Think cigar and all that thick, aromatic heavenly smoke, and companions such as Cognac, Port and Single Malt Whisky automatically spring to mind. Frankly, with a good Cohiba Robustos or Partagas no 4 from Cuba (where else?) burning in the hand, any of those aforementioned beverages will serve to induce the sought-after transcendental state of the cigar-lover.
I was recently having a cigar conversation with Anthony Hamilton Russell, a known smoker and sipper, and we decided that if we were going to have one thing in common, it is that cigars are great mates with wine. And one wine specifically: Chardonnay.
Yes, the sweetness of Graham’s Tawny 40 year and the mellowed spiritedness of a Frapin XO are smashing ways with which to alternate the cigar smoke in your mouth. But a cooled Chardonnay gives the smoke another dimension, the freshness of the wine sending gushes of citrus calm to the perfumed roast of the tobacco.
So now, if the quest for Chardonnay greatness is not enough to keep one busy there is also the search for the finest cigar Chardonnay.
Being a committed Cubanito, I am always going to go with Havana and the tobacco grown from the Vuelta Abajo region when taking a serious look at a cigar and wine match. And a recent box of Cohiba Siglos ll’s courtesy of a bet concerning a rugby match has made the quest quite active of late.
Last week I may have found the perfect cigar Chardonnay. And am now convinced that big-titted, round and shapely is the kind of Chardonnay you want to put the fire in your cigar, the swing in your salsa.
François Naudé, currently overseeing the wine side of things at Rhebokskloof Estate in Paarl, sent over an invitation. This was met, and upon returning from a spectacular visit I opened the Rhebokskloof Sandstone Grove Chardonnay 2014 which François had do kindly given as a send-off gift. It was the wine I has been looking for to smoke with.
This was the first Chardonnay I had from Rheboksloof. The farm climbs to a huge granite outcrop, part of the Paarl Rock system and the largest complete chunk of granite outside of Ayre’s Rock of baby-eating dingo fame. Wines are good, with Shiraz and Pinotage taking main brief along with Chardonnay, which was now lying before me in a glass the size of a modest goldfish bowl.
The wine colour is golden. And it is dense and heavy. Upon further study, Rheboksloof Sandstone Grove makes no excuse for being a large, full Chardonnay. Barrel-fermented. 50% new and 50% 2nd fill French oak. Matured for 12 months. Regular lees stirrings. Meursault on steroids.
The whole enchilada, thus, and it is evident in the wine’s shimmering gleam and edge of viscosity to the eye, as well as the nose of concentrated quince, Lyle’s Golden Syrup and clotted cream. Before the first sip, I knew it was going to be a monster, unashamedly eschewing all this talk of minerality, understated elegance and frilly underwear the Chardonnay growd are bandying around.
The cigar was cut, toasted and lit, the first draws revealing the tell-tale Cohiba trademarks of roast coffee, crushed aniseed and clean fire. Four tugs on this and a plume of smoke big enough to make a marriage proposition to an Apache squaw, and believe me, your mouth is ready for a slug of wine.
It comes perfectly in the shape of this Rhebokskloof Chardonnay. The attack on the palate is slow and assertive, leading to a riptide of splashing wine, breaking in waves of texture and flavours. It storms your smokey, warm and randy mouth, and the flavours are immense: lemon meringue baked by a woman wearing Chanel No 5; a basket of sweet red fallen apples, juice dripping from the stems; bright yellow butter, smeared thick on hot home-baked bread.
But with all this force and confidence and muscularity, there is a mysterious elegance to this wine. Fruit-forward and plush, it maintains a royal and statuesque presence. Acidity bolsters the pureness of the fruit. That fat, glycerol coating of the mouth is not done without purpose, but to enhance the totality of the Chardonnay experience.
Drawing on the Cohiba, the smoke changes from roast coffee and burning brush to more refined flavours. Halfway through, the cigar gets a dark chocolate taste going, off-set by a creamy, spicy flavour that with each draw is heightened by the gentle heat kindled by the glorious tobacco of Cuba.
Then another sip of Chardonnay, the excitement of full, voluptuous cold wine becoming an unlikely if very handsome dancing partner to the raging fire of life inside you.