The cigar world lost a legend two weeks ago when famed Cuban roller Rodolfo “Taboada” Campa suffered a heart attack and passed away at the age of 72.
Last week, famed Cuban cigar roller Rodolfo “Taboada” Campa suffered a heart attack and passed away at the age of 72. Taboada was amongst a select few “celebrity rollers,” able to travel throughout the world to roll custom blends. His popularity grew because of these trips to La Casa del Habanos—notably Tijuana—and other premier shops around the world.
Ultimately however was his skill. James Suckling described his unique ability to replicate classic blends:
The handful of cigars he gave me last week in Tijuana all drew like a dream. But as I have written in the past, what impresses me with Taboada is that he knows how to blend. The tobacco he was using in Tijuana had been shipped over from Havana a few days before his arrival. It was very good volado, secco and ligero as well as wrapper and binder. I had heard rumors that some of the tobacco was five or six years old, but that is impossible. Believe me. Habanos, the global distribution and marketing organization for Cuban cigars, could never get its hands on stuff like that.
I once had the head of all the cigar factories in Cuba, which numbers slightly more than 50, tell me that they send substandard quality tobacco to all the rollers in cigar shops. But how knows what the truth really is.
That’s the crux of the problem with the custom cigars from shops. As good as a roller may be, he or she can’t make great cigars unless they have serious tobacco. Moreover, they have to know how to blend it. And most don’t have the knowledge. I have had hundreds of custom smokes and most a pretty boring at best. Sure they look good and they may be special sizes…Behike, 109, double robustos, triple lanceros, whatever. But I would rather have a real Habanos with the real blend and the real band nine times out of ten.
Yet there are the exceptions, and Taboada seems to be one of the very few who can make them. For example, I really enjoyed the blockbuster, take-no-prisoners Belicoso he gave me. And another one of his cigars from that day sticks in my mind.
“Do you like Davidoff Dom Perignons?” said David Tourgamen, owner of the Tijuana La Casa del Habano.
“Of course,” I said. “I love them. What’s not to like?”
“Here,” he said, handing me a cigar that was slightly longer than a Churchill and uncut on the end whereby it resembled a carrot top.
It was a cigar that Taboada rolled in the shop, and it, if I remember correctly, tasted damn near to the Davy Dom. It was rich and flavorful yet refined with a cedar, mineral character…a wonderful blend, a wonderful cigar.
A report from one forum indicated his death as December 14, while multiple sources told halfwheel Taboada passed away last week.
There are multiple rollers in Cuba who roll cigars out of specific stores, factories, hotels and occasionally travel abroad. These master rollers use Cuban tobacco and often roll either their own blends or their own takes on classic blend. The cigars they roll are oftentimes referred to simply by their first or nick names. Major rollers include names such as Hamlet, La China, Santos, Yolanda, Monsdale, Juanita, Alfredo, Reynaldo, Taboada and Cueto, among others.
Due to the nature of how they procure tobacco, the blends oftentimes vary even more than on a year-to-year basis.
Cigar Reviewed: Taboada Gran Sublime
Country of Origin: Cuba
Size: 6 1/4 Inches
Ring Gauge: 58
Vitola: Gran Sublime
Est. Price: $30.00
Date Released: 2009
Number of Cigars Released: n/a
Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 2
The Gran Sublime is extremely imposing with a huge footprint, light espresso brown wrapper that glistens with oil and a great closed foot. It is slick and subtle to the touch with an aroma of a combination of strong manure, cedar, leather and barnyard. The cigar itself is a bit spongy when squeezed, and I love the covered foot.
The Taboada Gran Sublime starts out the first third with very subtle flavors of creamy oak, leather, earth and peanuts. There is almost no spice or pepper present as of yet, either in the mouth or on the retrohale, but there is a wonderful vanilla sweetness that combines extremely well with the rest of the notes. Smoke production is underwhelming so far, but the draw and burn are excellent through the first third. Overall strength is negligible at a very light medium.
Coming into the second third of the custom rolled Taboada and the flavors have become a bit more nuanced with a creamy earth and dark chocolate notes taking over dominance. Other flavors of nuts, oak, hay and a slight tea leaf come and go in the profile, and the vanilla sweetness from the first third is thankfully sticking around. The smoke production is still not what I expected, but the construction remains excellent, giving me no problems at all. Strength through the second third is a solid medium, and does seem to be getting a bit stronger.
The final third of the Taboada Gran Sublime is much the same as the first two with the same basic profile and flavors, the same wonderful construction and the same vanilla sweetness in the background. Smoke production is still somewhat lackluster, but the major change for the final third is the strength, which increases quite a bit at the end of the cigar, finishing at just below the full mark.
- You have to seriously see and feel this wrapper to believe it. It is so oily, soft and supple that it feels almost like a baby’s ass. It is seriously amazing.
- I love the fact that quite a few of the custom rolled Cubans I have smoked have covered feet.
- This cigar seemed to want to go out on me if I did not keep puffing on it on a regular basis, even more so then I usually get with large ring gauge cigars.
- Custom rolled Cubans are not easy to find and tend to be fairly expensive unless you can buy them from the rollers in Cuba due mostly to the difficulties with getting more than a few at a time out of Cuba.
- As mentioned above, Taboada died of a heart attack two weeks ago at the age of 72.
- Interestingly, Taboada’s daughter-in-law Gretel Gonzalaz commented on our news story of his death, and had some nice things to say on our Facebook page post, saying that, “smoking his cigars is the best way to remember him”.
- Taboada is actually featured in a 1995 French documentary detailing the Cuban Cigar Industry called “The Fabulous Story Of The Cuban Cigar.”
- One of the reasons I love smoking custom rolled Cubans is the fact that you never know what you are going to get, even from the same roller in the same year and the same vitola. I have had some custom Cubans that were amazing and some that were just okay.
- Although to be fair I have never had one that was even close to awful.
- The construction, both burn and draw were perfect for each of the samples I smoked. Never a problem with either one.
- Yes, I had to finish smoking the cigar with a knife (Charlie’s), as I lost my nub tool. It worked like a charm, and made me feel that much more manly, so a win-win situation, really.
- The strength in the final third surprised the hell out of me, as it came on pretty strong with almost no warning. Just be careful if you ever smoke one of these blends, as I was not prepared for it in the first sample.
- If you want to purchase any of these—or any custom Cuban—the one thing I would caution you is to know your source. Since these are unbanded, they are incredibly easy to sell as fake. Expect to pay anywhere from $30-$50 each, depending on roller, age and vitola.
- The final smoking time for each of these Taboada Gran Sublimes averaged around two hours and 10 minutes.
This is a perfect example of a large ring gauge cigar that is wonderful because it was blended to the exact size and vitola. Although undeniably a lighter bodied cigar—at least until the end—and not incredibly complex, it is full of flavor, and smokes like a dream construction-wise. For the most part, I have enjoyed the larger ring gauge custom rolled Cubans more then their non-Cuban counterparts, and I have a feeling that has something to do with the fact that most custom Cubans are larger ring gauges are blended specifically for those sizes, as opposed to being just another vitola in a line. Whatever the case, this is a very good cigar, one I am glad I smoked, and a wonderful example of the quality that Rodolfo “Taboada” Campa produced.