In recent years, there’s been a name other than A.J. Fernández showing up on cigars from Altadis U.S.A. Jose Mendez.

Mendez, often referred to by his nickname, “Pepe,” is the founder of Jose Mendez & Co. SRL, a tobacco growing and processing operation in the Dominican Republic. He is credited with being one of the first growers of Dominican tobacco to be used as filler in cigars, and the company that bears his name has grown into one of the largest premium cigar tobacco operations in the world.

The first cigar to bear the Mendez name was the Montecristo Pilotico Pepe Mendez, released in 2016 and notable for its use of pilotico tobacco, a Cuban-seed varietal that fell out of favor due to issues warding off disease. However, the company, under its current leadership of Siegfried Maruschke Mendez, brought back by the varietal, growing it in the Navarette region of the Dominican Republic. It was used in the Montecristo 80th Anniversary that was released in 2015.

Now, Altadis U.S.A. is bringing the Mendez name to the H. Upmann brand.

Released at the 2019 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show, the H. Upmann Hispaniola by Jose Mendez is a nod both to the grower and the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The line uses an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, Dominican olor binder, and fillers that include Dominican pilotico and andullo, as well as Nicaraguan-grown tobacco. As the name implies, the Dominican tobacco comes from Jose Mendez & Co., which provides a substantial amount of the Dominican tobacco used at the Tabacalera de García factory, home to many of Altadis U.S.A.’s brands.

The H. Upmann Hispaniola by Jose Mendez will be offered in three sizes:

  • H. Upmann Hispaniola by Jose Mendez Robusto (5 x 50) — $8.50 (Box of 20, $170)
  • H. Upmann Hispaniola by Jose Mendez Belicoso (6 x 50) — $8.80 (Box of 20, $176)
  • H. Upmann Hispaniola by Jose Mendez Toro (6 1/8 x 52) — $8.95 (Box of 20, $179)

The line began shipping in July, one of two new releases for the H. Upmann brand, joining the H. Upmann 175 Anniversary by A.J. Fernandez.

  • Cigar Reviewed: H. Upmann Hispaniola by Jose Mendez Belicoso
  • Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
  • Factory: Tabacalera de Garcia
  • Wrapper: Ecuador (Sumatra)
  • Binder: Dominican Republic (Olor)
  • Filler: Dominican Republic (Pilotico and Andullo) and Nicaragua
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 50
  • Vitola: Belicoso
  • MSRP: $8.80 (Box of 20, $176)
  • Release Date: July 2019
  • Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The belicoso shape of this vitola is definitely eye-catching, beginning its taper right around the secondary band until it reaches a fairly small pointed head that looks well constructed. The wrapper is quite well-tanned with some tooth, a fairly busy vein network and a hue that reveals the seams, though the color is generally quite even and there is some oiliness in the wrapper to smooth out the texture. The cigar itself is rolled well and on the firm side, with little give among the three samples. The foot has an aroma that is rather complex, reminding me of cinnamon on apple cider at first smell but losing the apple sweetness on subsequent whiffs. There’s a bit of creaminess as well, all of which gets finished off by black pepper, a bit of hard-to-name woodiness and some additional baking spices. Even with a conservative cut of the head, air moves well through the cigar on the cold draw, offering a much less vibrant or complex offering, reminding me of a pork loin with a bit of black pepper on one sample. Subsequent samples have a cool creaminess with some mild pepper, but it’s a challenge to provide a more familiar and precise description.

The first puffs of the H. Upmann Hispaniola by Jose Mendez Belicoso offer a good amount of black pepper for the palate, and while it’s not a singular flavor, there is some work to be done get to the dry woodiness underneath. It’s a medium-plus to medium-full start, but it’s fairly to easy to see the cigar beginning to evolve after just a few puffs. At the one-inch mark, the cigar has taken a step forward in flavor balance and complexity, meshing creaminess on the tongue with pepper through the nose, still complemented by a dry, occasionally tangy wood note that can overstep its role on the taste buds. The second sample develops a yin and yang between the palate and retrohale; the former gets quite smooth and creamy with little direct stimulation to the senses; while exhaling the smoke through the nose results in a bright, tingling pepper sensation. The combustion and related technical performance are all very good, with the cigar sitting just above the medium mark in terms of strength and flavor.

