Cigar Review by Bernard the Toff & Christmas Plans by Guido Barbato
I was recently presented with a delightful little book entirely dedicated to Port and cigars. I was in heaven, at last a book worth reading, I thought! Sadly it wasn’t to be. The little book was incomplete and a little ill informed.
“Despite providing its peruser with a list of cigars to try, it failed to mention Sancho Panza! I don’t mean Don Quixote’s suffering squire but one of the oldest cigar brands in the world! Some would cry “outrage”! I would rather prefer to suggest it was a mere oversight, a sad sign of the times, a laxity typical of the parvenu, new money isn’t always synonymous with class, education or indeed sophistication. We need only stroll down Sloane Street or visit a top London nightspot to realise that …”
Sancho Panza cigars are named after Don Quixote’s georgic manservant; in Cuba there was once a tradition of naming cigars after literary figures, hence such names as Romeo and Juliet and Montecristo. Sancho Panza is one of Cuba’s oldest cigar brands being established in 1852, therefore almost 130 years older than the Cohiba brand, which was first sold to the public in 1982.
Sancho Panza cigars have a dark wrapper but despite this they are renowned for their mildness. This is because the leaves are matured for longer. Many believe Sancho Panza cigars delicate nature to be reminiscent of the early Havana’s, so when you smoke one, you’re going back in time. Despite being well -known in Spain, the Caribbean and the Middle East they are sadly often overlooked elsewhere. The mildness of this particular brand makes them perfect for the occasional smoker and perfect for the warmer climates, it is indeed a summer cigar!
“My favourite Sancho Panza is the Belicoso, which despite its name isn’t bellicose at all! A fine campana cigar, shaped in the form of a pyramid in an attempt to extract as much flavour as possible from such a delicate tobacco. A beautifully well constructed cigar with a fine draw and a beautiful ash crown. It is surprisingly complex for such a gentle smoke, developing from a milky coffee to a lush cocoa. The Belicoso has a lovely slow burn and is probably best appreciated on a beautiful antique bed in a languorous embrace with an accomplished lover on a balmy summer afternoon in the Med. Failing that I find that the Sancho Panza Belicoso partners Caol Ila 12 year old particularly well, helping to balance the buttery nature of this particular Islay whiskey, whilst at the same time allowing you to enjoy the delicate spice typical of Islay whiskies.”
As Rudyard Kipling once wrote “A woman is only a woman but a good cigar is a smoke”and Washington Irving noted that “Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart”.
“I agree wholeheartedly!I always invite friends, family and the occasional enemy to sample my exquisite food and drink at this time of year. Christmas 2012 will be a holiday to remember as some particularly exceptional wines will be perfect for drinking, mostly notably Barolo, Italy’s super heavyweight of the red wine.”
I tend to go for wines from the north eastern vineyards of Barolo, in particular Monforte d’Alba and Castiglione Falletto. The natural alchemy of dry weather, cool summers and mineral heavy top soil helps to produce powerful, intense and complex wines that reach full maturity at about 12-13 years.
At my Christmas dinner, I’ll be offering my friends and family Pio Cesare’s 1998 vintage. Pio Cesare is a consummate Barolo as it’s produced from grapes provided by several different vineyards in the area. The Ornato vineyard provides the majority of the grapes however Pio Cesare’s open secret is that these fine grapes are then blended with fruit from the north eastern area of Barolo, the previously mentioned Monforte d’Alba and Castiglione Falletto. The quality of these grapes adds complexity and depth to what would already be an exceptional wine. The alchemical magic involved in the entire process, creates an almost almandine black nectar, reminiscent of rosemary, incense and rich autumn fruit capable of seducing even the most resistant and unsophisticated of palates.
The white wine I’ll be serving this Christmas will be Verdicchio di Matelica, a wine not to be mistaken with its rather more popular sister Verdicchio di Jesi. Verdicchio di Matelica is a truly ancient wine that can be traced back to the 3rd century. Yet despite its rather glorious past the area of production is in fact diminutive and covers only a few hundred hectares on the Apennines between Ancona and Macerata.
The high altitude of the vines, clay soil and mild weather create a beautifully expressive wine that despite a certain flinty dryness offers a complexity typical of wine royalty. I’ll be serving Mirium La Monacesca Riserva 2008. A truly rare reserve only produced when the grapes are certain to provide a perfect vintage. The fruit is picked late when the fragile grapes have developed “noble rot”. This fungus also known as botrytis removes water from the fruit leaving the fruit acids and sugar, resulting in a mellow dry wine reminiscent of honeysuckle heather and pear drops.
Several friends will be staying with me in London this Christmas and I hope they’ll enjoy everything that London has to offer. I’ll take them to the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at the Tate. What a great show that is! I’ve already been twice but I’ll be visiting it again with my guests as it closes in January.
There are 180 works on show from all over the United Kingdom and further afield which in theory if not in practice should both comprehensive and inclusive. Sadly, it isn’t. There aren’t any works by John William Waterhouse, which is a minor tragedy. I was looking forward to comparing his Ophelia with that of Millais and his Lady of Shallot with that by Holman Hunt. Despite this however, the show is the best I’ve seen this year.
I’ll also be taking my friends to see Ben Waters at the 100 Club on December 29th. Perhaps you haven’t heard of Ben Waters which is sad as he’s one of the greatest jazz pianists alive today. He’s played with such greats as Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and The Rolling Stones.
Ben is an inspired and eclectic pianist who can best be described as a musical wizard blending dynamic boogie sounds with classics from the bootleg era and even rock n’ roll. December 29th will be a celebration of life and superb music. I’m really looking forward to it. If you’re in London, get a ticket!
Written by Guido Barbato