One of the types of stories I’m not a fan of writing is that of limited edition cigars going to markets that I’m not in and which don’t always make shipping as convenient as possible.
While I didn’t write the story announcing the launch of a new VegaFina, I felt that same twinge, however. The brand, while not prominent in the United States, has become one of my under-the-radar go-tos in recent years, especially when I’m in the mood for something a bit milder, though the brand can hold its own with some fuller blends as well.
This summer, Tabacalera S.L.U. released the VegaFina Fortaleza 2 Barrel Aged Galeones, a new spin on the VegaFina Fortaleza 2 in which tobaccos are aged in rum barrels for at least six months. It’s also a different blend than the Fortaleza 2 sold in the United States, using an Ecuadorian wrapper over a Dominican binder and filler.
It is being released in a single 6 x 56 vitola, with just 5,000 boxes of 10 cigars being produced. Because of the numerous tax rates in the predominantly European countries it is being sold in, it falls between a more value-friendly cigar and one in the middle of the premium cigar market, at least by American metrics. In Spain, it is priced at €6 ($6.97), while it is €11 ($12.77) in Germany.
- Cigar Reviewed: VegaFina Fortaleza 2 Barrel Aged Galeones
- Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
- Factory: Tabacalera de García
- Wrapper: Ecuador
- Binder: Dominican Republic
- Filler: Dominican Republic
- Length: 6 Inches
- Ring Gauge: 56
- Vitola: Toro Gordo
- MSRP: €6 ($6.97, Spain) / €11 ($12.77, Germany)
- Release Date: July 2018
- Number of Cigars Released: 5,000 Boxes of 10 Cigars (50,000 Total Cigars)
- Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3
Not only has the VegaFina Fortaleza 2 blend received a barrel aging treatment, but it is also now a presented in a beefy 56 ring gauge cigar, something I naturally feel a conflict about given the generally milder and more refined notes I associate with the brand. The cigar itself is an imposing tube of tobacco with a wrapper sporting a cocoa powder hue of brown and a good very visible network of veins. The two bands, while both gray and black, conflict a bit with each other as the second’s metallic trim stands out from the matte finish of the primary, but those are details I don’t make much of an issue over. The roll has a bit of give but is consistent and on the firm side, while the caps are applied well and the presentation as smooth as could be given the veins. The wrapper leaf itself is also on the soft and supple side, and while it isn’t dripping with oils, they are pretty readily detectable to the fingers. The foot of the cigar is fairly light and sweet; you could have blindfolded me and told me I was smelling some just made cookie dough batter and I would have believed you. The second sample is a bit more complex with very subtle aromas of pralines and macarons, venturing just slightly off from the core aroma. The cold draw on the first sample is quite tight, almost as if I didn’t cut enough of the cap off, though I see plenty of filler tobacco so I don’t want to clip more and risk the wrapper unraveling. The second and third are better, but I feel like I had to make several snips with my scissors to get all of the cap and initial tobacco cleared out. The cold draw has a bit more flavor and body to it, almost graham cracker like in flavor, but still on the mild side with minimal appreciable pepper, spice or sweetness.
I’m struck by the immediacy of the first flavors from the VegaFina Fortaleza 2 Barrel Aged Galeones, as there is a flavor of spirits and wood barrels on the first cigar. I would have said bourbon instead of rum, but the distillation of the flavor is certainly there with a sweet, liquor-laden first note followed quickly by some damp wood. The second and third samples don’t have that same intensity, instead leaning towards mellower notes of wood as well as peanuts and some pepper, with the third—the mildest of the bunch—the most familiar to the typical VegaFina profile. An early retrohale reveals there to be some sharp and lingering pepper in the smoke, and while I might be just a bit too fixated on the barrel aging process in the first sample, I swear I get more of that sweet, boozy and woody profile in my left nostril. That flavor and aroma fade away fairly quickly, leaving behind a somewhat surprisingly pepper-laden profile that is a bit thin on body but still enjoyable. This VegaFina is also not a very quick burning cigar; while I wasn’t rushing it at all in the first sample, I realized that it was only just over an inch along at the 40-minute mark and the initial clump of ash had yet to fall.
After a bold start and a fair number of changes in the first third, the second third of the VegaFina Fortaleza 2 Barrel Aged Galeones sees an interesting complexity develop as the rum and damp wood are nearly completely gone, and in their place are pepper, chalk and a bit of dry wood, the latter of which I find particularly stinging in the third sample. The flavor gets a bit milder and notably drier through this section, and with the burn line just past the midway point, it’s a fairly different profile from those opening flavors. The third sample is the only one where I pick up the rum notes again, for a handful of puffs right around the midway point, and there return here works better than it did earlier as it is softer and more complementary to the profile. Other than the first sample with its tight draw, the cigar burned quite well with good smoke production and an even burn line.
The start of the final third of the VegaFina Fortaleza 2 Barrel Aged Galeones sees the cigar pick up much of the pepper, strength and body it had earlier but eschewed in the second third. Black pepper is back both on the palate and through the nose, making for a more lingering finish on the tongue and more vibrant retrohales through the nose. The profile even turns a bit sharp, specifically in the final two inches, as white pepper takes the lead and the smoke gets even drier on my tongue. Laboring through the draws on the first sample can’t be helping things, either, and the finish is becoming harder to enjoy, while the other two samples burn very well, though struggle to find the sweet spot of flavor. By the time there are about two inches remaining, I struggle with the idea of continuing on or just calling it good and putting this cigar to rest, the latter of which I’d be more inclined to do were this not being smoked for a review. The burn continues to be quite good while the flavor struggles in the final puffs, picking up a bit of damp cedar and a resulting twinge on my palate before I call it a wrap.
- While the first sample had a more pronounced taste of the rum barrels at the start, the second didn’t offer any, and only at the end did it pick up some of the dry wood notes I would have expected, offering none of the rum notes.
- I’ve said this before and I will say it again, I prefer to drink my rum and smoke my cigar, and the only place I want them to meet is in my mouth. While I’m all for experimentation and trying new techniques, barrel aging tobacco has seemingly always fallen short of expectations in my experience.
- While there is no shortage of flavor from the cigar, and plenty of pepper to boot, there’s not a ton of nicotine strength here. Pretty much everything I felt from the cigar was from the neck up.
- Even for a beefy cigar, I was surprised by how long the first sample took to full smoke. The draw was a bit tight but it felt like the leaves were either thicker or had a bit more residual moisture than I was anticipating.
- The cigars for this review were provided by Tabacalera S.L.U.
- Final smoking time was two hours and 20 minutes on average.
If I am to be completely honest, I was hoping for—maybe even expecting—another VegaFina Robusto Extra PigTail Añejado 7 Años, the cigar I reviewed in April 2017 that earned a 92, went on to snag the #7 spot on our Top 25 of 2017 list, and then reduxed at a 93 after the decision was made to bring it to the United States. This cigar isn't that, however. While it does have some similarities to the core VegaFina profile, it is a few ticks stronger, but more importantly, can be several ticks rougher in spots. I'm not sure I was able to identify the benefit of the barrel aging, as the one time I thought I tasted some rum notes they were much too strong, while the overt dry wood flavors in the second third didn't win much appreciation from my palate. I'm not going to dismiss this cigar as a total miss as there are some spots that are encouraging enough to have me smoke a few more, but on the whole it did fall short of the expectations that the VegaFina Robusto Extra PigTail Añejado 7 Años set, as well as those established by other cigars in the brand's offerings. I'd be happy to let Europe keep these if more of the other European exclusive show up at my local retailer.