In February, Illusione announced it would be releasing a new cigar that would be sold exclusively to retailers who placed orders in person during the 2020 PCA Convention & Trade Show, meaning orders for the cigars would not take orders before or after the trade show took place. As with past releases from other manufacturers, the main purpose behind the release was to support the trade show by rewarding the retailers who travel to attend it in person with an exclusive product they could sell.

A press release from Illusione described why the cigar was being made:

We feel that PCA is at a critical juncture in the way we do business both from an industry stand point, and a Trade Show stand point. We want to do our part by incentivizing the retailers to come to the show to not only see the new range of products that are available, and to also take advantage of things you can only get by coming to the show.

Then, the coronavirus pandemic began wreaking havoc on the cigar industry.

As a result of the pandemic, the PCA Convention & Trade Show was canceled, leading Illusione to announce that its PCA exclusive blend would be sold not in person, but instead during Zoom sales sessions with Illusione’s sales representatives that would take place on July 13 and July 14.

However, while the method of selling the new creation had changed, the details about the cigar did not. There is only one vitola—a 5 1/2 x 56 double robusto—with a blend made up of an Ecuadorian habano claro wrapper covering an internal blend consisting of a Nicaraguan binder as well as Nicaraguan criollo 98 and corojo 99 fillers. Each soft-box pressed cigar retails for $9.95 and total production is limited to 1,500 blue foil bundles of 10 cigars.

As with the vast majority of Illusione products, the PCA 2020 Exclusive was made at Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. in Estelí, Nicaragua, and while it was originally scheduled to begin shipping in July, bundles did not actually start showing up on retailer’s shelves until September.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Illusione PCA 2020 Exclusive
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A.
  • Wrapper: Ecuador (Habano Claro)
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua (Criollo 98 & Corojo 99)
  • Length: 5 1/2 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 56
  • Vitola: Double Robusto
  • MSRP: $9.95 (Bundle of 10, $99.50)
  • Release Date: Sept. 23, 2020
  • Number of Cigars Released: 1,500 Bundles of 10 Cigars (15,000 Total Cigars)
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

Covered in a gorgeous milk chocolate brown wrapper, the Illusione PCA 2020 Exclusive is also exceedingly smooth to the touch and features quite a bit of oil. Although there are some noticeable veins, they are far from distracting and the soft box press is a nice touch while the cigar is just short of rock hard when squeezed. The aroma emanating from the wrapper and foot is an intoxicating combination of strong dates, hay, peanut shells, creamy cedar, milk chocolate and raisin sweetness, while the cold draw brings flavors of creamy oak, leather, freshly roasted coffee beans, black pepper and slight marzipan sweetness.

Starting off the first third, the Illusione PCA 2020 Exclusive features an immediate combination of creamy almonds and cedar combination as the dominant flavors, followed closely behind by notes of leather tack, cocoa nibs, espresso beans, hay and sourdough bread. There is a light spice on my tongue that seems to increase as the first third burns down, as well as a small amount of white pepper on the retrohale that combines nicely with some Fig Newton sweetness that is quite distinct. Construction-wise, a simple straight has resulted in a close to perfect draw with just the right amount of resistance for me, while the burn is close to razor sharp so far. The overall strength is noticeably light, barely hitting a point between mild and medium by the time the first third ends.

Although the creamy almond flavor remains the dominant note during the second third of the Illusione PCA Exclusive, the Fig Newton sweetness begins to pick up steam significantly around the halfway point. Other flavors on the palate include creamy cedar, freshly roasted espresso beans, tea leaves, powdery cocoa nibs, hay, earth and sourdough bread, while the white pepper present on the retrohale has increased a bit compared to the first third. Construction-wise, the burn continues to give me no issues and the draw remains excellent, and while the overall strength has started it increases a bit, it still fails to hit the medium mark by the end of the second third.

The final third of the Illusione seems to combine all of the best parts from the previous two thirds, leading with the still-dominant flavor of creamy almonds, followed closely behind by notes of sourdough bread, hay, cedar, earth, espresso beans, dry tea leaves, leather and cocoa nibs. In addition, the Fig Newton sweetness has continued to increase on the retrohale, combining very nicely with the white pepper that is also present. Finally, there are no problems with either the burn or the draw, and the overall strength stalls out just under the medium marks by the time I put the nub down with a little less than an inch remaining.

Final Notes

  • For those that don’t know, Dion Giolito, Illusione’s founder, actually owns and runs a cigar store in Reno, Nevada named FUMARE Fine Cigar Boutique. It is not only one of the nicest cigar lounges I have visited, but also has some of the most knowledgeable staff I have met.
  • I can’t say enough about how amazing the construction was on all three samples I smoked for this review. Only one needed a minor touchup and while another had a draw that was a little tight at first, a bit of gentle massaging took care of any issues.
  • Although the Cigares Privé Series—Cigares Privé translates into Private Cigars from French—was initially made up of single store releases, it’s now being used whenever Illusione is in need of a band for a random project. There’s a regular production line known as Cigares Privé that also uses the same band, though those blends are not the same as this.
  • Illusione advertises on halfwheel.
  • The cigars smoked for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time was right on point with what I expected, averaging one hour and 49 minutes for all three samples.
92 Overall Score

Sweet, creamy, complex, balanced, nuanced. These are all adjectives that flowed through my head as I was smoking the Illusione PCA 2020 Exclusive and while all of them do their individual parts in describing the cigar, the true story can only be told by combining them. In fact, this is a superbly balanced flavor bomb of epic proportions, with a creamy and sweet profile punctuated by just the right amount of spice and white pepper to enhance the blend instead of detracting from it. The Illusione PCA 2020 Exclusive is easily one of the best cigars I have smoked this year, and if you are a fan of Gioloto's creations—or just love medium-bodied, full-flavored blends in general—I suggest you to go out and buy some right now before they are gone for good.

Brooks Whittington

I have been smoking cigars for over eight years. A documentary wedding photographer by trade, I spent seven years as a photojournalist for the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. I started the cigar blog SmokingStogie in 2008 after realizing that there was a need for a cigar blog with better photographs and more in-depth information about each release. SmokingStogie quickly became one of the more influential cigar blogs on the internet, known for reviewing preproduction, prerelease, rare, extremely hard-to-find and expensive cigars. I am a co-founder of halfwheel and now serve as an editor for halfwheel.