Wine Not?

The art of pairing cigars with fine ports and more

By Patrick Okubo, Master Sommelier


like any other pairing, depend on the person, the flavors they tend to enjoy and the experience in which they are imbibing. As a sommelier, suggesting a pairing—a very particular type of cigar and a beverage—truly depends on the preferences of the consumer. Yet more often than not, the avenue that leads me to the “right” choice for a client includes weeding out flavors they do not enjoy as equally as finding those they do.

For example, I have an extremely delicate palate; the instant the smallest dash of Tabasco touches my mouth, the result includes a sheen of sweat that doesn’t pair well with public outings. So I try to avoid the fiery pairing of a big Gurkha cigar with Jack Daniels. Others may love the heat and sweetness of Jack Daniels with their big cigars. It creates a spiced, macerated black cherry flavor that can linger in their mouth. This full-throttle flavor from the cigar and drink combo is truly a “manly” feeling. Maybe that’s your thing.

The ideal pairing for guys like me, who prefer the flavor of the smoke but not the power and heat of it, are matching a cigar with cloyingly sweet beverages. Think dessert wines such as Sauternes (a honeyed white dessert wine), a fortified wine like Port or a liqueur with sugar in it. Take a sip of one of these sweet nectars and let it coat the inside of your mouth right before you take a puff… now that’s what I enjoy. The sugar coating keeps your mouth from burning while enhancing the cigar’s flavor. Try to match the lightness of color to the cigar; a light-colored Chateau Gravas Sauternes with a Montecristo White. Or a Tatuaje Maduro with Tia Maria coffee liqueur will match the dark roasted flavor. My personal favorite is the Drew Estates Legends amaretto-infused cigars with Disaronno.

It’s very difficult to pair cigars with light bodied wine— meaning those with lower alcohol and sugar. I once had the opportunity to taste a very rare Cornas—a French Syrah with smoky, leathery, beef jerky, and cedar flavors. It tasted great before I lit up the cigar, but bitter after we started smoking. If possible, try to stay away from dry wines as they will get overpowered.

I recently had a cigar with a glass of EOS Tears of Dew Moscato (from Paso Robles), and it was wonderful combination, thanks to the rich and heavy nature of this sweet wine. Conversely, I’d stay away from a Moscato d’Asti, which is too light for this pairing.

For thought: Remy Martin Cognac boasts sultry fruit flavors, where Macallan Scotch, touts smoky tones. Cazadores Anejo Tequila adds a sweet, sappy flavor that’s rich and full of body. The possibilities of pairing these “brown spirits” and a rolled cigar are as endless as there are differences within the Scotch category. For example, the Islay brands are smokier while the Speyside Scotches are sweeter and smoother.

Beer also pairs well with cigars, but can range in complexity. Starting with the most simple, a pau hana Asahi after a hard days’ work might fare well from a few puffs is a pretty good combo. I know I’ve done this more than any other pairing. On the complex side, Chimay Red label, with its seven percent alcohol and robust flavors, goes well with an Ashton Aged Maduro smoke, the sum of these parts creating something rather decadent. The feeling of drinking a beer while smoking a cigar is not just about sipping and tasting—it’s more refreshing, as the cigar heats the mouth and the beer cools it before the next puff. Bolster the whole experience with some truly rich beers, like Ola Duhb, a dark oil porter aged in Highland Park Scotch barrels. Add a Maduro cigar with a pint of this and you’re in for an amazing experience.

The last category for pairings are for those who need that cigar in the morning before work or maybe just don’t drink alcohol: it’s the non-alcoholic beverage pairing. As cigars, wines and spirits differ greatly within their respective categories, so does coffee. Test a rich and full French press with a dark French roast and a Maduro cigar. A lighter, drip-filtered city roast coffee for will pair nicely with a lighter cigar. Espresso works too, but your cigar will most likely outlast it—unless you can handle a quadruple shot, and a few hours of feeling amped. Ginger beer is another awesome way to add some sweet spice to your smoke. And don’t forget the array of artisanal, spicy ginger ales out there that have enough sugar to put you back into the dessert wine pairing category.

The most fun will be testing all of these out to see what you like best. There’s no right or wrong answer, of course. And there’s no need to limit your experimentation to the above listed; try mixing and matching your favorite brand of cigar with dark rums, tequila, red wines, non-alcoholic drinks, different foods—and of course good company.

Photos courtesy of brands.

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