Just as the belief that certain wines are best paired with specific dishes is a fake-news device designed by sommeliers and chefs to make their professions marketable, so too is the doctrine assuming that specific beverages are more suited for enjoying with cigars than others.
When lighting a dense, hot Cuban cigar, current wisdom would have it that this mouthful of exotic smoky residue gains an extra dimension when flushed over with a Cognac, Single Malt Whisky or fine glass of Port. Don’t get me wrong: a Partagas Series D No. 4 draws deliciously into a mouth still reminiscing about the flavour of a Graham’s 1963 Vintage Port or a pre-War Frapin Cognac.
However, I have found the true beauty of cigar enjoyment coming to the fore when the smoking is done with a cool glass of white wine at hand. Or, even better, a flute of good sparkling wine. But perhaps this is because I am a person of extremities, wanting the cured tobacco fire to be radically tempered with a chilled washing by something dry, white and complexly fresh.
The other day I was presented with a Romeo y Julieta Havana cigar. It was a vintage number, the model of which I nor my generous sharer knew. But suffice to say the cigar was about the size of the reproductive organ of a West-Indian fast-bowler in the pre-Brian Lara era. I didn’t need a cigar-cutter to clip the thing – I had to look for a samurai sword or the restored axe of a blood-lusty Viking chief.
In any event, the fireplace was burning, a long evening of nothingness lay ahead and time was on my side to smoke this monster. I just had to find a World War II SS flame-thrower to light the damn thing and get puffing for the next two or more hours.
By the time I had expended copious oral energy in the drawing and sucking required to light the cigar, I thought lock-jaw had set in and was considering to interrupt the smoking to pay earnest, heart-felt homage to Linda Lovelace.
Once fired, however, the Romeo y Julieta turned out a beautiful thing. The smoke was soft, creamy and exceptionally aromatic. Flavour-wise the first inch or two exuded notes of vanilla, coffee and lemon-grass off-set by the comforting warmth one gets when a Dachshund curls onto your lap with a stick of purloined biltong in its mouth.
A bottle of Cap Classique was called for, and it turned out to be Org de Rac’s latest vintage of the Le Verne Blanc de Blancs 2016. The new vintage is smartly packaged with a night-fury black label, immediately elevating Org de Rac with the image it deserves. Classic. Skill-fully crafted by Cap Classique pioneer Frank Meaker, cellar master at Org de Rac, from organic Chardonnay grapes growing in the deep Swartland near Piketberg.
The Chardonnay vineyard lies next to the Berg River and is planted to magnificent red, iron-rich soils providing the wines with immense structure, firmed through the process of natural farming. Org de Rac has never seen a chemical fertiliser or factory-made pesticide.
With my palate and olfactory senses relishing the onslaught from the fine Cuban tobacco, the addition of the cold sparkle of the Blanc de Blancs Cap Classique turned the world upside down. How wonderful it was.
Like a jazz piano arriving at a Caribbean dance party, the wine added elegance, finesse and a classic beat to what was going on. The finely frothed attack on the mouth was like a polar bear gate-crashing a Turkish sauna, initially bracing and loud but then being present and welcome once the temperature had been brought down.
The Le Verne’s brilliant Cap Classique flavour profile was more than a match for what Cuba was throwing at me. Invigorating citrus wine flavours scattered around the mouth like of-course shooting stars before the satisfying bready richness of a wonderful bottle-matured sparkling wine took over. This was truly intoxicating and decadently flavoursome, a visceral and heady experience.
Just over an hour later the Romeo y Julieta had halved in length leaving perfect cylinders of silver-grey ash in the tray. As the great smoker Fidel Castro said: “All that I ask of a cigar, is that it burns evenly.”
The taste had changed along with the length. The last half of the smoke was spicy and long, offering greater power with fantastic flavours of earth and roasted chestnuts coming to the fore. With the Org de Rac Le Verne now being an empty-bottled memory, it was time to move to a more assertive white wine. Creation Chardonnay Reserve 2018.
Anthony Hamilton Russell, another serious cigar-lover, believes in Chardonnay’s ability to partner Cuban fire, so I knew my decision was beyond questioning. And the Creation affirmed this, thoroughly.
One distinction between South African Chardonnay and Burgundy is the sun in our wines. There will always be an element to local Chardonnay that is a bit sweeter, showing a tad more fruit. And this fact drove the Creation and Havana combination into another stratosphere.
The smoke was now pungent, wild-herb bittered decadence. And pouring a splash of beautiful Creation Chardonnay on all this resulted in me sucking at the cigar with disconcerting glee.
The lime and honey-comb taste of the wine flushed away the smoke like a northerly summer breeze cooling the mid-riff of a super-model who had passed-out in the humidity of a beach in the tropics. Wine of this quality provides a gorgeous mid-palate, and here the Creation Chardonnay lay in the mouth, calmly and moodily, sending sprays and bursts of sour-sweet citrus, almond and white flowers out into the mouth’s sensual world. Before the next draw of fire and heaven, smoke and wine on this side of paradise.
You can light my fire, anytime.