Many of us know that the very finest wines in the world are best tasted after appropriate aging in proper conditions. But rather fewer understand that this is also true of premium cigars. And as with fine wine, the components of a premium cigar often improve with age.
Bold, powerful flavors mellow, imparting a more complex, fuller, experience. So if you’re not already collecting and aging your smokes, here are some things to consider as you build a cellar worthy of Zino Davidoff.
I can attest to the magnificence of aging firsthand after having been lucky enough to receive a package of pre-Castro Cubans that had been biding their time in a friend’s father’s humidor for over 50 years. Like a beautiful velvety, claret from a Grand Cru Classé, the smoothness on the palate and rich, warm flavors and aromas are what I remember most. Similar to the first Château Margaux 1982 I experienced some time in the early 2000s.
The feeling these aged cigars gave transported my mind’s eye to an image of myself ensconced in a well-worn cognac-leather armchair in a beautifully-adorned, high-ceilinged gentleman’s club, surrounded by leather Chesterfields, thick velvet curtains, and a roaring fire. Like a scene from a Jules Verne novel writ large. Sitting there puffing away with an enormous grin on my face, ecstatic with my Cuban companion and the transportive effect it created.
Needless to say nicotine and many other powerful polyphenolic compounds imbibed in the smoke had a lot to do with this, but back in the real world, to achieve such heady heights one must first commence with finely made cigars. For as with computer code and much else, if you feed garbage in at the front end of the process, you will get garbage out the back end too. Something like the Davidoff Masterpiece Series we recently wrote about would do a treat.
Our buddy Michael Herklots, a well-known and respected Vice President at Nat Sherman International for many years, and now the owner of new cigar company Ferio Tego, suggests, “Don’t judge a cigar by its cover, or more appropriately its wrapper—the outside leaf visible when selecting a cigar—but rather by the experience.
"Taste a single cigar first, and evaluate its body (mouth-feel) and intensity of flavor. If the ‘weight of the smoke’ on the palate is substantial, the look and volume of the smoke when expelled voluminous, and the flavors dominant, then that cigar is a great candidate to age.”
Aging of both cigars and fine wines relies upon the interaction of the components of the cigar (or wine) with mother nature in a controlled environment. In the case of cigars, which can absorb moisture, expand, contract, dry out, or go moldy, the keys are an inert storage container, controlled temperature, and controlled humidity.
Mess up on any of the components and you end up with cigars that taste of whatever you stored them in, cracked, drysticks, or moldy biohazards riddled with tobacco beetles that will consume your entire collection, leaving dust and holes in their wake.
Depending upon whom you listen to, you need to store your prized smokes in an environment ranging from 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 65% to 70% humidity; the cooler the storage the slower the aging process. That could be as simple as a humidor such as the desktop selection available from Davidoff, or as complex as building an entire room just for the task. Maintained correctly either will suffice.
At the end of the day, just as each of us has a different palate for wines and appreciates different producers, varietals, and age profiles, the same is true of cigars. As Herklots puts it, “Collecting and aging cigars needs to be a personal pursuit, not an investment vehicle. While there is an aftermarket for premium cigars, the return on investment is greater realized on your palate with friends, than in your bank account.
Aging premium cigars can improve a cigar favorably depending on what it is. What’s unique about premium cigars compared to the wine world is the non-vintage nature of the majority of the premium cigars available.”
Much like non-vintage champagne, “A premium cigar’s experience is intended to be maintained year after year, despite the fact that the characteristics of the individual tobaccos that make up the blend change due to climate and other geographical variables,” Herklots explains. “With wine we accept and welcome the difference each vintage brings, but in premium cigars, we expect consistency.
What makes aging cigars so unique is the ability to taste the aged cigar next to a newer production of the same blend in order to more accurately determine if in fact it is improving or not.”
Note, however, that “aging cannot be measured in weeks or months. Most premium cigars you purchase are already six to 12 months old. Age your cigars at least one year after your purchase date before tasting and evaluating. And always date your boxes.”
Which is why it is best to smoke some to see what you like, and then lay some down to see how they develop with age, as the complex blend of tobacco leaves and wrapper change profile over time. Take one out every now and then to see how it is changing and developing. And most of all, light up and enjoy.