In March, Michael Argenti—former founder of the Berger & Argenti brand, which is now defunct—introduced a new line of cigars during the 2016 Tobacco Plus Expo in Las Vegas, Nev.
Dubbed La Gran Llave, the new cigars feature a Mexican San Andrés wrapper covering an Ecuadorian habano binder and Nicaraguan filler tobacco. The cigars are all box-pressed and are being rolled at Abdel Fernandez’s Tabacalera Fernandez S.A. in Nicaragua.
“I’ve developed a number of cigars over the years and I’m extremely proud of all of them,” said Argenti in a press release. “With that said, I honestly believe La Gran Llave is the finest blend I’ve ever been associated with. Working with Abdel and his team of experts at AJ Fernandez Cigars has been one of the best experiences of my life. His materials and methods are incredible.”
The La Gran Llave launched in five different vitolas, all of which are sold in boxes of 20.
La Gran Llave Corona Extra (4 3/4 x 48) — $6.99 (Boxes of 20, $139.80)
La Gran Llave Robusto (5 x 54) — $7.99 (Boxes of 20, $159.80)
La Gran Llave Guapo (5 1/2 x 60) — $8.99 (Boxes of 20, $179.80)
La Gran Llave Torpedo (6 1/2 x 56) — $9.99 (Boxes of 20, $199.80)
La Gran Llave Double Corona (7 1/2 x 55) — $10.99 (Boxes of 20, $219.80)
- Cigar Reviewed: La Gran Llave Corona Extra
- Country of Origin: Nicaragua
- Factory: Tabacalera Fernandez S.A.
- Wrapper: Mexican San Andrés
- Binder: Ecuadorian Habano
- Filler: Nicaragua
- Length: 4 3/4 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 48
- Vitola: Robusto
- MSRP: $6.99 (Boxes of 20, $139.80)
- Release Date: March 21, 2016
- Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
- Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3
Covered in a dark reddish brown wrapper that feels like fine sandpaper when felt, the La Gran Llave is visually appealing, with a fairly obvious box-press as well as a clean cut foot, and has some nice give to it when it is squeezed. Aroma from the wrapper is a combination of dark chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg sweetness, creamy oak and earth, while the cold draw brings a strong paint note, followed by much lesser flavors of powdery cocoa and earth.
The La Gran Llave Corona Extra starts off the first third with a very muted profile of flavors, none of which are particularly dominant over the others: oak, leather and earth with a bit of indeterminate sweetness. There is a slight sourness on the finish that is a bit discerning, and it does not combine well with some black pepper on the retrohale. Both the burn and draw are excellent so far, while the smoke production is well above average for the smaller vitola. Strength-wise, the La Gran Llave starts out quite light, and does not come close to the medium mark by the time the first third comes to an end.
Unfortunately, the second third of the La Gran Llave Corona Extra is much the same as the first, with the same uninspired leather and earth notes on the palate as well as the same sourness on the finish. The sweetness from the first third is long gone by the halfway point, although the black pepper actually increases on the retrhole. Construction-wise, the burn and draw continue to impress, and I have not had to touch up the burn once so far. The overall strength seems to take a big step up near the end of the second third, hitting a point close to medium.
The La Gran Llave holds no surprises during the final third, with the same boring profile containing nothing but earth and leather along with slightly more sourness to the finish. No matter how much I look for it, there is still no sweetness to be found, and the black pepper that is still present on the retrohale does nothing to make the profile any more enjoyable. The cigar finally hits a solid medium halfway through the final third, but the one bright spot is the construction, which is picture perfect and remains that way until I put the nub down with a bit more than an inch left to go.
- The boxes we received from La Gran Llave positively reeked of paint when we took the cellophane off, and even after some time, the scent never totally dissipated. I was a bit taken aback by the obvious paint note I tasted on the cold draw, but interestingly, there was no obvious paint taste in the actual profile. Having said that, the two samples I smoked from the box were definitely far inferior to a sample I took from a sampler box that was unaffected by paint fumes, so it obviously had some significant impact on the flavors.
- I gave a sample of the cigar taken from the box to two different people whose palate I trust to see what they tasted on the cold draw: one of them said he tasted “acetone” while the other told me he tasted straight up paint.
- Argenti has been in the cigar business for over 25 years, including as executive vice president of Tabacalera Perdomo S.A., president and ceo of Cuban Imports and as both President and ceo of the aforementioned Berger & Argenti brand.
- Both the burn and draw have me no issues whatsoever, and were a joy to smoke in that regard.
- I really like both the logo and the color scheme of the two bands together on each of the cigars, but at least on this vitola, they take up almost half of the total cigar which ends up being a bit overwhelming visually.
- The final smoking time for all three samples averaged one hour and 10 minutes.
- The cigars smoked for this review were sent to halfwheel by La Gran Llave.
There is no denying the overwhelming paint smell that was present on the box of the La Gran Llave Corona Extra we received, and there is no denying that it had an effect on the final profile of the cigars that came from that box. Having said that, the one cigar I smoked that was not shipped in that box was quite good, with a nicely complex profile and distinct flavors, along with a great ever-present sweetness on the retrohale. However, we judge the cigars based on three different samples, and two of them came from the paint-infused boxes, thus the low final score.