Pairings 101: Cigars and Wine

Drew Estate

Below is the third and final Guest Article we have for you on pairing cigars and alcoholic beverages. All three pieces have been written by Lindsay Heller and cover Spirits, Beer, and Wine. To prevent information overload, we have separated these articles by beverage type and have presented them in the same manner. After reading what Lindsay has to say about pairing cigars and beer, be sure to read through her previous two articles published here on Stogie Review.

If you are interested in writing a Guest Article for Stogie Review, please take a moment to read our forum thread listing what we are currently looking for. The forum thread will change as we receive Guest Articles and consider other topics. If you have something in mind to submit which is not listed, feel free to drop us a line as we are always on the lookout for good guest content.

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Pairings 101: Wine

Very rarely do we hear about someone actively pairing wines with cigars and this happens for a plethora of reasons, usually stemming from a lack of wine knowledge and/or experience. First of all I am not going to touch white wine because there is no sense in pairing it with a cigar, so let’s tackle the wonderful world of reds. Red wines can be light and simple to full, deep and inherently complex, but the quickest way to gain some valuable wine knowledge is to read about common grape varietals and the tastes they tend to produce.

The vast assortment of varietals is just too many to list here, so for the sake of this article I will discuss common types of wine. If you are just getting into the wine world, the following is a list of “flavours” generally used to describe the respective red wine’s delivery on the palate:

Cherry, blackberry, tobacco, leather, plum, pepper (black/white),
clove, cinnamon, fig, mocha, cocoa, coffee, licorice, smoke

Thankfully one major aspect of wine classification is the same for cigars, so in turn there are light, medium, and full-bodied wines.

Light-Bodied

If you think you might like something on the lighter side, go for the famed French Beaujolais Nouveau or the Spanish Tempranillo. These wines have less tannins, which mean they have adopted less of the flavours that come from the grape’s skin during the winemaking process. Lucky for you the recently released 2009 Beaujolais Nouveaus are considered some of the best vintages in years thanks to excellent harvests, so not only are many of the high-scoring wines excellent, but they are inexpensive, too. The Nouveaus tend to be light and fruity with a lot of cherry and dark berry concentration, so a great smoke to go with Georges DuBoeuf’s Beaujolais-Villages (for example) is the Avo XO. At risk of the cigar being ever so slightly stronger than the wine, the Avo XO is incredibly smooth and while the cedar notes are sweet, there is delicate spice and coffee that rather remarkably counter the inherent fruitiness of the Beaujolais, making for a spectacular experience.

Medium-Bodied

The most commonly consumed reds are medium in body, so we are in the territory of Merlots, Shirazes (or Syrahs), etc. While Merlots are wonderful, I think they are better blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc than on their own, which means a mix of those grapes produces some amazing wines from Bordeaux in southeastern France. For a great treat pick up a bottle of Chateau Chavin St. Emilion 2005 and smoke a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure no. 2 (Cuba) or an Illusione cg4. Both of these cigars have a smoky, meaty quality to them with nice leather notes to balance out the high acidity that is often characteristic of Bordeaux.

When it comes to Shiraz (or Syrah) there are some amazing Rhône wines from France, which is one of my favourite regions because the Southern Rhône is the home to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, one of my all-time top vintners on the planet. Despite its French origins, this grape also produces well-respected wines from Australia, such as the Penfolds line. If you want to go French, then look no further than a Chateau de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2005: this wine is ripe with dark fruits, spices, leather and licorice that shrouds this great Earthy/tar flavour that is the match for a Tatuaje Havana VI Nobles Robusto. If you want a better wine bargain, then go Australian: you can get a bottle of Penfolds Thomas Hyland Shiraz for about $15.00 per bottle. This Shiraz is a bit fruitier than its French counterpart, but there are nice oak notes to it. I would suggest an Alec Bradley SCR Robusto with its fruit notes that eventually give way to slight spice and deeper Earthen flavours that really help bring out lesser notes in the wine.

Full-Bodied

Do you like red meat, wild game and full-bodied cigars? If you do, then welcome to my world and also the world of full-bodied wines. When it comes to the best bold reds then look no further than Italy, where rich soil for hundreds of years has produced top harvests and top winemaking families. There is a beauty in a full-bodied wine and a full-bodied cigar: most smokers hear the term “maduro” and automatically assume the cigar will be musky, spicy and/or heavy, but in reality many maduros do have some sweetness to them usually in the form of dark fruit, vanilla or cane sugar. Full reds often have nuances of vanilla, dark berry, tobacco and pepper, so these wines not only marry well with a great filet, but also a great cigar.

For a full northern Italian wine I look no further than a Barolo. Barolos are big, bold and by law are required to age for a minimum of three years before hitting the market to soften its youthful and strong tannic qualities. While that description makes it sound like a beast, let me tell you the Nebbiolo grape makes wines that include airs of vanilla, tobacco, wild strawberry and dark chocolate. Nebbiolo thrives in soil that’s sandy and loaded with clay and limestone, so when drinking a glass of Pio Cesare 2005 make sure you light up a Camacho Corojo Diploma Maduro: this cigar is deceptive and smoky, for it actually gets bolder the more you smoke and opens up as the Barolo does while drinking. The spice of the cigar develops off of creamy smoke and creates great interplay off the wine’s clove and rich almond notes.

Another full-bodied red I am extremely partial to is Negroamaro from Puglia in Southern Italy. (Puglia is the “heel” to Italy’s “boot.”) I have to admit I am rather biased towards this particular varietal because my Grandmother is from Puglia, but this part of Italy produces some spectacular wines. Although Negroamaro can be the sole grape, it is generally the dominant component amongst other grapes such as Sangiovese and Primitivo.

On that note, a wine I always keep in my house is the Tormaresca NePriCa 2007 because it is not only great to simply drink, but it pairs so well with most of the dishes I cook on a regular basis. “NePriCa” is a little compound word created to designate the wine’s composition, in this case Negroamaro, Primitivo and Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is thick in texture and remarkably smooth in its delivery and retails for about $12.00 per bottle. Loaded with notes of plum, black cherry, spice, licorice and ripe raspberry, the Tormaresca is a nice match for a Partagas Black: with the spices in the cigar’s draw playing into the peppercorn and licorice in the wine, this smoke allows for a less fruity finish per sip, making it a win-win when it comes to strength while maintaining balance.

Lindsay M. Heller is New York City’s only female tobacconist with years of experience as a cigar lover and professional. She has been featured in numerous national and international lifestyle publications, such as Rolling Out, Cigar Snob and Europe’s El Gusto. Outside of her activities in the political arena fighting for smoker’s rights, Lindsay also hosts cigar events and classes, pairing seminars, participates in tasting panels and as a consultant in blending. She currently works for Nat Sherman on Fifth Ave in Manhattan. If you would like to contact her, she can be reached at TheCigarChick@vzw.blackberry.net or you can follow her on Twitter as “@TheCigarChick.”