CAO’s La Traviata line was a boom almost as soon as it was released in 2009 at the industry’s annual trade show which was held in New Orleans that year. With a quality flavor profile and a price tag around five dollars before taxes, it was an easy cigar to try and it developed a significant fan base among both consumers and critics.
At the 2010 IPCPR Convention and Trade Show, the company added the La Traviata Maduro, which gained similar praise and replaced the Ecuadoran Havana wrapper with a Connecticut Maduro. While the brand has added several new lines in recent years, the La Traviata remains one of their mainstays and seems to still be a popular cigar in the humidors of numerous retailers.
The line has added sizes in that time and now numbers six regular production sizes in both lines, an additional size for the original line and three special editions:
- CAO La Traviata Intrepido (7 x 54) — Regular Production
- CAO La Traviata Radiante (6 x 52) — Regular Production
- CAO La Traviata Animado (5 5/8 x 46) — Regular Production
- CAO La Traviata Favorito (5 1/2 x 52) — Regular Production
- CAO La Traviata Divino (5 x 50) — Regular Production
- CAO La Traviata Luminoso (4 1/2 x 50) — Regular Production
- CAO La Traviata Ninfas (4 x 38) — Regular Production*
- CAO La Traviata Mochado (5 x 50) — Event Only
- CAO La Traviata Angry Santa (6 1/2 x 52) — 1,500 Boxes of 14 Cigars (21,000 Total Cigars)
- CAO La Traviata Maduro Evil Snowman (6 1/2 x 52) — 1,500 Boxes of 14 Cigars (21,000 Total Cigars)
The La Traviata name draws its root from a early 20th century Cuban brand that was made at Tabacalera Cubana Agramonte No.106, which General Cigar says is remembered for its strict adherence to the traditional principles of Cuban cigar craftsmanship. Tim Ozgener, who was president of CAO at the time of the La Traviata’s release, said that the inspiration for the cigar came from smoking numerous classic Cuban cigars.
In early November, we reported on news of a pair of new limited edition, winter-themed releases from CAO: the CAO La Traviata Angry Santa and CAO La Traviata Maduro Evil Snowman. Both are said to deliver spicier, more complex takes on the original blends due to the use of “the best primings for each,” though specifics on what that means were yet to be released by the company. Since this review was originally published, a post on CAO’s blog says that the wrappers came from higher primings, while the blend was tweaked and uses “tobacco from different origins to create slightly spicier, more complex flavors.”
The cigars are being made available exclusively to brick-and-mortar retailers nationwide who have supported the La Traviata line, and it has already begun to show up at retailers who placed early orders. They feature unique artwork and boxes that look like this:
Cigar Reviewed: CAO La Traviata Maduro Evil Snowman
Country of Origin: Nicaragua
Factory: STG Estelí
Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf
Filler: Nicaragua, Dominican Republic Piloto Cubano
Size: 6 1/2 Inches
Ring Gauge: 52
Vitola: Toro Extra
MSRP: $6.60 (Boxes of 14, $92.40)
Date Released: November 5, 2013
Number of Cigars Released: 1,500 Boxes of 14 Cigars (21,000 Total Cigars)
Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 2
The CAO La Traviata Maduro Evil Snowman is a sizable specimen in the hand, but one that feels familiar as the 6 1 /2 x 52 vitola has been used more and more for limited editions and single store releases — more on that in the notes below. The band covers quite a bit of the cigar, as it’s over three inches long and feels a bit thicker than I would have expected, leading me to wonder if there isn’t some kind of hidden surprise waiting underneath, or if maybe it’s a sticker being used as a band. What is visible of the wrapper reveals a dark, oily brown leaf with a decent vein structure and some variance in color. There are a few bumps and one side seems a bit flat, while the wrapper has a bit of tooth. While it has its firm spots, there is some give to be found although the large and somewhat thick band makes it hard to get an accurate read on the whole cigar. The cold draw aroma evokes notes of wet leather, damp soil and a touch of dark chocolate, with no pepper or spice to be found. It has a bit of resistance but doesn’t overly impede that air flow, as it has a more pronounced note of hot cocoa and what seems to be a faint touch of pepper.
