Illusione Epernay 10th Anniversary d’Aosta

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In the latest edition of what are we celebrating today?, it’s the 10th anniversary of Illusione’s Epernay line.

Epernay was released in 2009 as an extension to the Illusione ~eccj~, a cigar that was released in 2008 in celebration of another anniversary, the 15th anniversary of the magazine European Cigar Cult Journal, which has since changed its name to Cigar Journal. It was a 5 5/8 x 46 corona gorda that was a limited edition release, with just 300 boxes of 15 cigars produced.

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The Epernay was created as a lighter version of ~eccj~, and one that would be ideal to pair with Champagne. Most notably, Epernay was a regular production offering while the ~eccj~, at the time, was a limited edition.

Like the regular Epernay line, the 10th Anniversary d’Aosta is a Nicaraguan puro made at the Raíces Cubanas factory in Danlí, Honduras, though it is not the same exact blend. So far, Dion Giolito has not indicated what the blend is or what the differences are between this cigar and the regular production versions.

But what he did share was the inspiration for the name d’Aosta.

I have a significant amount of family still living in Northern Italy – Rivoli, Turin and Valle d’Aosta… Valle d’Aosta is just on the other side of the Monte Bianco tunnel. A few years back on my trip to visit family, we went through the tunnel to Geneva and visited the original Davidoff store. I imagined that Zino Davidoff back in the day, came through and visited the Alpine towns on the Italian side of the border, maybe went skiing, had some nice meals, and of course, enjoyed some of the wine that Aosta is famous for – the Fumin and Cornalin grapes, of which my family grows there. It was this that was the eventual inspiration for my Epernay 10 anniversary, to make a cigar in the style that he liked that made him so famous.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Illusione Epernay 10th Anniversary d'Aosta
  • Country of Origin: Honduras
  • Factory: Fabrica de Tabacos Cubanas S. de R.L.
  • Wrapper: Nicaragua
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Dominican Republic & Nicaragua
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 50
  • Vitola: Toro
  • MSRP: $12 (Box of 10, $120)
  • Release Date: October 2019
  • Number of Cigars Released: n/a
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

If there’s one thing I feel compelled to knock about the Illusione Epernay 10th Anniversary d’Aosta, it’s that is comes in the ubiquitous 6 x 50 toro vitola, one that while perfectly fine on its own, I have come to grow tired of seeing as the default option for single vitola releases. Beyond that, there’s little to take issue with. The cigar has a graham cracker colored wrapper, and while veins could be described as plentiful, they’re not obtrusive. The wrapper feels like it has more oils than a visual inspection would suggest. It is firm but feels and looks to have been rolled quite well, with noticeably well-constructed heads on each cigar. The foot of the cigar has a mild sweetness to it but isn’t forthcoming with much else. A bit of caramel corn, wood and pepper can be coaxed out at times, though they are all fairly mellow. The cold draw on all three samples is on the firm side and has a bit of a popcorn flavor up first, with just a bit of toffee sweetness behind, leading me to think of something between kettle and caramel corn. There’s a bit more of a pronounced sweetness on the lips, while pepper is minimal if present at all.

Given the pre-light profile, I’m surprised that the first profile I get from the Illusione Epernay 10th Anniversary d’Aosta is pepper-forward and that it’s not sweeter, something that seems a bit off from the billing of this cigar being a lighter profile. The sweetness comes along fairly quickly but also subtlety by way of a condensed milk creaminess. The early puffs put the cigar at medium in flavor intensity and medium-minus in strength, the latter of which I’ve long identified with the Epernay blend as it has been a lighter profile than the rest of the Illusione portfolio. After the first clump of ash falls, the profile dries a bit and the pepper becomes a bit more central in the profile, with a dry wood note rounding it out and most of the sweetness falling away. Retrohales don’t lose that sweetness though, picking up a subtle fruit sweetness that pairs well with the rebalanced white pepper, and which complements the flavors the palate is getting quite well. The technical performance has been very good so far with nothing of issue.