As it enters its second third, the H. Upmann Hispaniola by Jose Mendez Belicoso settles into a very enjoyable place that balances creaminess, sweetness and pepper. It’s a place where the cigar finds a comforting familiarity but stays actively engaging to the senses, particularly when adding in a retrohale to bring out the more vibrant parts of the profile and add in a smoky sweetness that I only find through the nose. With this new complexity, there is an urge to over smoke the cigar a bit, and while doing so doesn’t completely wreck the profile, it does push the pepper to a point where it’s not helping the profile much. As the burn line approaches the midway point, the pepper becomes more vibrant on the palate while the aroma of the resting cigar picks up a smokier note, more along the lines of a hearty campfire but also flirting occasionally with some lighter meats being grilled. It’s a combination that is so far the high point of the cigar as everything comes together quite well, holding together through much of the back half of the second third before beginning to slowly fall just slightly out of that near-perfect harmony, with the wood and pepper the first two to venture off on their own paths. In this section the flavor can occasionally get a bit dry and thus has a drying effect on the palate. The construction is still very good with no issues.

The final third of the H. Upmann Hispaniola by Jose Mendez Belicoso sees not only the pepper grow a bit stronger, but also the aroma of the cigar at rest grow much more fragrant and enjoyable offering tea notes and campfire. Retrohales are still quite peppery but it has focused a bit and is definitely brighter; not overpowering, but certainly much more vibrant than earlier. As I’m looking over my notes, I notice that I’ve almost completely overlooked the andullo tobacco that is in the blend, which comes from a technique that results in a heartier, more intense flavor. While I’ve been largely just referring to pepper in a general term, it feels like the andullo is beginning to stand out a bit more on its own in the final third, pushing the profile into a medium-full territory but still maintaining balance and enjoyability. The draw can be a bit tight in the final inch or so, though not enough to hamper smoke production or general enjoyment. It gets a bit woodier and hotter, but both can be tempered with some slower puffing, which the tobacco seems to tolerate as it never goes out.

Final Notes

  • I find it incredibly interesting how the draw and airflow of the cigar changes throughout the same cigar. In this case, it goes from near perfect to just firm enough to have me seriously thinking about clipping a bit more of the head.
  • The placement of the secondary band on one sample caught my eye, as it appeared to be centered between the Jose Mendez and H. Upmann names, whereas the other two were centered on Jose Mendez. It looks by how this particular band was cut that was the proper application, but it still feels off as the H. Upmann name appears on either side of Jose Mendez. A truly minor detail, but one I’m curious wasn’t caught in the production process.
  • On a related note, I really like the primary band; it retains elements of the original and executes it in a clean and crisp presentation with a color set that resonates with me.
  • I didn’t find any significant nicotine strength from the H. Upmann Hispaniola by Jose Mendez Belicoso. That’s not to say there isn’t any, but for my system, it was minimal.
  • As for the other vitolas, I have yet to smoke them, and I’m not sure that there would be much variance given that the ring gauge options are only 50 and 52 across the three sizes. The tapered head of the belicoso would seem to concentrate the flavor a bit, but I’m inclined to think the three sizes are fairly similar in how they would taste.
  • I’m not exactly sure what to attribute this to, but the H. Upmann Hispaniola burns slower than I would have expected. I’m inclined to think the andullo tobacco might be at least partially responsible, but it was about 20-30 minutes longer than I would have predicted.
  • JR Cigar, which like Altadis U.S.A. is part of Tabacalera USA, advertises on halfwheel.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time was two hours on average.
  • Site sponsors Atlantic Cigar Co., Famous Smoke Shop, JR Cigar carry the H. Upmann Hispaniola by Jose Mendez Belicoso. Gotham Cigars only carries the Toro vitola at the moment.
91 Overall Score

Whenever I light up a cigar, I expect that I'll like it, though readily accept that to what degree will vary and occasionally, I will simply not like a cigar. Then there are cigars like the H. Upmann Hispaniola by Jose Mendez Belicoso, which might not reach the elite level of premium cigars but deliver a much better smoking experience than the average cigar. Particularly, the H. Upmann draws from a number of spots on the flavor wheel—sweetness, creaminess, earth, pepper and wood—and brings them together nearly impeccably, capped off with top-notch construction and an almost perfect draw. While this ranks as one of the better cigars I have smoked this year, more importantly, it may end up being the one that outperformed its expectations more than any other I have smoked, making it an easy cigar to recommend picking up and smoking at your earliest opportunity.

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Patrick Lagreid

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and previously the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for Major League Baseball, plus I'm a voice over artist. Prior to joining halfwheel, I covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.