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When La Grand Classe was released on November 27, 2012, there wasn’t a lot of fanfare for Dion Giolito’s latest creation that was being released exclusively through FUMARE, his retail store in Reno, Nev. In fact, there was hardly any — a single Tweet was sent out the morning it became available from the store’s account, and it didn’t get any mention on the Illusione Twitter account.

The La Grand Classe project had been in public discussion since at least November 2011, with unbanded versions of the cigar handed out by Giolito at Charmed Leaf’s August 2012 boutique cigar party during the IPCPR Convention and Trade Show. Beyond that though, details were kept minimal.

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By the time the cigar came out, it featured a hodgepodge of variations on the name, with multiple versions on the box and sticker that seals the cellophane, as the cigar itself remains unbanded, to the FUMARE website, which featured two spellings. All in all, there were references to La Grand Classe, La Grande Classe, Le Grand Classe and Le Grande Classe. Regardless of the spelling, the name translates as “The Great Class” from several languages, including French, Italian, Latin and Spanish. The phrase pauca sed bona is also used in the artwork, which means small but good in Latin.

When I reviewed La Grand Classe in December 2012, I said that:

There’s an understandable desire to compare La Grand Classe to other Illusione products, given that it’s made by Giolito and sold only at his store. However, as mentioned before there is no indication on the box or the cigar that this has any connection to Illusione, absent Giolito himself, and he has stated this is not an Illusione product. The flavor progression was a little off for me, beginning with the pepper punch that kicks off the cigar and leads you to think it’s going to be some absolute pepper bomb before beginning a steady decline in strength and flavor that bottoms out near the midway point, only to start a steady rebuilding of flavor and strength in the final third. There also isn’t a ton of variance in the flavors, mainly earth, wood and spice the whole way through in varying intensities. For me, Giolito left a big part of the cigar canvas unused, as the middle third could have been used to show something in terms of flavor. However, it bears mentioning that this is a $6 cigar, a price point not generally known for being ripe with flavor-packed cigars. So when all this is taken into consideration, what are you left with? A very good store exclusive made by a solid company at a reasonable price point that is worth trying, but not hunting down.

As recently as December 2013, La Grand Classe was still available at FUMARE, and you could still order them over the phone as was possible when they came out. Giolito mentioned that he doesn’t have any immediate plans to develop the line beyond what it is now, though that could certainly change in the future, much as when the Illusione Rex was thought to be a cigar available only for in-store purchase at FUMARE and then became available for other retailers to carry.

  • Cigar Reviewed: La Grand Classe
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A. (TABSA)
  • Wrapper: Mexican San Andrés Maduro
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Size: 5 1/2 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 52
  • Vitola: Gordito
  • MSRP: $5.99 (Boxes of 25, $149.75)
  • Date Released: November 27, 2012
  • Number of Cigars Released: 470 Boxes of 25 Cigars (11,750 Total Cigars)
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Redux: 1

The La Grand Classe sports a much darker and more robust wrapper leaf than I remember, with some decent size veins and a few darker spots at points. It’s still firm to the touch, and I’m hesitant to give it too much of a squeeze for fear of cracking the wrapper. The aroma has a sneaky but punchy amount of pepper that seems to lie in wait as I enjoy the sweet and fruity lead notes before it jumps out and goes write after my nasal passages. Air moves well through the cigar on the cold draw, which is much less peppery and offers a subdued flavor set consisting primarily of lightly toasted white bread.

The first puffs are just the slightest bit tight but deliver an enjoyable, robust flavor before opening up and showing some brighter flavors that draw from the toast note on the cold draw along with a bit of pepper, while staying grounded in a bit of the Mexican wrapper’s terroir. There are touches of sweetness that just glide across the tongue as the cigar produces sufficient amounts of smoke, and the aroma takes on an interesting lightness at times, almost reprising the fruit salad notes from the cold foot while also introducing a bit of fresh cut grass. Both flavor and aroma continue to evolve and open up throughout the first half, adding and subtracting notes of wood, white pepper, slight touches of bitterness in a constant series of adjustments and readjustments that offers the senses a new experience with almost every puff.

La Grand Classe

The return of the upfront black pepper note carries the La Grand Classe into its second half as the cigar continues to perform absolutely flawlessly with a sharp, even burn line and dark gray ash that practically has to be coaxed to fall off. What I originally thought of as being too much of a blank canvas has filled in very well with a radiant flavor set that moves back and forth without ever abandoning its core set of flavors. Earth and pepper return for the cigar’s finale and much as it did when the cigar was brand new, bring the flavor profile back to where it started, all with a still razor sharp burn and flawless construction.

Note: Illusione is a site sponsor of halfwheel. While not an Illusione product, Dion Giolito blended and sold La Grand Classe.

88 Overall Score

When I first smoked La Grand Classe, the biggest complaint I had about it was that there was a significant portion of the cigar where nothing was happening, leaving too much of what I referred to as a blank canvas. Over a year of rest has helped remedy that problem tremendously well, as there was hardly any downtime in terms of flavor. Between the more in-your-face beginning and ending of the cigar, the space has filled in very well with gradual movements through the core flavors and offers a much better expression of what I think Giolito was aiming for with this release.

Original Score (December 2012)
86

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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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