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Sancho Panza Eslavo (ER Serbia 2014)

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While most of the reviews you read here start off with a detailed history of the cigar being reviewed, it seems a bit more appropriate to focus on the vitola of this particular cigar.

The Nro.109, or simply 109 as it is often referred to, is a size that has a bit of lore to it; a sizable cigar measuring just shy of 7 1/4 inches long with a 50 ring gauge, it was at the large end of the calibre grueso grouping of the Habanos portfolio for many years. But it wasn’t the size of the 109 that was its most notable attribute, but rather its tapered head.

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The shape traces its history back to the beginning of the 20th century and the world famous Partagás factory in Havana. It was used in the original versions of the Partagás Lusitania and Ramon Allónes Gigantes before both went to a standard corona doble vitola, shedding the conical head in 1976. Soon after the vitola fell out of favor, returning in 1995 with the Partagás 109 that was part of the 150 Aniversario Humidor, with repeat appearances in 2000 and 2010 for the 155th and 165th anniversaries, respectively. Hoyo de Moneterrey received a Lusitanias of its own in 1999 as part of the Siglo XXI Millennium Humidor, and then in 2003 the Hoyo de Monterrey Extravaganza used the format.

Since then it has largely been relegated to Edición Regional releases, including:

Off the island, the vitola has also found favor. Pete Johnson of Tatuaje is a noted admirer of the shape, using it for five different store exclusives for Federal Cigar in New Hampshire, all released for the store’s 90th anniversary. Kyle Gellis of Warped Cigars has also used the shape for his aptly named Futuro Selección 109, as has Dion Giolito of Illusione for the Cruzado Marelas Supremas.

Crux Cigars uses the conical shape across many of its line, going as so far as to trademarking the name marblehead to call the size.

As for the Sancho Panza brand, it isn’t one you see in every cigar shop, as it is deemed by Habanos S.A. to be a local brand with limited availability, and contributes a relatively small share to the company’s overall sales. Established in 1848, the brand changed hands numerous times throughout its history, hitting a peak of consumption in the 1950s throughout Spain. That popularity helped carry it through the revolution and into the Cubatabaco/Habanos S.A. portfolio, and while it peaked at 13 regular production vitolas in the 1970s, it is down to just two today: Belicosos (5 1/2 x 52) and Non Plus (5 1/10 x 42).
Despite its limited availability, the marca still has its fans, and noted cigar collector and writer Min Ron Nee has gone on record saying that the blend undergoes a significant transformation with 15 to 20 years of aging, a magic that no other cigar possess.

It gets its name from the story Don Quixote, or more properly known as The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra that was published in two volumes in 1605 and 1615. Sancho Panza was a farmer who became the squire of Don Quixote, and was known for his wit in dealing with Quijote’s speeches on knighthood.

It is also a marca that has not been selected much in the Edición Regional program, which if you need a refresher works like this:

The Edición Regional program started in 2005 and utilizes the 17 local and multi-local brands for their releases exempting the ten worldwide premium global and niche brands. The cigars are limited production releases with a minimum run of 25,000 cigars and are made exclusively for a regional market, which can range from a specific country to a geographic region.

They are available for one to two years, after which time the cigar can be added to the line’s current production range. The vitolas used for Edición Regional releases must be selected from current production vitolas, but ones that are not already used by that line.

In addition, recent changes, as noted by Trevor Leask of CubanCigarWebsite.com, have included a lifespan of 12 months with release dates generally in August, September and October. While some regions have received multiple releases in a calendar year, in 2012 Edición Regional releases became limited to one per distributor per year.

Finally, the cigars generally use the marca’s main band with a second red and silver band that indicates the region it was made for, in the format “Exclusivo ___” with the region’s name in Spanish.

In 2010, the Sancho Panza Quijote (7 3/5 x 49) was produced for Spain—though it didn’t arrive until 2011, while in 2011, the German market received the Sancho Panza Escuderos (6 1/10 x 50). Both of those cigars came in 10-count boxes, with 2,500 boxes produced for Spain and 3,000 for Germany.

The Eslavo is the first Edición Regional ever produced for Serbia, a massive release of 1,000 boxes of 50 cigars, a total run of 50,000 cigars. It’s name is the Spanish word for Slavs, the name for the people who inhabit a large part of Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe as well as North and Central Asia. Serbia falls into the smaller designation of being part of the South Slavs, along with Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria. Serbia represents the fourth most populous country amongst Slavic nations.

Sancho Panza Eslavo (ER Serbia 2014) 1

  • Cigar Reviewed: Sancho Panza Eslavo Edición Regional Serbia (2014)
  • Country of Origin: Cuba
  • Factory: n/a
  • Wrapper: Cuba
  • Binder: Cuba
  • Filler: Cuba
  • Length: 7 1/4 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 50
  • Vitola: 109
  • Est. MSRP: $26 (Boxes of 50, $1,300)
  • Release Date: March 2015
  • Number of Cigars Released: 1,000 Boxes of 50 (50,000 Total Cigars)
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The Sancho Panza Eslavo will certainly catch your eye with its size, a brooding 7 1/4 x 50 vitola that seems to be what you’d expect a movie prop to look like for some cigar-smoking character. Yet the 109 head, elongated and rounded, provides a refined touch to this otherwise imposing cigar, a flourish of craftsmanship that a non-smoker would easily overlook.  It’s a well-rolled cigar with a uniform bit of sponginess and clean seams, a presentation hampered if anything only by some prominent veins on the almond-hued wrapper and one of the most boring primary bands in the Habanos S.A. portfolio. The foot of the cigar smells amazingly like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with the bread and peanut butter notes each getting about 40 percent of the whole and the grape jelly sweetness making up the remaining 20 percent. There are suggestions at matchstick wood and a touch of green grape jam, but the overall offering is consistent. The cold draw is firm but workable, presenting a flavor that has me thinking of Cheerios and wheat bread; thick on the palate but an offering lacking any sort of meaningful reaction from the tongue or mind if there is no pepper to be found, which is occasionally at best.

