If you haven’t noticed, Altadis U.S.A. has developed a bit of a thing with A.J. Fernandez in recent months.

The two entities have been collaborating on a number of line extensions, including new cigars for H. Upmann and Gispert.

One of these collaborations pairs one of Altadis U.S.A.’ best known lines—Montecristo—to create a store exclusive release for JR Cigar and a distributor exclusive for Santa Clara, Inc. that was released Dec. 1, 2016.

Both companies are part of Tabacalera USA, which also owns Altadis U.S.A., the company that holds the trademark for Montecristo in the U.S. and sells most of the Montecristo brands directly through its sales force.

The Montecristo Crafted by A. J. Fernandez uses an Ecuadorian Sumatra oscuro wrapper, Mexican San Andrés binder and Honduran and Nicaraguan fillers.

The line is available in five sizes, all packed in 10-count boxes.

  • Montecristo Crafted by A. J. Fernandez Churchill (7 x 50) — $12
  • Montecristo Crafted by A. J. Fernandez Figurado (4 x 52) — $10.50
  • Montecristo Crafted by A. J. Fernandez Gordo (6 x 58)  — $12.50
  • Montecristo Crafted by A. J. Fernandez Robusto (5 x 52) — $9.95
  • Montecristo Crafted by A. J. Fernandez Toro (6 x 50) — $11.50

“We are extremely proud to deliver to the market this collaborative project between two exciting entities,” said Rob Norris, the former president of Santa Clara, Inc.,[ref]Norris is now the head of Altadis U.S.A.[/ref] in a press release. “The blend they put together really makes a statement for both companies and I can’t wait to hear the customers reaction.”

JR Cigar won’t be the only store to get an A.J. Fernandez-blended Montecristo however, as in late May, Altadis U.S.A. announced that the Monte by Montecristo AJ Fernandez would be unveiled at next month’s 2017 IPCPR Convention & Trade Show.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Montecristo Crafted by AJ Fernandez Robusto
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Tabacalera AJ Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A.
  • Wrapper: Ecuadorian Sumatra Oscuro
  • Binder: Mexican San Andrés
  • Filler: Honduras and Nicaragua
  • Length: 5 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 52
  • Vitola: Robusto
  • MSRP: $9.95 (Boxes of 10, $99.95)
  • Release Date: Dec. 1, 2016
  • Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

This A.J. Fernandez-crafted Montecristo has one of the more extreme presses I can recall seeing on a cigar, so much so that I had to confirm it was actually a robusto because there was no way to guess it simply by looking at it. The wrapper is the color of beef jerky with a good bit of tooth and small veins, with the seams of the cigar pressed tight. It has the familiar pillow-like softness of a box-pressed cigar, and visually looks like a perfect roll. The foot has a slight aroma of baking chocolate and a bit of tree bark, with varying amounts of pepper from sample to sample. The cold draw ranges from a touch tight to a bit loose, but no sample is particularly concerning. The flavors are chocolatey but in a dried brownie sort of way, and again varying amounts pepper are to be found.

The opening notes are more pepper prevalent than I anticipated and with less chocolate than I would have thought given how the cigar presented prior to being lit. There’s a bit of unfamiliar tang to the flavor as well, seemingly rooted in a lemon sauce but not carrying that note all the way through. There’s an underlying richness of steak that begins to open up around the one inch mark, a complex note all the way down to the sinewy texture. The cigar is by no means a smoke machine but produces an adequate amount. The burn line is sharp and even, while the ash holds on quite well.

In the first sample, the ash holds on across the line from first to second third, finally getting to the point where I have to knock it off both for fear of it falling somewhere I don’t want it to, and to get the second photograph for this review. Once gone, I notice that there is more pepper in the retrohale, though it’s still fairly mild and enjoyable. One of the variances among samples is a serious char note develops on the steak and pepper components, making both more potent and imparting a longer lasting finish on the tongue on the more extreme examples. While I’m not lacking for body from the smoke, other than a bit of coffee beans and char, I do find the cigar lacking in specific, detailed flavors. Also now lacking is the sweetness from the first third, something that would be a welcomed addition to add both balance and complexity.

The final third starts off with a good bit more strength as well as flavor as the cigar becomes much more robust and earthy, accented by more char notes on the profile. In the samples where the char is most prominent, it dials back a little in this section but still remains fairly prominent, as evidenced by an ongoing tingle on the front half of the tongue. As far as strength, the nicotine isn’t overpowering but it does become quite noticeable throughout this section. The burn remains about as perfect as one I could ask for, with a sharp and even burn line, decent smoke production and not so much as a thought of needing a relight in any of the three samples.

Final Notes

  • While I’m generally not a fan of a lot of band on my cigar, these really worked for me. The paper has a slightly different texture than a lot of other cigars. It looks a bit like parchment, plus the fonts and inks just look elegant.
  • I haven’t had the chance to see them in person, but I also really like the look of the boxes these come in.
  • There are few things that irk me as much as the back and forth between the usage of AJ or A.J. when it comes to referring to Abdel J. Fernandez and his company. Then there’s Fernandez versus Fernández.
  • This may be the first Montecristo to be created by A.J. Fernandez, but it’s not the first Montecristo to come out Nicaragua. In 2014, Altadis U.S.A. released Espada by Montecristo, which is produced by Plasencia Cigars S.A.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time was one hours and 35 minutes on average.
  • Site sponsor JR Cigar carries the Montecristo Crafted by AJ Fernandez line.
85 Overall Score

The Montecristo Crafted by AJ Fernandez Robusto adds a respectable new spin on one of most venerable brand names in the entire cigar world. It sits at medium to medium-full in terms of flavor intensity and body, while ramping up from medium-minus to medium-plus in strength. While I'd like to get more specific flavors and complexity out of the cigar, there is rarely a moment where the cigar isn't flavorful and engaging on the palate. While I'm not floored by the cigar, I'm certainly impressed and wouldn't turn down another if offered.

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 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.