The start of the CAO Evil Snowman is very agreeable, with a medium-full flavor and rich smoke getting things going, delivering notes of earth and a bit of black pepper with just the slightest bit of char lingering on the tongue. Pepper proves to be an formidable part of the equation in the first third, saturating the middle of the tongue with a tingling and lingering dose with each puff. With such a large band, a quick tap of the ash is needed a bit earlier than it seemed it could have hung on for, and a removal of the band revealed no hidden surprise underneath; not a sticker, just a sizable band with the evil snowman on it. The pepper starts aiming more for the nose than the tongue, as the flavor has lightened up a bit and skews more toward dry wood with a bit of dry earth before a bit of juicy sweetness seems to join the party. While the burn line was a bit wavy to start, it has corrected itself nicely and now burns straight and even heading into the second third.
The first retrohale of the CAO Evil Snowman was done just as the cigar was beginning its second third, and for a stick packing a steady stream of pepper onto the tongue as well as a fair amount for the nose, the retrohale was surprisingly smooth and pleasant. Up until the midpoint, the flavor continues to become gradually lighter, or maybe more accurately, less heavy. It stays medium to full in terms of intensity, but the wood, earth and pepper have evolved quite noticeably. At the midpoint, there seems to be a shift towards a slightly heavier profile with the earth note shedding the touch of dry clay it had picked up. The draw also seems to tighten up just a bit and the cigar picks up more of a sharp wood taste with added pepper, both building in intensity as it heads towards the final third. A second retrohale at this point proved to much more peppery, while the cigar continues to burn well with sufficient smoke production and a straight burn line.
In the final third, what distinctive flavors the CAO La Traviata Evil Snowman offered earlier have become muddled and much less singular, almost as if the flavor balloon that been building suddenly collapsed on itself. It’s not long before the rebuilding process begins, led by a good bit of pepper that delivers some front of the tongue bite and that same core wood note found earlier returning to the forefront. There’s no coasting into the finish line as the pepper seems to turn spicy with the proximity of the heat, evoking notes of Sriracha or other hot sauces. A quick touch up may be needed to take the cigar down to its nub as it seemed to become a bit harder to keep lit, but that will ultimately be left up to you. If you keep the heat low, you should be able to smoke the Angry Snowman fairly far down.
- Tony Hyman’s fantastic website, CigarHistory.info, has a brief listing on the original La Traviata line, including a box from the early 1900s.
- I can’t recall seeing a box advertise “hand wrapped” cigars before. Hand made? Sure. But hand wrapped? What does that imply? That the binder and filler were produced by machine?
- I’d be interested to compare notes on how this differs from the Crowned Heads Four Kicks Mule Kick, which used a wrapper leaf that was too dark for the main line. It wasn’t specified if it was a higher priming, but for me it delivered a more intense concentration of the core flavors of the Four Kicks, and I found it generally preferable to the original.
- The idea of using a sticker for a cigar band is intriguing. Berger & Argenti’s Entubar featured a small logo that was a sticker on top of a larger band, but CAO’s version is much different.
- CAO released an event-only cigar in the La Traviata line called the Mochado for both the natural and maduro versions but with the wrapper only extending about 3/4 of the length of the cigar. The goal was to show how the flavor changed with the addition of the wrapper.
- You’ll notice that this is a new size for a CAO La Traviata release, as it’s a half inch longer than the 6 x 52 Radiante.
- The 6 1/2 x 52 vitola, or close variations, has been used a lot in limited editions and single store releases. It has been the size for all of the My Father Limited Editions as well as the Don Pepín García 10th Anniversary. La Flor Dominicana has been using the size as well, most recently in their TP Triple Threat for Tobacco Plaza and a slightly bigger 6 1/2 x 54 used for the LFD Foxtoberfest for Fox Cigar Bar.
- It’s also the size that Alec Bradley picked for their recently launched line of tubos, which we first saw at the 2013 IPCPR trade show.
- My guess about the size is that it’s a way to appeal to fans of both big ring gauge cigars and more traditional sizes.
- That said, I wonder if this is truly the size for the blend, or if it was simply the size that General Cigar thought would be able to sell the most cigars.
- It also brings up an interesting thought that 6 1/2 x 52 may be the current midpoint of size in the cigar world.
- Also, with the colder months upon us and less-than-favorable temperatures for smoking outdoors, I hear more and more cigar smokers talking about moving to shorter vitolas for winter, yet here is a sizable stick that takes a while to get through. Seems you’d have to smoke this one indoors or in a warm climate.
- I’m still not 100% sure as to which is correct: CAO or C.A.O. On the brand’s website, it is spelled CAO, so that’s what I’m going with. But there are plenty of older articles where it was C.A.O., and I think to this day if you were to survey retailers, bloggers and consumers, you’d find a significant split as to which one they thought was correct.
