While I will probably never be in this position, one of the coolest things about owning your own cigar brand has to be the ability to produce blends for almost any person, event or reason that strikes your fancy.
Thus was the case with the subject of today’s review, the Illusione La Grande Classe Rex—La Grande Classe translates to The Great Class from both French and Italian—a 4 7/8 x 40 petit corona that debuted in July 2017 priced at $5.50 each and packaged in gold foil bundles of 25. While the cigar was new when it was shown off at the 2017 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show, its roots are actually taken from two of brand owner Dion Giolito’s previous creations, both of which were sold exclusively at his Reno-based store, FUMARE. Specifically, those blends were La Grand Classe, a series of small batch cigars that debuted in 2012; and Rex, a 4 x 44 vitola after Giolito’s friend, customer and attorney who requested it in 2013.
However, while the La Grande Classe Rex was a follow-up to both the aforementioned La Grande Classe and the Rex that combined the names of those two releases, there were some significant differences as well, starting with the blend, which was made up of an Ecuadorian habano wrapper leaf over Nicaraguan tobacco from the Jalapa region in both the binder and filler. There is also the vitola, which features the smallest ring gauge of any of the three releases. Finally, while both the La Grande Classe and the Rex were both limited releases as well as FUMARE exclusives, the La Grande Classe Rex is a regular production blend that is available to Illusione across the country.
Here is what I wrote in my original review back in May 2018:
Over the years, I have been asked a variant of the question If you were stuck on a deserted island and could only smoke one manufacturer’s cigars, whose would it be? many times. While there is any number of cigars I would enjoy in that (theoretical) situation, inevitably I have come to the same conclusion: Illusione. The La Grande Classe Rex is a wonderful example of why that is, featuring a complex profile, virtually flawless construction and amazing balance. Throw in the great vitola and a price point under $6, and you have a winner in just about every way. One of the better cigar I have smoked this year and easily one of the best values for the package you get.
- Cigar Reviewed: Illusione La Grande Classe Rex
- Country of Origin: Nicaragua
- Factory: Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A.
- Wrapper: Ecuador (Habano)
- Binder: Nicaragua
- Filler: Nicaragua
- Length: 4 7/8 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 40
- Vitola: Petit Corona
- MSRP: $5.50 (Bundle of 25, $137.50)
- Release Date: July 2017
- Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
- Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 1
Understated does not even begin to describe the Illusione La Grande Classe Rex when looking at it in your hand, assuming you did not pull it out of its gold foil bundle: the combination of no band, small ring gauge and reddish brown, smooth-to-the-touch wrapper all combine to give a less than impressive presentation, although it is obvious at the same time that quite a bit of care was taken in the construction of the cigar itself. The wrapper smells strongly of a combination of cinnamon, oak, barnyard, earth, leather and raisins, while the cold draw brings flavors of almonds, dark chocolate, espresso beans, creamy oak, dank earth and vanilla sweetness.
During the first half, the Illusione features very distinct—and very strong—flavors of both creamy almonds and creamy oak, both of which easily dominate the lesser notes that include popcorn, baker’s spices, roasted coffee beans, cocoa nibs and toast. There is plenty of cinnamon on the finish as well as quite a bit of molasses sweetness on the retrohale, but very little pepper or spice to be found at the point in the profile, which becomes quite a bit more creamy in nature as the first third ends. The second half of the La Grande Classe Rex continues the creamy trend while also bringing a new flavor to the profile that I don’t pick up very often—namely a leafy mint note on the finish, although it sadly does not stick around long—but the noticeable change is the dominant flavor combination, which is now made up of both walnuts and dark chocolate bitterness. There is also significantly more of the molasses sweetness on the retrohale, as well as a bit less cinnamon on the finish.
Construction-wise, the draw features close to the perfect amount of resistance for me after a simple straight cut, and while the burn strays back and forth a bit throughout the smoking time and needs a quick touchup in the second third, it is virtually non-problematic other than that. The smoke production is a bit thinner than I remember the first time around—but just as copious off of the foot— while the overall strength gradually increases until it is a little below the medium mark, never really threatening to cross the line before I put down the nub exactly 53 minutes later.
There were two main reasons why the Illusione La Grande Classe Rex nabbed the 22nd spot on halfwheel’s 2018 Top 25 list, and those have not changed in the 18 months since the first review: flavors and balance. The petit corona is loaded with it, from the first puff to the last, with flavors of cinnamon, oak and almonds/walnuts that shine on their own while other notes of rich espresso beans and molasses sweetness combine to produce an immensely complex profile. In addition, that profile—which includes a new wintery mint leaf flavor that erupted out of nowhere in the second third for about five puffs before disappearing almost as quickly, never to return—is almost absurdly balanced. This is one of those short and sweet cigars that I sit down and concentrate on not because I have to in order to pick out flavors, but because the profile is so complex that I can’t help but enjoy it.