In the second sample, I find myself retrohaling quite frequently at the start of the second third as there is a bit of effervescence to the smoke that does remind me of what I would get from a quality Champagne. It’s not something that occurs in all three samples, but when it does it is a huge plus for the experience. The onset of the second third also sees the Illusione Epernay 10th Anniversary d’Aosta open up a bit as far as airflow and draw, with the flavor developing a bit as well. Creaminess is now truly in the mix, which helps give the cigar more mouthfeel and a bigger overall presence without necessarily having to get stronger or more peppery. After that build-up of the body of the smoke, it begins a bit of a descent around the midpoint, shedding some of the creaminess and bringing in just a bit of orange zest, which when experienced via a retrohale gives a bit of a flamed orange sensation thanks to more black pepper and a bit of heat. The technical performance remains outstanding, with the cigar putting off a small wisp of smoke even while resting. 

The final third of the Illusione Epernay 10th Anniversary d’Aosta opens with a bit of nuttiness, more the kind of flavor you’d find added to coffee creamer as opposed to reaching into a bag of mixed nuts, though that latter experience does occur from time to time. The creaminess is back just before the band needs to come off, and not only is it much more substantial than it was earlier, there is a bit of an orange marmalade spin to it that is quite enjoyable. Once the band comes off, the cigar begins a fairly rapid progression of flavor, picking up a campfire aroma before the flavor gets just a bit smoky while remaining very pleasant, with pepper flitting in and out of the profile at seemingly choreographed precision to accent the profile when it would most benefit from it. The draw, burn line and smoke production all remain very good until its finally time to put the cigar in the ashtray.

Final Notes

  • Even though Illusione has shifted most of its production to Nicaragua, the Epernay line remains at Raíces Cubanas, which I have to admit I like. Sometimes it’s not just about the tobacco that makes a cigar special, but where it is made.
  • While we don’t pair cigars with beverages while smoking them or as a recommendation, I’d certainly be interested to try an Illusione Epernay 10th Anniversary d’Aosta with a glass or two of Krug.
  • The Illusione ~eccj~ returned in 2015 by way of the Illusione ~eccj~ 20th, a 6 1/4 x 48 corona extra that celebrated the magazine’s 20th anniversary.
  • Whenever I’m reminded of the story behind Epernay, I’m reminded of the one behind the Quai d’Orsay brand, which was created at the request of the French government to have a flavor in line with French luxuries, namely Champagne and caviar.
  • The Quai d’Orsay brand has since been reblended to be a bit stronger as it seeks to gain a global following after largely being limited to French consumers.
  • Keeping with the billing that the Epernay blend was designed to be lighter in strength, the Illusione Epernay 10th Anniversary d’Aosta doesn’t offer much if any nicotine effect until the very end, and even then it feels more an effect of the flavor getting just a bit charred.
  • Illusione has been known to keep things very simple when it comes to bands, and that holds true on this release. There is nothing indicating it is an anniversary cigar or limited edition, and in fact looks like every other Epernay release.
  • On the Illusione website, the line is referred to as Epernay Serie 2009, a nod to the year the line debuted.
  • I was a bit surprised to find only one Epernay release reviewed on halfwheel to date, and even that wasn’t a halfwheel review. In June 2010, Brooks Whittington reviewed the Le Matin for his previous site, SmokingStogie.com.
  • I still have fond memories of a 2014 trip that Brooks, Charlie Minato and I went on to Reno, Nev. to see FUMARE, Dion Giolito’s retail shop, in person. That included a very interesting visit to the Illusione warehouse.
  • Illusione advertises on halfwheel.
  • The cigars for this review were provided by Illusione.
  • Final smoking time was two hours on average.
92 Overall Score

For my palate, there are few things more enjoyable than when a Dion Giolito creation is truly on, which I'm happy to report the Illusione Epernay 10th Anniversary d'Aosta is. As has generally been the case with the Epernay line, the profile is a bit on the lighter side but don't let that lure you into thinking that this is another cigar competing for the title of not your father's Connecticut. Rather, the blend offers a good bit of pepper before beginning a near symphonic journey that weaves creaminess, sweetness, pepper and a number of other supporting flavors together remarkably well. The technical performance is on par as well, making for a truly special cigar that somehow comes with a fairly reasonable price tag. A very enjoyable cigar that performs well now and shows the potential to further develop with time.

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Patrick Lagreid
About the author

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 the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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