Cigars … if they pair perfectly Spirits and their complex character, like whiskey, cognac or even rum, it is however common knowledge that they do not match very well with wines – and even less with the effervescence of champagnes… Therefore, it is much more likely to be offered a Spirit or a sweet wine to go with its smoking. And yet, the potential of this new “banned” pairing should not be overlooked ! If at first glance, the effervescence and the low alcohol content appear to be enemies of this exceptional product, it is not the case at all. Quite the contrary : if the balance is reached, the effervescence of the wine will enhance the perception of the sensed flavors during the tasting, thus highlighting all the subtleties and complexity of the chosen cigar.
In the region of Champagne and beyond, they are cigar specialists, they willingly and passionately reveal their secrets for successful pairings with this exceptional product : champagne. Interview with these two experts, Béatrice and Florence Handsaeme from La Chaise au Plafond.
“To know how to smoke is to recover certain forgotten rhythms, to re-establish communication with the self… If there is a secret of the cigar, it is to be found in the slow movements, the dignified, measured smoking. The movements are more than mannerisms ; they are ceremonial acts.”
Zino Davidoff, The Connoisseur’s Book of the Cigar (1967)
A look back at an encounter that changed everything
Let’s talk about your experience : can you explain what led you to the world of cigars and where does your passion come from?
“We started in 1995 with pipe tobacco. At that time, we were not consumers of cigars at all. But then, an exhibition reserved for tobacco professionals led us to this new world. During this event, we met a Franco-Honduran cigar producer : Mrs. Selva. And we thought it was an exclusively male world !
She trained us and we were immediately transported by the technical side of this new sphere as well as the Honduran terroirs – it should be pointed out that for amateurs and aficionados it is especially Cuban cigars that count… Ever since that encounter, we have been passionate about the complex and endless world of cigars…”
The basics to know about cigares
From your experience, what are the main-basics to know about cigars?
“First of all, there is the blend of the leaves of the filler, called tripa, which constitutes the cigar – it is made of three types of leaves, each with a very specific role. When you draw on a cigar, there is a leaf which slows down, one which regulates the combustion and the draw. This will give to the aromatic leaf the opportunity to develop the aromas according to the smoking. And this blend is a recipe that remains very secret : each House of cigars has its own recipes. Just like the cellar master blending the different vins clairs for champagnes, each producer, each estate has their very own blends.
It is important to know as well that 2 years are necessary before the release of a cigar on the market. In the different steps to craft a cigar, there is the planting of course, the evolution of the plant in its soil, its terroir, followed by the picking of the leaves which are then sorted and dried under high controlled. Next, comes the fermentation which brings all the aromatic value. At this stage, the stacked bale sheets are raised in temperature with constant control of the degrees. It is on this stage that rely both the taste and the individuality of the future cigar. Finally, there is the crafting of the cigar itself with different whole leaves. For the champagne-pairing, we chose this time a long tripe acho a mano cigar, which means a full hand-rolled up, from the wrapper, called capa, to the wrapper.
In the blend of the cigar, there is then the choice of the binder – called capote – which allows to maintain the three leaves of the filler together to constitute the cigar. Finally, there is the last wrapper – which is generally the tallest tobacco leaf on the plant, the prettiest, the least ribbed – it is the “wedding dress” giving the aesthetic aspect of the cigar.
These cigars will then rest for several months, in their country of origin – where they have been rolled – until reaching maturity.”
What are the different types of cigars?
“During a cigar tasting, a connoisseur is generally looking for certain tastes – the length of the palate, the aromatic palette. Then comes under consideration the choice of terroir. There are Cuban, Honduran, Nicaraguan cigars, as well as those from Santo Domingo. However, when it comes to cigars, the brand and the vitola – shape and size – are generally first to be considered. Take for example champagnes : within a brand, there are Blanc de Blancs, Rosé, Vintages… In the world of cigars, there are within one brand, different vitolas leading to a different consumption for the connoisseur.
The golden rule concerning tasting – whatever the terroir – is above all to maintain a constant hydrometry rate of 70. There should never be a thermal shock, which means that the cigar should always be in this constant hydrometry, so it does not lose its aromas and its quality. “
Cigare and pairings
Why is the cigar difficult to pair with champagne?
“There are many reasons. The temperature for a start : take the champagne, it is recommended to be serve at certain freshness for example. Yet, a fresh champagne with a lit cigar – therefore hot -, it will not be the easiest thing to create a balanced pairing. But, if the chosen cigar does not develop an overly powerful gustatory palate – like a cigar from Honduras or Santo Domingo terroir -, it will be possible to work on harmonies. In the knowledge that with fresh champagne loaded with bubbles, there will certainly be a thermal shock. The inconvenience of the cigar is that when it is smoked, it heats up and in terms of taste, it envelops and marks the palate. But over time, as the tasting progresses, champagne and cigar will go hand in hand.
Take a Blanc de Blancs with an Honduras or a Santo Domingo cigar ; decant the champagne and it works perfectly well. Admittedly, this is a complicated exercise. But in conviviality spirit, it comes off well and the pairing is absolutely possible. Preferably, turn to Blanc de Blancs champagnes, ones with more floral notes and a delicate effervescence. As far as our experience is concerned, we recently made a pairing with a Flor de Selva cigar and one of the champagnes of the Cattier House. Both evolved well together.
As for the choice of cigar, the aromatic power prevails with the Cuban terroir, while the Hondurans and Santo Domingo, are the quintessence. The Davidoffs, for example, are crafted in such a way so they develop all the taste subtlety of the aromas. “
How to pair champagne and cigar ?
“Always choose a cigar depending on the moment and the time that are going to be dedicated to it. Just know that there is no good or bad cigar, it is necessary to adapt according to the moment we want to have. There are short cigars – a quarter of an hour to twenty minutes – and others, like Churchill cigars requiring an entire hour and offering an evolution during all the smoking.
A connoisseur might be looking for intensity, aromatic power, quintessence of a flavor with a subtlety of aromas, a lightness, a linear cigar – like the robusto vitola which from the start develops all the aromas of the cigar. Therefore, all the tones of aromas are immediately available to the palate and it develops from the onset its character. With a longer cigar, like the Churchill, there are three levels : the first third on finesse, lightness offers a soft evolution, the second third which lets denote all the flavors and tones and finally the last third – also called the manure taste – develops the aromatic power. The most interesting part is the second third. But the thing to remember : a cigar is something that lives … It will heat up – there is a combustion. It is this heating that offer a variety of the aromas that we try to interpret with words that evoke the spirit – woody, smoky, roasted coffee, peaty, floral … all these variations that connoisseurs can taste more or less depending on their palate subtlety. From there, it is possible to think and work on harmonies.
At La Chaise Au Plafond, we always advise to start the pairing experience with the cigar and then wonder what champagne could match with the structure, the aromas, the complexity and the aromatic power. It also allows the palate and taste buds to become filled with the aromas. The cigar should always be the dominant inasmuch as it should set the tone for the pairing. Above all, it should not be dominated by the alcohol.
It should not be forgotten either that a cigar evolves during smoking, so let the wine come with…»
Service suggestion for cigar PAIRINGS:
“Do not serve champagne that is too cold : to avoid both closing the aromas of the wine, but in order not to create A too BIG contrast with the heat of the smoke from the cigar As well. “