Some reviews are easier to do than others. The challenges typically are caused by one of two things. Either we can’t find very much information about a cigar and as such the history portion is quite slim, or the cigar has construction issues that make it less than desirable to smoke.
But, there’s always an exception, and if you asked me to name “challenging reviews I’ve done at halfwheel,” I would eventually mention a cigar that many people would love to smoke, but refuse to pay for: the Davidoff Oro Blanco.
Note: Since halfwheel launched in 2012, we have started off each new year with a week of reviews that are different from the other parts of the year. Rather than reviewing new cigars, we try to find cigars people might consider a holy grail cigar. These reviews are scored the same as our regular reviews, though oftentimes we are only able to procure one of the cigars, so many of these reviews are based on smoking one cigar instead of our normal three cigars per review. You can read more Holy Grail Week reviews by clicking here. — CM.
There’s a lot of ways to describe the Oro Blanco, but the most common way is straight to the point: it’s a $500 cigar.
When it was introduced a little more than seven years ago, it was one of the most expensive cigars ever to go on sale as far as its MSRP is concerned, i.e. the price the manufacturer suggests and not the price a cigar commands on the secondary market. And while there have been more expensive cigars, most of them have been tied up in something beyond just the cigars themselves: they come with trips to a cigar factory, or custom accessories, or rare bottles of whisky. I’d also point out, very few of them have ever been sold at retail stores.
But the Oro Blanco is different, it’s sold at a number of stores around the country, let alone the world. Davidoff sells it in both individual coffins and boxes of 10, with yes, a $5,000 MSRP per box.
That price is almost certainly not just the result of the cost of making the cigar and then a retailer’s margin. Some of it, undoubtedly, has been about the marketing value of pricing a halo product at $500. After all, the Oro Blanco is the $500 cigar.
What you get for $500 is the work of Eladio Diaz, a 35-year veteran of the Dominican cigar operation that makes Davidoff cigars and a man whose title, before he left the company last year, was “quality director.” Diaz was the supervisor to the supervisors, the person who would check their work and also—as I understand it—the person arguably most responsible for the creation of the modern Davidoff blends, though Davidoff would point out, it’s very much a team effort in both Latin America and Switzerland.
At the time it was launched, the company quoted Diaz as saying:
We decided to save and age a small amount of tobacco from the harvest of 2000 – 2001, which was an exceptional batch, that with time, would offer notes more defined and rare…with the greatest standards of quality, pleasure, and joy. When the tobacco had been aged for more than 12 years, we began production with the help of Davidoff’s most skilled supervisors who held more than 15 years of experience crafting cigars. Under my supervision, we rolled the cigars and let them stand for more than a year; the aromas, pleasures, and physiological strengths, concentrated to craft the cigar I envisioned.
The Oro Blanco is a 6 x 54 toro that uses entirely Dominican tobacco. He said that he was inspired to blend the cigar after watching the sunset in Mao, located in the Dominican Republic.
“In my moment, I was inspired to craft a unique tobacco blend that would represent my sincere gratitude for mother nature and the beautiful moment I experienced in that place…a moment so rare.”
Davidoff said that the tobaccos for the cigar could not be used until after Diaz personally deemed them ready, and the cigars are rolled and aged until Diaz said the finished product was ready to be smoked. Given that Diaz left the company last year, it’s unclear as to how this will happen going forward.
It’s also worth pointing out that the bands on the cigar contain Diaz’s signature. While it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s another example of this, I can’t name another white label Davidoff that has had anyone’s signature.
The Oro Blanco was challenging to review for two reasons. First, there was a lot going on flavor-wise. It had this unique manner where flavors would hit my palate one after another. At times it felt like it never stopped and it was hard for me to both taste the flavors and then tell my hands to type them down.
As for the second reason, it has to do with worth. When you tell someone that you smoked a $500 cigar, the first questions are pretty predictable. Did you pay for it? Why did you pay that much for a cigar? And then some variation of, could any cigar be worth $500? Or, why is a cigar worth $500?
