- Vitola: Short Churchill
- 6” x 48 ring gauge
- Purchased at Burns Tobacconist
I think the first time I smoked a Bellas Artes by A.J. Fernandez was immediately after I got done eating one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had. After consuming the original 50/50 burger at Slater’s (50% ground beef, 50% ground bacon, 1/3 pound after cooking…with avocado mash, pepper jack cheese and a fried egg on top) I was almost lightheaded, but the Bellas Artes was a wonderful “dessert.” That was close to two years ago and now A.J. Fernandez Cigars has issued a Maduro version of the cigar.
Many people may believe that the way to make a Maduro version of a cigar would be just to slap a dark leaf on the same filler/binder and call it good. Indeed, that is what happens in many cases…it’s just a matter of getting the right Maduro wrapper leaf and maybe tweaking the filler percentages a bit. With this cigar, it seems A.J. pretty much just threw out the old blend, which consisted of Honduran, Brazilian and Nicaraguan fillers, a Nicaraguan Quilali binder, and a proprietary hybrid wrapper called Rojita, made from cross-pollinating Connecticut Shade, Corojo 99 and Habano 2000.
The Bellas Artes Maduro uses Nicaraguan fillers, a Mexican San Andres binder, and a Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper. The only real connection it shares with the original Bellas Artes is the artwork is the same and the sizes are the same. So the reality is that this is less a “Maduro version” of an old blend, than a completely new blend. Just to be clear.
I smoked one or two of these prior to this review sample, which I purchased at Burns Tobacconist. I got some background information on the blend from Cigar-Coop’s news story.
As mentioned before, the band art for this cigar is pretty much the same as that used on the original. There is one important change, though. On the old cigar, the main band and secondary band used red as an vivid accent color; here the red is replaced with black. It’s quite striking, really. I think this may be the first time the secondary “AJ FERNANDEZ” band has used a color other than red…one of the first anyway.
The wrapper leaf was almost as dark. It was a shade past espresso roast coffee beans, not quite to the point of black. It also had virtually no shine in the light, though there was a good amount of oils to the touch. The super-rich earthiness coming from the leaf was very reminiscent of Mexican wrapper leaves, yet there was something else in there, too, that was its own thing—notes of anise and leather. The foot had a more traditional Nicaraguan earthiness, with notes of coffee and chocolate in the mix. There was a small gap where the cap didn’t quite meet the rest of the wrapper; I noticed it when I took it from the cellophane, but intended to try to review the cigar anyway if it didn’t get in the way of enjoyment.
After clipping the cap I found a very good draw that had dark flavors of earth, coffee and anise.
The original Bellas Artes surprised me with its complexity and I was afraid this would fall short because there were fewer countries represented in the makeup. Nicaragua has more than one kind of tobacco, though, and I was frankly surprised at the complexity of this Bellas Artes Maduro from the first time I fired it up. There was definitely a dark earthiness, but a smooth, strong espresso note and high-cacao chocolate, overlayed with a dark fruit sweetness and just a dash of pepper on the palate. The retrohale had a stronger pepper presence, as well as baking spice and anise.
The Bellas Artes Maduro started off medium-to-full in body, but by the second third it was definitely fully into the full-bodied range. I still got plenty of dark chocolate over the earthiness. Baking spice made its way to the palate while the pepper spice got more intense.
The final third had more earth, more chocolate, more spice—both baking and pepper.
Despite the flaw in wrapper application, the cigar performed very well. I had a great draw, very even burn line and solid ash over half an inch.
The price point is about the same as the original release and the blend gives as good an experience—though completely different—so I call it very good value.
The Bellas Artes Maduro started off extremely complex, with tons of different flavors presenting themselves right off the bat. That did not translate, however, into a lot of flavor transitions throughout the cigar. So complex in one way, but not in another. Bottom line, though, is that I really enjoyed this cigar and would gladly add it to my regular rotation. If you like full-bodied, strong Maduros, this is one of the best that A.J. Fernandez has ever blended.
As fate would have it, I will be back in SoCal the week after this review posts…and I may just have to remember to take a Bellas Artes Maduro for my after-lunch stogie when I visit Slater’s again.
Bellas Artes Maduro is available from Leaf Enthusiast sponsor, Cigar and Pipes.