[Smoke at a café / Alex E. Proimos]


Wine and cigars seem simple enough but often quickly confuse and alienate folks. Thankfully, it’s really not that complicated. A little chemistry 101 lesson and you will be good to go. It’s important to start with the components that make up cigars, then understand the components of wines. Once you know those two pieces of the puzzle, you’ll be able to decide which cigar would pair well with which wine.


Chemistry 101: Cigar and Wine

Tobacco is made up of five essential biological components: phenols, sugars, nitrogen, alkaloids and chlorophyll. “Phenols are considered organic weak acids; however, they are so weak, that their acidity can be virtually ignored,” Ed Mantilla notes in Stogie Review. “Sugars are neutral compounds. The nitrogen in leaves is present in many forms (both organic and inorganic entities).”


To fully understand the contribution of the total nitrogen to the pH of a cigar one would need an advanced college degree. Thank goodness you don’t need a college degree to enjoy taste. In basic terms, the acidity in a cigar is measured by the sourness or tartness of the cigar’s taste, much like wine. The presence of alkaloids neutralizes some of the acidity. The caffeine in your morning coffee is an alkaloid. “The alkaloid that we are mostly familiar with in a cigar is nicotine,” Mantilla says. “The chemical reaction to produce nicotine in tobacco plants is catalyzed by the sun. The process of fermentation which releases ammonia (NH3) may be another contributor the alkalinity of a cigar,” notes Mantilla.


Some significant parallels can be drawn to wine: acidity levels, presence of sugars, and fermentation, to name a few. As far as acidity goes, all wines contain some acetic acid.  At low levels, acetic acid can enhance the character of a wine, but at higher levels (over 0.1 percent), it can become the dominant flavor and is considered a major flaw. Components that make up wine are intended to pair well and balance the harshness often found in a cigar that otherwise might be enjoyed solo. When a wine shows a lot of acidity you want a mellowing cigar to counterbalance those notes.


Tips to Pair Cigars and Wine


[Cigar and wine / Robert S. Donovan]


When pairing a wine with a cigar, look for unique flavors to enhance the wine. For example, notes of vanilla in a chardonnay and notes of vanilla in an Ecuador green-wrapped cigar. Try thinking of wine on a scale as you would a cigar. Light whites wines on one end and ports or full bodied red wines on the other end with Pinot Noirs, Merlots and Cabernet somewhere in the middle. So light flavors pair best with light; heavy, sweet flavors of wine pair best with heavy and intense cigars. Another example could be a robust Cameroon cigar paired with an Argentinian Malbec.


One of the most obvious pairing with a cigar would be a port such as the inexpensive but always pleasing Christian Brothers Tawny port. In fact, fuller-bodied cigars are recommended with fortified wines like brandies, whose considerable alcohol content and sweetness are a natural complement to a well-aged tobacco.


According to cigar enthusiast Ron Barker, the Red Habano is one of the fullest flavored cigars with full and spicy flavors. All too often the cigar smoker thinks of spice as pepper but, in this case, there is little pepper and a rich, full and complex flavor that can stand up to the biggest red including Cabernets Sauvignons, Petit Verdots, Zinfandels and Burgundies. Such full-flavored cigars work best when they are matched to a wine with pronounced red-fruit flavor and a fuller body.


There is as much to learn about cigars as there is about decent wines. In fact, Cigar Aficionado Executive Editor Gordon Mott says one can find all kinds of information regarding what “qualities to pair in a cigar with that of wine.” But being a wine connoisseur, I like to flip the tables and pair my cigar with my wine rather than my wine with my cigar.


Some states have created their own wine and cigar trails. For example, the Virginia Wine and Cigar Trail helps smokers find those wineries that support the combined aesthetic of cigar smoking with wine drinking. Cigar Volante, sponsor of the Trail, helps Virginia wineries appeal to this market with Panacea (Dominican filler) pairings, the perfect match of cigar and their wines, and everything it takes to make their winery cigar friendly.


[Cohiba / Morberg]


Cigars International is a great place to find any cigar made these days. Walk into one of their local Pennsylvania stores and note the amazing smells. You won’t be in the store long before a staff will ask if they can assist you. A number of liquor stores now have a cigar section, and some even have their own humidor. Likewise, cigar shops are doing a profitable business when positioned near a fine wine liquor store. 


Much like food and wine, cigars and wine have a long love affair that has stood the test of time. Many wines are being paired with classic cigars for an incredibly enjoyable after-dinner experience. Notably, the art of wine and cigars dates back many years and in recent years has drawn the attention of many a celebrity, from Salvestor Stallone to Kelsey Grammer, sales have dramatically increased year after year. According to the CDC, in 2009, cigars generated more than $8 billion in retail sales. So, not only is the trend for good wine not showing signs of fading neither is the fascinating with and pairing of a good cigar. 


Tags: cigars, malbec, port

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