That’s tough to explain, but after smoking the Oro Blanco, I thought there was room to say that it might be worth $500.
Here’s how I ended my original review of the cigar in December 2014:
Is Oro Blanco better than any other cigar Davidoff currently makes? Yes. Is it worth the $450-$475 difference in price? For at least 360 days per year, probably not, but that’s oddly the point. Davidoff succeeded in making an excellent cigar and it probably succeeded in making a $500 cigar. It’s not for everyone, it’s certainly not for everyday, but from construction, to flavor, to packaging—Oro Blanco is noticeably different from cigars at $20, $30, $50 and quite frankly, anything else. Oro Blanco in many way reminds me of a supercar: extravagant, impractical and to a degree—ridiculous. You don’t smoke it walking through a thunderstorm and it’s probably challenging to comprehend it while on the phone. But fundamentally, you still cut it on one end and light the other just like any cigar, only to get a noticeably different experience. I likely won’t remember Oro Blanco simply because it was better, but rather, there were a handful of smaller details entirely unique to Oro Blanco.
Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of smoking a couple more Oro Blancos. While I didn’t make notes about either cigar, I can tell you the most notable feature outside of the price—that unique flavor delivery—was present both times. We’ve always had a plan to revisit the Oro Blanco, and this year, it was my turn to redux a cigar for Holy Grail week and this seemed like as good of a time as any to revisit one of the most memorable cigars I’ve ever smoked.
- Cigar Reviewed: Davidoff Oro Blanco
- Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
- Factory: Cigars Davidoff
- Wrapper: Dominican Republic
- Binder: Dominican Republic
- Filler: Dominican Republic
- Length: 6 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 54
- Vitola: Toro Extra
- MSRP: $500 (Boxes of 10, $5,000)
- Release Date: Nov. 26, 2014
- Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
- Number of Cigars Smoked For Redux: 3
The process of taking an Oro Blanco out of its coffin or box is unlike any other cigar I’ve had the privilege of smoking. There’s a weight to the coffin that is unique from all other cigars, not just because of how heavy it is but also because of the way the two wooden pieces feel. If you’ve ever opened a box or coffin, you’ll understand what I’m saying. The woodwork is, quite simply, unlike anything else. Once outside of the coffin I’m reminded of the unique approach to the Davidoff band where—in keeping with the white gold name—there are silver accents to the iconic gold on white Davidoff band. The cigar itself is about as close to a perfect cylinder as any cigar I’ve seen and the wrapper is pretty dark with some noticeable reds and few veins. It’s not a flawless cigar from a visual perspective—there’s a San Cristóbal de la Habana we’ve saved that I use as the best example of visually flawless—but it does look slightly better than even what Davidoff normally makes. Despite being stored in cellophane inside of the coffin, I can’t smell much from the wrapper. It’s not mild—more medium in intensity—but the sensations are limited to smelling like some generic tobacco and something that reminds me of old newspaper. The foot is completely different thanks to smells of nuts, dark chocolate, the typical bourbon barrel-aged notes I find in other products, graham cracker and a restrained sugar. The cold draw has a base that reminds me of a pork-based broth, floral flavors, an artificial grape and some of the musty Davidoff flavor that some people refer to as mushrooms and I associate most with olor tobacco. I suspect if the flavor combination was able to be distilled into a cocktail, it would be a great balance of sweet and savory.
Once lit, the Oro Blanco shows off the trait I most remember from the first time I smoked it: this ability to deliver one flavor, and then another, and the another. The first thing I taste is a hearty nutty flavor, which is followed by meatiness, then popcorn, then earthiness and then cedar. I wouldn’t ever say the Oro Blanco settles on one profile, but the most common theme during the first third is nuttiness, meatiness, honey sweetness and the musty olor flavor. There are other flavors like pistachios, white pepper, spiced rum and heavy cream. The finish is consistently sharper than the main flavor thanks to an uptick in both the musty olor flavor and some white pepper. There’s also black coffee, an ever-changing list of nut flavors and hay. I don’t retrohale as much as I’d prefer to as it adds more of the musty flavor than I’d like, but when the smoke is in my nose I pick up wheat, cedar, white pepper and leather. The finish intensifies the olor and white pepper, which is the real deterrent for blowing smoke through the nose. Flavor is full, body is medium-full and strength is medium. Construction—as you would hope for—is flawless, though I find the cigar requires a bit quicker puffing rates than I remember.
