This blog has always had an element of cigars about it as well as wine. Whilst the latter is my main obsession and also my profession, cigars as a hobby have ebbed and flowed. About 13years ago I was fairly heavily “into” them and then again about 2-3 years ago, in between times my stock has aged and my smoking has been erratic. On holiday I will smoke a cigar most days but then at home I’ll often go 2, 3 or 4 weeks without a smoke. Therefore my expertise in cigars is of much less depth and experience.
About 2 years ago I started doing monthly reviews of cigars for a friend – Nic Wing – who had an online cigar magazine – Uk Cigar Scene. Very sadly last September Nic passed away suddenly and whilst Nic and I only really met up 3 or 4 times a year he often stood in last minute at dinners, loved chatting about rugby and always had a smile, he was one of life’s enthusiasts. I miss him and always think about him when I have a cigar now. He’d hate people to do anything but get on with things so I tend to think back to times like this evening that we put on. Nic was well liked and respected in the Cigar world, a few obituaries can be found here – Sautters, Hunters & Frankau & Friends of Habanos.
The tastings I was doing for Nic were always done blind with only one stipulation – that the reviewers do not try to work out, from appearance or size, what the smoke is. The experience crystallised a few thoughts that I have had about how cigars and wine are similar and different from an analytical or assessment point of view.
This is not a scientific analysis it is gut instinct and observations, first in – The Product and its Production.
Ageing has an affect on both, interestingly this is along the same lines, flavours meld and mellow and combine to become less rugged and more harmonious.
Vintage variations have a definite affect on both.
Diverse areas of production, this could almost be a difference as well but I am sticking with similarity as there are a few different major producers of cigars, not as many as wine, but many – Cuba, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic etc
Buying, I say this as both are best bought in cases/boxes so you can enjoy them over time but also best bought from experts who know the product and live and breathe it (ok bad word but you know what I mean).
The people they attract – Both products attract folks who like to share, sociable people and both have a strong on-line following – Forums, Twitter, Instagram etc.
A few big names dominate but many other gems exist – this is so massively true for wine but does exist in cigars where I would argue four Cuban Brands dominate the market – Montecristo, Romeo & Julieta, Partagas, Cohiba but others offer great value and interest to those in the know. Like Sancho Panza, a particular favourite of mine.
Variability is larger from cigar to cigar in the same format and brand than from specific wine to another bottle of the same specific wine. This is a blended product, Grand Marque Non-Vintage Champagnes might be the nearest wine comes to cigars here.
No “vine age” scenario when it comes to cigars, the crop is new every year and the ground is re-worked so whilst you have “terroir” in one way you do not have the same level of this that you have in an wine where vines grow year after year and go deeper and deeper and further and further.
Blending make cigars more like whiskey or as above Champagne the produce that goes into a cigar is from different places and different parts of the plant.
Sizes have fundamental effect on flavour and the way a blender may aim to make a certain smoke taste etc. Wine in time can be a different beast from different formats and you can argue that magnums are the best format for wines but the wine is the same in the different formats (in 99.99% of cases) – with cigars the blend can be different.
Social acceptability – Ok there is the anti-alcohol lobby about but generally wine is seen as a socially acceptable and positive thing to drink. It can be a sign of sophistication. Cigars, in general, are not accepted by many people and this will affect whether people explore them, Health clearly has a part to play here.
Mass market vs niche – Wine is very much a growing topic, more and more places are making wine and it is a “normal” part of more and more peoples everyday life. Cigars maybe growing at the top end in terms of quality and limited editions but the overall amount of people smoking them is likely to be declining (I have no official figures).
Now the actual Tasting Elements
Human Nature is a massive part of tasting – it is not an exact science, in fact tasting and assessing almost anything is heavily affected by mood, weather, envionment and your ability to taste on any one given day, wine and cigars are no different
It is very difficult to assess either “blind” – a they say in wine “a peak at the label is worth a hundred years in the trade”. One is often lead by what they expect someone to serve.
You have to taste a certain cigar or certain wine a number of times before you can really give a solid opinion – one taste or one cigar does not give you a full opinion in my view.
Tasting Memory – this is arguably the key thing, you need a good one to effectively build up a bank of references that mean each wine/cigar you taste adds to you comparative knowledge.
Vocabulary – both the tasting of cigars and wine require you to name and label tastes and flavours and textures using words. This can be very difficult. I almost put this in differences too as the range of adjectives for wine is far larger than cigars (I would argue).
Both can be affected by other “outside” factors – Cigars can be affected by what you drink with them – coffee and cognac don’t share a lot of flavours. Wine can be affected by what you eat with it.
Looks can be deceiving, it is often said that in wine tasting that “colour tells you very little” unless you know where you are, the same I believe is true with cigars. Wrapper shades vary. A dark wrapper doesn’t mean a strong flavour and the same is true of wine.
Time – You can track a wine over days and see development and get some idea of how it may age etc, you can’t do this with a cigar.
When, where and how long needed – you can’t light up anywhere and you need a certain amount of time. With wine you have much more flexibility.
Storage – this is a contentious one. I would argue that, other than with older wines you don’t see a massive amount of variability as long as storage differences aren’t extreme but with cigars, two to three days can ruin a stick, usually by drying up the oils it contains.
Quantum – you can assess masses of wines in a day (not always well) but cigars, for all but the most experienced, is far more limited in the number you can taste.
I have enjoyed writing this post and I hope to see it added to and evolving over time so comments are encouraged!