Cigar Hunter: Burning the midnight maduro

David Martosko | Executive Editor

Note: The response to the first “Cigar Hunter” column was so positive that I’m going to review cigars for The Daily Caller more often than the original once-per-week plan. If you want to quibble with my taste buds or let me know about your favorite smoke, find me on Twitter.

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Montecristo is one of the most storied names in tobacco. It dates from the mid-1930s when Alonso Menéndez Garcia bought a cigar factory in Cuba — long before Castro’s revolution — and renamed the place after Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo.

The cigar rollers, he had learned, liked the book a great deal — especially when a “lector” would read it to them over a loudspeaker while they worked. Cigar rolling was boring stuff, and no one had iPods yet. Novels were among the workers’ only escapes from the socialist newspapers and other trade-union propaganda that their shop stewards ordinarily read to them all day.

Today, Montecristo cigars are divided into two lines. The Cuban variety is produced for Habanos SA, the state-owned tobacco company. It’s their best seller by far, and therefore the most widely smoked Cuban cigar brand in the world.

The others are made in the Dominican Republic, by Altadis SA, the Franco-Spanish company that also makes such — ahem — “interesting” cigar choices as Backwoods, Phillie Blunts and Dutch Masters. After Castro nationalized the cigar industry in 1961, Garcia’s family established the parallel company so they could sell to Americans. And also as a middle finger to El Jefe Máximo.

What a choice: supporting Castro, or feeding the beasts who put machine-made smokes in 7-11 stores. Of course, Cuban cigars are contraband in Virginia, even though tobacco may as well be the state flower. It’s not like I really have a choice.

So I bought a ten-pack of Montecristo “Media Noche” Edmundo cigars a few weeks ago at CigarBid.com, paying $39.80. The Edmundo name is an homage to Edmond Dantès, Dumas’ protagonist. It’s 5 inches long and has a 55 ring gauge, like a fatter than average robusto.

If you’ve been to Cuba — or practically anywhere other than the U.S. — and saw a Cuban Montecristo “Edmundo,” chances are it was about a third of an inch longer and a 52 ring gauge. I have no idea why Altadis redefined the size or made it as a maduro cigar, but it is what it is.

Retail price is usually around $9.00 each for the Dominican Edmundo, if you can find them in a store. The churchills go for $12 or $13 apiece! So $3.90 for this cigar was a steal.

The Media Noche is dark. Midnight dark, almost like a La Flor Dominicana “Colorado Oscuro” (one of my favorites).

Inside the Nicaraguan binder is a blend of Dominican, Nicaraguan and Peruvian tobacco. It’s the same blend Altadis uses for the Montecristo Platinum and the Series C. So if you’ve tried those, you have a sense of what this stogie is like. (RELATED: Cigar Hunter: A cheap Brazilian that doesn’t involve your girlfriend)

But the dark maduro wrapper makes this a completely different experience. It’s an oily Connecticut broadleaf maduro that’s darker than the leather chair in my office — yes, that really comfy one that I’m not allowed to smoke in because I work in Washington, D.C. Don’t get me started.

The name Montecristo usually conjures an image of a gentlemanly, light-colored cigar, the sort of smoke that you could light on the promenade deck of a cruise ship and not seem out of place. But the Media Noche looks more like a man’s man’s cigar. Think Clint Eastwood, rugged and rustic, but cleaned up and clean-shaven.

Sometimes a really oily wrapper leaf can also feel “toothy,” like there’s an endless series of goosebumps on the surface of the cigar. Not this one. It’s smooth all over, and the roller did a fantastic job hiding the seams in the wrapper leaf. I hate when a good cigar unravels halfway through, and I can’t imagine this one falling apart. (Someone should teach the folks who make the Obsidian robusto how to accomplish this.)

I’ve smoked a few of the Media Noches, and they were very consistent. Toasting the foot — just warming the end of the cigar with a little flame from a cedar stick — released the scents of wood mulch and hay. But the first few puffs were all cocoa. A very nice combination of taste and smell, and a lot milder than I was expecting from the dark wrapper.

About a third of the way through, I started to taste a faint cherry flavor, but not cough-drop cherry. This was more like a bing cherry, mild and fresh. Five minutes later I was tasting cocoa again, and nothing else.

The Media Noche is advertised as a “medium to full-body” cigar, but I would put it on the low end of medium. It’s not bold in the least. There’s only a very faint aftertaste, and what little there is I would call sweet instead of spicy. This cigar only slightly lights up the back-of-the-tongue “bitter” taste buds. It’s smooth all the way to the nub.

I expected this cigar to burn slowly since it’s on the chubby side, and it didn’t disappoint. This is not something you can devour during a lunchtime walk around the block. It’s more like a great golf-course cigar: It’ll last nine holes, and there’s enough tobacco burning that you don’t have to worry about needing to re-light it every time you put your driver back into the bag.

The final flavors in the Media Noche were a slight shift away from chocolate and toward toasted almonds and cedar, again with nothing I would call acrid or spicy. The “toasted” flavor settled on the soft palate and lingered until long after I was done smoking, which I didn’t expect at all.

The draw was consistent and easy, although at the beginning there was a little bit of resistance. By the last third, however, it was almost too easy, like a loosely packed pipe. But the smoke was everywhere. Thick, billowy, fragrant sometimes silky. If you don’t golf, and you’re — oh, I don’t know — choosing a vice presidential candidate, this would make a really cool “smoke-filled back room” cigar.

Do they do that anymore? Somehow I doubt Mitt Romney would approve.

Next up will be the new “Inferno” by Oliva Cigars, which the guys at Famous Smoke Shop in Pennsylvania were kind enough to send me this week.

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