None of the flavors I found in the first third disappear, rather, they don’t have as much of a role in the second third of the Oro Blanco thanks to both new flavors and some reordering of which flavors are the most intense. There’s more earthiness, a bigger white pepper flavor and an increasing herbal mix. At times, I find the honey tastes more like a generic sweet sugar profile, though sweetness itself never fades. The most interesting part is that the edges of my tongue are tingling. It’s not due to pepper or harshness, rather, it seems like they are just being awoken in a manner that rarely happens thanks to smoke. Retrohales are more enjoyable thanks to added floral flavors, some charred meatiness, leather and earthiness, but the mustiness still intensifies itself whenever I force smoke through my nose. The redeeming part is that once the smoke leaves my nose, the tongue-tingling feels even more of that unique tingling. Once again, no flavor ever seems to leave the Oro Blanco’s arsenal of flavors, but some change their intensity and others get added. Creaminess is the big winner in terms of what flavor increases the most in the final third, while the tingling sensation is dramatically reduced. Cinnamon whiskey also gets added, though the other large change is the inconsistent intensity of the mustiness; sometimes it almost takes over the profile, other times it’s a minor flavor. Bread flavors pick up a lot on both the finish in the mouth and the retrohale itself, where it now leads nuttiness, cinnamon, white pepper and that mustiness. The finish is interesting in that there’s a lot of sweetness and then there’s seemingly a hard stopping point and the mustiness takes over. For both the second and final thirds flavor is full and body is medium-full, the one difference seems to be the strength which jumps from medium to nearly full between the midpoint and endpoints. Construction remains great, the draw tightens up slightly though not anywhere close to a point where I’d otherwise mention it except for that it changed, and the cigar continues to try to maximize the ratio of dollars spent to time spent as best a $500 cigar could. I finish the cigar a little more than three hours after I started it.
In case you are unfamiliar with our scoring, we don't factor price into scores. I struggled with both the first review and now to try to make it appear that I'm treating the Oro Blanco like another cigar. This is probably the longest redux review I've ever written, but that's not because I feel like I've placed the cigar on a pedestal. It got cut with same cutter I've been using for the last year and lit with the same Blazer lighter I've been using for the last month. If you've been fortunate enough to smoke one of these cigars in a place where you could focus on it and not the conversation with the person sitting next you, I have to imagine your experience is similar. It's unlike almost every other cigar I've smoked. I don't know how, but I don't think it's because of my own preconceived notions. I've smoked rarer cigars, I've smoked cigars I've been more excited about; quite frankly, I've smoked better cigars. But each Oro Blanco I've smoked has delivered more flavors than just about anything else I can recall, and it really never slows down, let alone stops. This Oro Blanco is probably my least favorite of the four I've smoked. The issues for me—compared to the previous three—were too much of the musty olor flavor as well as an increase in sharpness throughout about half of the cigar. Given how great those Oro Blancos have been, there was very little room for improvement and a lot of room for it to be worse. Score-wise, two touch-ups—one each in the second and final third—are what really hurt this cigar's otherwise stellar performance. This is still the most complex cigar I've smoked in years and I don't expect to smoke another cigar like it for quite some time. In my original review, I really tried to convey that the price point and its value is entirely subjective and much of that has to do with things more related to a person's financial status and less related to the tobacco in this cigar. But, if you're going to price a cigar like this and you want people to feel like it was worth it, the cigar has to be unlike any other cigar on sale today and not just because of the price. In that regard, the Oro Blanco—seven years later—remains successful. I can't name another cigar that smokes like this; if you can think of one, leave a comment because I'd surely pay $50 for a cigar that was 90 percent of what this one was.