There are a lot of important people that touch your cigar before you finally cut and smoke it. Without any of them, it’s unlikely you would get a finished cigar in the form we’ve become accustomed to, but there’s no cog in the wheel more important than those who grow tobacco. Without them, there’s simply nothing to start with.
For the most part, they are unheralded. Even amongst those in the cigar industry, growers are often left in the shadows. But there are some names that stand out first and foremost for the tobacco they grow or process: Aganorsa, ASP, Leo Reyes, Meerapfel, Oliva Tobacco and Robaina are among those with some name recognition. Pepe Mendez is also one of those names.
José “Pepe” Mendez is the founder of Jose Mendez & Co. SRL. A Cuban exile who came to the Dominican Republic in the 1970s, Mendez’s—or the Mendez family’s—roots in tobacco go back to the 19th century. The family operated a large cigarette factory in Cuba prior to the Cuban Revolution. José would eventually leave Cuba for the Dominican Republic, where he would begin another tobacco operation.
Mendez is credited with being one of the first growers of Dominican filler for cigars, something that would help the company grow to where it is today, becoming one of the largest premium cigar tobacco operations in the world. It is best known for its relationship with Altadis U.S.A., and now, the family’s name is appearing on a cigar from that company.
The cigar is the Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez, which debuted at the 2016 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show before a more formal launch in September. It uses an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, Dominican binder and filler tobaccos from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
Pilotico is a Cuban-seed strand that hadn’t been grown for some time because of disease issues. José Mendez & Co. began regrowing the seed in the Navarette region of the Dominican Republic and it made its debut into the Montecristo 80th Anniversary that debuted last year.
As for the Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez, it is offered in three sizes, each coming in a box designed to look like vintage trunk luggage.
- Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez Robusto (5 x 50) — $15.60 (Boxes of 20, $312)
- Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez No. 2 (6 x 50) — $16.60 (Boxes of 20, $332)
- Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez Toro (6 1/4 x 52) — $17.60 (Boxes of 20, $352)
- Cigar Reviewed: Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez Robusto
- Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
- Factory: Tabacalera de García
- Wrapper: Ecuadorian Sumatra
- Binder: Dominican Republic
- Filler: Dominican Republic & Nicaragua
- Length: 5 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 50
- Vitola: Robusto
- MSRP: $15.60 (Boxes of 20, $312)
- Release Date: July 28, 2016
- Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
- Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3
There are some black lines running through the rich brown wrapper. It’s not spotted or anything, but it is noticeable if you spend anytime evaluating the appearance. As for the aroma, there’s pita bread and a sweet, salty and acidic mixture that doesn’t add up to barnyard, though certainly shares some characteristics. The foot aroma provides a bit more clarity to some of these flavors: orange sorbet, hickory and some hints of cloves. As for the Politico’s cold draw, there’s a sweet raspberry flavor, some walnuts, green licorice and floral flavors.
I didn’t notice any tightness on the cold draw, but as soon as the cigar is lit there are signs of a problem. While there’s plenty of smoke from the foot of the Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez Robusto, there are issues regarding how much smoke is coming out the top, i.e. very little. What I do get is a semi-sweet mixture of floral, nuts and a sugar candy that reminds me of the inside of a jawbreaker-style candy. It takes a few puffs, but the smoke starts coming out of the top like a normal cigar and it’s a pleasant mixture that is earthy with a growing amount of burnt butter and some candied strawberries. There’s a lot of toastiness, though it’s likely the result of the burnt butter and a minerality mixed together. On the back of the throat there’s some mild pepper that reminds me of store-bought crushed black pepper. While there are a lot of flavors, it’s only medium-plus. The draw is not great–tight on all three cigars–though the rest of the construction is fine sans the aforementioned touch-up on one cigar.
My construction woes continue into the second third with the draw tightening on all three of the cigars, albeit in varying degrees. None of the cigars need a tighter draw and I find myself touching up the cigar to prevent it from going out. The flavor is still fairly toasty, but there’s some added creaminess and hints of a barnyard starting. On my third sample, which is far and away the shining star of the bunch, there’s a mild tangerine sweetness, some peppermint, leather and creaminess. The retrohale is intense: hatch chili peppers and some harshness, though it’s very short. The cigar oddly leaves flavors of coffee and potato chip on the finish.
The final thirds of the Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez Robusto aren’t consistent. One sample is a mixture of harshness and toastiness, something that I would definitely believe is a result of the draw and touch-ups. The other two are similar, at least at the start. There’s still a toasty core, surrounded by coffee, mild spices all over the mouth and a strong pepper towards the back. The finish is something reminiscent of the bottom of the food pyramid, sometimes suggesting bread; other times, plain dry ramen noodles. One sample takes a dramatic turn around the one inch mark with the retrohale showing mild fruits, including a Hansen’s soda like finish, but it seems more of a medley of fruits rather than one specific varietal.
- Pilotico is an anagram for Politico, the popular politics website. And thus concludes halfwheel’s pre-election coverage.
- The word Pilotico is pronounced PEE-loh-TEE-koh.
- I had the opportunity to visit the Jose Mendez & Co. facility in the Dominican Republic. I’ve never seen more tobacco in storage in my life. Also of note, the facility was incredibly clean.
- I am confused as to why the secondary band couldn’t be the main band. I understand the idea of keeping consistency with the main Montecristo brand between the various lines, but this large of a band on this small of a cigar is somewhat ridiculous.
- As for the boxes, I’ve heard varying opinions, which is somewhat surprising. I’m a big fan of the release and like the more rustic approaches Altadis U.S.A has taken of late, notably with the Grupo de Maestros Private Batch.
- The draw on all three samples left a fair amount to be desired. How much this affected flavor is unknown, but it definitely had an effect and I highly doubt it was for the better.
- I cut one sample a bit beyond my normal preference, though still well within range of what a proper cut should be. It didn’t help and I’m not surprised. Two of the cigars I smoked had slight, though noticeable, hard spots towards the top.
- For all the draw issues and relights, the ash actually burned pretty evenly. One sample, far and away the worst drawing of the bunch, needed a touch-up early on, but otherwise I got nice inch-long chunks of ash, at least for the first two thirds.
- Strength was medium throughout.
- Cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
- Altadis U.S.A advertises on halfwheel.
- Final smoking time is one hours and 40 minutes on average.
- Site sponsors Atlantic Cigar Co., Cigar.com, Corona Cigar Co. and JR Cigar all list the Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez Robusto in stock.
What could have been. That and a lot of frustration are the first two things that come to mind with the Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez in the robusto format. If I am frustrated by a cigar I have to review it’s almost always because of the process, normally one rife with poor flavors or construction. There was certainly a lot of the latter, but I’m more frustrated in the end result. I found a lot of indications of a cigar that should taste very good, but it’s unclear how much of that was affected by the draw. There’s not a ton of room for construction woes in the modern cigar market and at $15+, there is simply no room. I just can’t help but wonder what this could have been.