- However you spell it, CAO traces its roots to 1964, when a 24-year-old Cano A. Ozgener began tinkering with Turkish meerschaum pipes. He landed his first order that year, and in 1977 he left his engineering job with DuPont to focus full time on the business. After releasing his first cigar in 1980, there were some dormant years in the 1980s,and it wasn’t until 1992 that he fully returned to the industry in 1992 with a line of humidors, followed by another line of cigars in 1995.
- Cano’s son Tim took over as president of the company in 2006 and held the position until leaving in November 2010, shortly after the completion of the merger between Scandinavian Tobacco Group and Swedish Match.
- In early 2007, Henri Wintermans Cigars USA, a unit of ST Cigar Group Holdings, purchased CAO. In December 2008, STCG became Scandinavian Tobacco Group. General Cigar Company was acquired by Swedish Match beginning in 2000 and fully acquired in February 2005. Again, it was the merger between STG and Swedish Match that brought CAO under the General Cigar Company banner.
- Because of that merger between STG and Swedish Match in 2010 that led to CAO changing hands once again, there has been chatter about the original release of the CAO La Traviata being markedly different from those released post-merger.
- La Traviata Maduro was the company’s final new release before becoming part of General Cigar Co.
- Incidentally, Cano is pronounced JOHN-no, not cah-NO or CAH-no.
- It would be fair to say that the STG/Swedish Match merger resulted in the creation of Crowned Heads, as both Jon Huber and Mike Conder, along with Michael Trebing and Nancy Heathman left in December 2010. Crowned Heads was announced in February 2011, with its debut line, Four Kicks, debuting in November 2011.
- In case you had nothing better to think about, someone asked me why the Evil Snowman was used for the maduro version. “Snowmen are white, maduros are dark,” he said. “Santa’s white too, isn’t he?” was my response, to which was retorted “no, he’s rosy.” I don’t have a great answer for you on that one, other that to say the discussions being had around cigars continue to amaze me.
- I’m not sure I’m sold on the artwork for this project. One of the questions I ask myself when deciding whether or not to purchase a piece of art is is this something I want to wake up and see every morning for the foreseeable future? The answer here is no, but I’m not going to hold it against this project.
- In addition, it’s worth bringing up the concerns anytime cartoon characters make it onto cigar packaging. There are some who think it may become a concern with impending FDA regulation.
- La traviata is also the name of an Italian opera by Giuseppe Verdi, which was based on a play by Alexandre Dumas called La dame aux Camélias. It translates as “The Fallen Woman.”
- Franco Zeffirelli released a film called La traviata in 1982.
- At some point, a back story about the origins of both the Angry Santa and Evil Snowman will be released on the CAO blog, per this post, which came out after this cigar was reviewed. Apparently it has something to do with what happened to Rick Rodriguez on Christmas 1969.
- The cigars for this review were provided by General Cigar Company.
- Final smoking time is about 2 hours and 40 minutes.
- Site sponsor Cigar King currently has the Evil Snowman in stock, and while Superior Cigars carries the La Traviata line, they haven’t listed the Evil Snowman on their website as of yet. Wherever you pick it up, be sure to tell them halfwheel sent you.
Update (Nov. 25, 2013) — A Nov. 21 post on the CAO blog revealed details about the blend and origins of the CAO La Traviata Maduro Angry Snowman that were not known as the time this was originally posted. The original post listed the blend components as being the same as the original CAO La Traviata Maduro, which are a Connecticut wrapper, Cameroon binder and filler from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The correct information appears above.
The initial thought is to compare it the Evil Snowman to the CAO La Traviata Maduro, and there certainly are comparisons to be found. The core flavors are much the same, though just as promised, the Angry Snowman delivers them in a spicier manner than the cigar upon which it's based. I'm not necessarily sure I'd say it's more complex, though, as by and large the strength and pepper prevent the complexity from shining through, which for me was always a hallmark of the La Traviata line. I decided to fire up a CAO La Traviata Maduro Radiante for comparison, and I'd have to say I prefer the Evil Snowman hands-down to an off-the-shelf La Traviata Maduro, which had a very surprising and disappointing underlying sourness that saturated the rest of the flavors. At the price point, the CAO La Traviata Maduro Evil Snowman is certainly worth a try, and I think regular smokers of the La Traviata Maduro line will have some fun comparing and contrasting this line to the original.