I am not usually keen on excessively strong cigars – in my opinion a cigar should be an instrument of pleasure rather than a test of strength and so I tend to steer clear of Bolívar and Partagas. On the whole Bolívar is just strong – it is as if someone asked the blender to keep the idea of a steamroller or Chieftain tank at the front of his or her mind while at work on this brand. And when I first tasted the Partagas series D No 5, I found it to be like life in the Dark Ages: violent and short.
As regards the appearance of a cigar, I like to see a wrapper of golden caramel with a light sheen to it, so that when one opens the box the contents almost seem to glow, much as treasure chests illuminate the faces of those who open them in cartoon books. My favoured shade of wrapper is the Claro or Colorado Claro, the former a light honey colour, the latter more of a caramel. I have therefore tended to avoid Maduro cigars, which are clothed in a dark, almost black wrapper, the result of longer fermentation. Moreover, no matter how good the cigar – and there are some Cohíba Maduros – the glossy gleam that I prize so much is absent. At worst – and I have seen some atrociously gaudy Maduros, from strange brands of cigar with big ring gauges and silly names, festooned with a multitude of brightly coloured bands – the Maduro looks to my eyes like a cigar roller with even worse eyesight than mine has mistaken a sheet of black sandpaper for a wrapper leaf.
So on paper the Partagas Maduro should be a no-go zone: strong, equipped with a dark wrapper and fitted with an extra band. However, there are times when being conscientious in one’s work has its benefits. I was in the humidor room at Davidoff and my eye alit on these new arrivals. More out of a sense of wishing to acquaint myself with a new cigar rather than any expectation of enjoying it, I clipped the end and ignited it.
In the past there have been one or two Partagas cigars that have surprised and delighted me: the Partagas blend responds well to the extra ageing of the Reserva and Gran Reserva. If you can find a box of the first Partagas Series D No 4 Reserva or the more recent Partagas Lusitania Gran Reserva, then buy them at all costs… even if it means remortgaging the house and taking the children out of private school for a term or two.
The Partagas Maduro, at least from the batch I tasted, is delicious and a sensible size – it is a 52-ring gauge with a length of 130mm (a little bit girthier than a Robusto). Just smelling the unlit cigar is enough to transport one to the escaparates of the great Havana factories. The Maduro wrapper, made using leaves picked from the upper levels of the tapado shade-grown plant, imparts a sweetness that tames what for me are the rougher edges of the Partagas blend and it was rolled beautifully with a cone of the slower-burning ligero leaf, appearing right where it should be at the core of the cigar.
To smoke one of these is to enjoy a Tate & Lyle moment, who describe its Golden Syrup with the words from The Book of Judges to the effect that out of the strong comes forth sweetness.