CAO has nearly 25 years in the cigar market, consecutively at least, and yet, the brand’s library of releases has never included a cigar with a Mexican wrapper. It’s not entirely that challenging to believe, even five or six years ago, there were still large concerns by big manufacturers about the receptiveness of the American consumer towards the Mexican cover leaf.

Those concerns were part of a reputation that developed after the cigar boom. Largely based off the poor tobacco and more recently, poor sales, of brands like Te-Amo. Whether or not those notions were exaggerated by cigar companies, it’s quite clear that many consumers are willing to buy cigars with Mexican wrappers, and shortly before the mostly American holiday of Cinco de Mayo, CAO shipped its first cigar with a Mexican wrapper: Zócalo.

The CAO Zócalo comes in a single 6 x 60 vitola with the aforementioned Mexican San Andrés morron wrapper over a Cameroon binder and fillers from Nicaragua. It’s priced at $8.49 and limited to 3,500 boxes of 20 cigars.

At this precise moment in time, it’s likely known for being the cigar with warning labels. Barring relief from a court or a change by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) itself, cigar boxes sold in the U.S. after Aug. 10, 2018 will be required to have warning labels. General Cigar Co., the parent of CAO, is beginning the process of adding warning labels to its products and the CAO Zócalo is one of those products. It is, not the first, however; General’s Macanudo Inspirado Red had warning labels on some boxes that arrived at retail shelves before the CAO began shipping.

It also won’t be the last, as the recently launched Liga Privada No. 9 Corona Viva comes in boxes bearing warning labels.

  • Cigar Reviewed: CAO Zócalo
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: STG Estelí
  • Wrapper: Mexico (San Andrés Morron)
  • Binder: Cameroon
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 60
  • Vitola: Gordo
  • MSRP: $8.49 (Boxes of 20, $169.80)
  • Release Date: April 2018
  • Number of Cigars Released: 3,500 Boxes of 20 Cigars (70,000 Total Cigars)
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The Mexican San Andrés wrapper smells a bit fire-cured with charcoal and woodiness. It’s not a full-on fire-cured cigar, but if I didn’t know any better—and I do—it smells like it was stored in a humidor with a bunch of Drew Estate’s KFC. The foot is different with some fresh-basked brownies, toastiness, charcoal, redwoods and some wood polish. There’s also a dominant chocolate on the cold draw, this time over maple, oak, orange and gingerbread, right at the medium-plus level. It also has some of the classic Jalapa tobacco flavor right on the lips.

It begins with some cedar, Tennessee whiskey and a bit of rotten strawberries, right around the medium-full level. Eventually, things come together for the CAO Zócalo: terroir in the mouth along with some meatiness while oranges, floral flavors and earthiness are found on the retrohale. The construction is great, and while the draw is a bit open for my tastes  it’s ideal for the size. Flavor is full, while body and strength are medium-plus.

The CAO Zócalo gets even earthier in the second third. For a bit, there’s some generic fruitiness beginning to challenge the earthiness, but at the halfway point an array of peppers begin to overwhelm the more delicate sweeter flavors. The retrohale is particularly punishing with white pepper, leather, green pepper and some sourdough bread. If that wasn’t enough pepper, the finish has tons of black pepper after each retrohale. Flavor is full, body is turned up to 11 and strength is medium-full.

While the final third of the CAO is still quite earthy, a bit of bread remains upfront. The pepper mixture is reduced, though it’s still there, particularly on the finish. There’s some pepper—mainly black pepper—as well as Thousand Island dressing and a clawing white pepper on the back end. Flavor is full, body is full, albeit reduced from the second third, and the strength is almost full.

Final Notes

  • I remember when I first started writing about cigars in 2010. CAO had been sold earlier, but the integration between CAO’s owner STG and General Cigar Co., which was being folded into STG from Swedish Match, was underway. The CAO headquarters was being shut down, much of the staff was being let go and there was mass hysteria about what would come of CAO.
  • General’s version of CAO is not the same as when the Ozgeners owned the company, I don’t think anyone would dispute that. However, after a bit of a rocky start, General has grown CAO. At some point during this year, if not already, CAO will become the second largest brand in General’s portfolio, behind only Macanudo.
  • The name Zócalo refers to a main square in Mexico City.
  • It’s not my favorite size, but a 6 x 60 can deliver in construction. Smoke production is high, the draw is easy and it’s difficult to get the cigar hot. In addition, each sample delivered a very impressive stacked ash.
  • This cigar would be great for a lot of different pairings, I’d recommend something with a fairly high alcohol content and some sweetness. The first things that come to mind are a cold glass of rum with a nice big ice cube or a milk stout.
  • I don’t think the cigar actually hits full in terms of the nicotine strength. However, due to the super intense body in the latter half of the cigar, it certainly can give the illusion that it is in fact quite full in terms of the nicotine punch.
  • That said, it’s still rather strong, probably a 7/10, or right at the top end of medium-full.
  • Cigars for this review were provided to halfwheel by General Cigar Co., which advertises on halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time was two hours and 20 minutes.
  • Site sponsors Atlantic Cigar Co.,, Famous Smoke Shop, JR Cigar and Serious Cigars carry the CAO Zócalo.
91 Overall Score

Let's get this right out of the way: this is not Amazon Basin. That being said, it's another very good cigar from CAO. The CAO Zócalo has a ton of raw power and, at times, an array of pepper that will be far too much for many. But at its best, there's layering and complexity. This might not be a bastion of balance, but it's a cigar I look forward to smoking again and soon.

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Charlie Minato

I am an editor and co-founder of Media, LLC. I previously co-founded and published TheCigarFeed, one of the two predecessors of halfwheel. I handle the editing of our written content, the majority of the technical aspects of the site and work with the rest of our staff on content management, business development and more. I’ve lived in most corners of the country and now entering my second stint in Dallas, Texas. I enjoy boxing, headphones, the Le Mans 24-hour, wearing sweatshirts year-round and gyros. echte liebe.