spain for smoking tobacco, but in all likelihood such stories are confusing him with his fellow sailor. The more accepted history says that Torres was killed while settling Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti). Internal conflict wiped out the settlement party when Torres, a Jew who became Catholic under threat from the same Spanish Inquisition that later imprisoned Jerez, took issue with attempts to convert the native people to Catholicism.

Whatever the exact truth, there’s no denying that Columbus and his crew were pivotal in the history of cigars. And that is reason enough to light up a fine cigar this Columbus Day.

Patrick S

photo credit: Wikipedia

Quick Smoke: Cohiba Maduro 5 Mágicos (Cuban)

11 Oct 2015

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Cohiba Maduro

When I reviewed this Cuban a few years ago, I found a complex profile of coffee, spice, licorice, cream, and roasted nut. Unfortunately, I also found sub-standard construction—something that’s unforgivable in a cigar that costs over $20. I recently decided to spark up another to see if age improved the physical properties of the smoke, which is the first Cohiba blend to have a maduro wrapper. Construction was a little better, but not enough so to merit a full recommendation.

Verdict = Hold.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Laranja Reserva Corona Gorda

10 Oct 2015

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief take on a single cigar.


Espinosa introduced the Laranja line in 2014 and it quickly garnered favorable reviews. The cigar has an orange-brown Brazilian wrapper (hence “laranja,” which is Portuguese for orange) around Nicaraguan binder and filler. I’m smoking the Corona Gorda size (5.6 x 46), which sells for about $10. The cigar features dry spice, wood, paper, slight sweetness, and a hint of citrus. It’s medium-bodied and well-balanced with excellent construction. It’s the best offering yet from Espinosa and certainly worth seeking out.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler No. 451

9 Oct 2015

As we have since July 2006, each Friday we’ll post a mixed bag of quick cigar news and other items of interest. Below is our latest Friday Sampler.

CT Tobacco Farm1) Add the premium tobacco growers in Connecticut to the list of groups who are interested in dismantling the longstanding trade embargo with Cuba. According to a recent article, “Connecticut tobacco farmers are looking for new markets in Cuba” now that diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba have taken steps towards normalcy. “Tobacco is Connecticut’s fifth largest agriculture product by market value, at $35.7 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The crop is grown on 49 farms and accounts for 6.5 percent of total agricultural product sales in the state.” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) is co-sponsor of the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act.

2) Carmel, California, is on the verge of passing one of the strictest smoking bans in the nation. “With unanimous support for the ordinance Tuesday, it would appear the ban will be approved,” reports the Monterey County Herald. “It covers all tobacco products, and includes e-cigarettes, medical marijuana, and smokeless tobacco. Smoking would only be allowed inside a residence or in a car… Smoking, should the ordinance be approved, would be considered an infraction. After three infractions, it could be charged as a misdemeanor.”

3) Contest: readers who register at CigarsFor.Me this week will be registered to win a free five-pack of cigars. specializes in recommending premium cigars after users fill out a Palate Profile. It’s fun, easy, and this week you can win free smokes. Click here.

4) Deal of the Week: Smoke Inn just got the highly anticipated El Güegüense (pronounced “el-way-wen-say”) by Nick Melillo’s Foundation Cigar Company in stock. You can use coupon code “stogie10” to knock ten percent off the price.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Tip: Four Things To Do In Autumn

8 Oct 2015


October. Playoff baseball. NFL in full swing. Hockey is starting. Leaves changing colors… It’s now clear summer is in the rearview mirror and winter is coming.

Fall is an exciting time for cigars and bourbon, and it’s also a good time to do some housekeeping in preparation for the colder months to come. So here are four things to put on your to-do list:

Prep Your Humidor for the Winter

People seem to know that the heat of summer can make maintaining proper humidity a challenge, but the truth is winter can do the same. The combination of dry air and artificial heat can lower your humidity in a hurry if you aren’t careful. So if you use Boveda packs or humidification beads, now is a good time to swap in some new ones. If you rely on distilled water/humidor solution to keep proper humidity, now is a good time to do the salt calibration test to make sure you are getting the proper readings from your hygrometer.

Check Out the New Cigars

Summer is a flood of announcements of new cigars, but by now people have actually had a chance to smoke them. Frankly, there are too many for one person to have smoked already. There are lots of reviews of new cigars online, including quite a few here at So find a reviewer you trust and read up to see what sounds good.

Visit Your Local Cigar Shop

Many people buy their boxes online to save a few bucks. However, with so many new releases now on the shelf of your local cigar shop, now is a great time to visit. For all those reviews you just read (see above) find the handful or so that sound most intriguing and pick up one or two each. A week or two later, once you’ve smoked through them, you may have found a new favorite.

Try to Hunt Down Some Rare Bourbon

Right now is prime time for finding rare, limited release bourbons. Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (George T Stagg, William Larue Weller, Sazerac 18, Eagle Rare 17, and Tomas H. Handy), Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, and Parker’s Heritage have all either just begun arriving at stores or will be in the next month. Finding them at close to retail price (all sell for under $100, except for the 20 and 23 year Pappy which are $150 and $250, respectively) is always tough. But now is the best chance you’ll have. (Here are two tips: Either get to know a local shop owner or look for out-of-the-way shops.) And if you strike out on these hard-to-find whiskies, you can always check out our list of best bourbons under $30.

Patrick S

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: Why I (Sort Of) Gave Up Cigars

7 Oct 2015

With a medical procedure looming, my doctor insisted I give up cigars for several weeks to clear nicotine from my system. I don’t really know how serious the risk is. All the material she gave me seemed to focus on the impacts of cigarette smoking.

Still, I trust her skills, she’s an excellent surgeon, and I knew I’d have no difficulty complying. And I do want to recover as quickly as possible. If that means a few weeks without cigars, so be it. What I didn’t fully count on, though, was how much I’d miss my cigar time.

Sitting on the back deck in the afternoon reading the papers or having one in the evening and listening to a baseball game. Dropping by the local B&M on Sundays and lighting up while watching an NFL game.

Sure, I can still read, listen, and watch. But, for me, these activities lose something without an accompanying cigar. Rarely do I ever smoke more than one cigar a day, so it’s purely pleasure, not a habit.

And I know about tobacco habit and addiction. I started smoking cigarettes as a teenager. Back then, I think the minimum smoking age was 16, though no one hesitated to sell a pack to someone much younger (who was just assumed to be buying them for their mother or father). My high school had a student smoking area and, when I went to work, every desk came with an ashtray. Cigarette advertisements were everywhere.

I smoked steadily for decades and quit about 30 years ago. It was about the time the anti-smoking movement was beginning to take hold. Employers were doing things like banning smoking in the open and creating smoking rooms. I could see all that wasn’t going to end well for cigarette smokers.

But that didn’t make it any easier to quit. I struggled for months, maybe years, before I didn’t want another cigarette. Part of that was because I truly enjoyed smoking cigarettes. Well, some of them, anyway.

I used to joke that I’d take up cigarettes again when I retired. I didn’t but instead became attracted to cigars. Why, I’m still not exactly sure, though I don’t think it really had anything to do with cigarettes.

Lighting up a cigarette was a reaction, a release, a trigger. A way to focus, a signal to perform, a reward. Cigars are much more about relaxation and pleasure, a complement to enjoyable activities.

So, I’m looking forward to getting done with the operation, recovering, and, once again, hitting the humidor.

George E

photo credit: N/A