The Sancho Panza Eslavo starts out squarely neutral in terms of flavor and strength, there’s a bit of pepper to be found but it’s not overwhelming, while the smoke has a creamy texture that coats a bit of butter and wheat bread. Dry barn wood enters quickly and gives the first puffs a touch more complexity, though they are plenty enjoyable as is. Pepper begins to take the reins as the curving ash reaches about an inch, which is also when the burn line on the first cigar begins to go a bit askew, something not shared by the second sample. The profile doesn’t gain too much in the way of strength, but rather builds just a touch in body with a pretzel bread base starting to take shape and memories of the handful of Sancho Panzas that I’ve smoked before starting to come back as the pepper shifts a bit to incorporate more white pepper that brightens the smoke up. With the combustion starting to slow, I tap the sizable ash and give the Eslavo a quick touch-up to propel it into the second third.

Sancho Panza Eslavo (ER Serbia 2014) 2

The black pepper component of the Sancho Panza Eslavo takes yet another step forward at the start of the second third, again punchy and crisp on the tongue while leaking back towards the throat a bit. The retrohales seem to get a bit softer, until you mingle the experience with an exhale through the mouth and things start to come alive. The creaminess has faded a bit, with the buttery texture of the smoke still present, and while the bottom end of the smoke hasn’t filled out, the pepper and newly introduced dry wood and soil do their best to compensate and amplify the strength. It’s a much gruffer smoke than where the cigar started, which will come either as a disappointment or appreciated change depending on your particular preference. About the only thing I can take serious issue with through the second third is the wavering burn line; the occasional harshness from the black pepper is a minor gripe at best.

Sancho Panza Eslavo (ER Serbia 2014) 3

The final third commences by getting a good bit toastier and slightly charred; certainly the Sancho Panza has quite aways to go before it reaches its transformative years that have been promised by some. It’s an unfortunate turn for a cigar that had been heading down a very solid track, as I’m both greeted and left by burnt remains of the previous flavors; the bread is burnt, the wood is charred, and the earth is scorched. The intensity of this change does vary from sample to sample; for instance it was much more pronounced in the first cigar I smoked than in the second, and which helped salvage a few points for the final score.

Sancho Panza Eslavo (ER Serbia 2014) 4

Final Notes

  • There were occasional burn issues in each sample, often remedied by a quick touch-up but occasionally a full relight was needed. The third cigar received about two days of dryboxing, which helped the situation a bit.
  • Pricing comes from a June 29 quote from the La Casa del Habano in Belgrade, which quoted me RSD 2,900 (Serbian Dinar) per cigar. Per XE.com that converts to $26 per stick, or $1300 per box. That rate will certainly fluctuate and has done so quite considerably since its release.
  • Using the exchange rate on April 1, 2015, which is much closer to when the cigar was released, the exchange rate pegged it at $26.01 per cigar.
  • In the time since it was released, the best exchange rate had it at $25.32 per cigar, while the worst had it at $27.90 per cigar.
  • Even with the disappointing final third, there is a side of me that would really like to have a box of these on hand. To think about smoking one or two at most per year and keeping notes about how they change really intrigues me, though with current pricing between $1150 and $1400 per box, it is a hard purchase to justify. A 10-count box would be much more palatable.
  • I’ve long had issue with the Sancho Panza bands, as they are some of the most boring in the Habanos S.A. portfolio. That said, I don’t smoke the band, so it’s not a huge deal.
  • The band reminds me of the El Coloso I reviewed in March 2012, a Cuban “peso stick” that is sold in neighborhood bodegas.
  • Each Sancho Panza band also features the words Seleccion Delamonté. It seems that the meaning for this has been lost to history, but consensus is that at sometime someone named Delamonté had cigars made and the bands simply never got changed.
  • You may have noticed that there is a vitola in the Habanos portfolio that shares a name with the author of Don Quixote, the Cervantes, a 6 1/2 x 42 lonsdale.
  • Per the La Casa del Habano website, the only LCDH in Serbia is located in Belgrade.
  • Kalian Caribe distributes for the domestic market and duty free of Bulgaria, Albania, Armenia and Macedonia, Republic of Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Eslovenia.
  • General Cigar Co. also produces a brand called Sancho Panza in the company’s Honduran factory, STG Danlí.
  • The box code for these cigars was not available.
  • Final smoking time was two hours and 10 minutes on average.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
87 Overall Score

In a world where instant gratification is the norm, and new world manufacturers pride themselves on producing cigars that are ready to smoke now, the Sancho Panza Eslavo is a bit of a frustrating cigar. The first half of the cigar is quite good as it stands now: complex at points, balanced and engaging. The second half shows a few problems, mainly the farther it burns into the final third as the flavor gets charred and tougher to enjoy. If all this cigar had to offer was what I experienced in these three samples, I'd be hesitant to get excited about it. But given where the Sancho Panza Eslavo stands currently and the thought that it takes this blend quite some time truly hit its peak, I’m definitely in favor of picking this cigar up if at all possible, and better yet: pick up multiples and see what magic might come with some extended rest.

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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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