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The annual Tobacconists’ Association of America Meeting, generally held in mid to late March, has become an annual event that the cigar industry tends to pay attention to, mainly because it comes with the announcement of a number of new cigars.

Every year, the group of retailers and manufacturers that is better known as the TAA, meets in Mexico or the Caribbean to discuss industry issues, engage in networking, and of course, sell a solid amount of cigars. About 80 retailers are in the organization, but they represent some of the biggest brick-and-mortar stores in the country, many with multiple locations and significant online stores. On the manufacturing side, about 40 companies are part of the group.

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During the event, there is a mini trade show and a group buying session, where discounts are offered based on the collective buying.

To sweeten the pot over the years, manufacturers have been offering the group exclusive access to cigars, sometimes a window of exclusivity for a new line, sometimes a new size in an existing line, or sometimes a new cigar, most of which are limited editions. Collectively these cigars are part of the Tobacconists’ Association of America Exclusive Series Program.

While the list of manufacturers has featured a number of very familiar and consistent names from year to year, every so often a company will join in and offer its own new cigar. Such was the case with Villiger Cigars in 2020.

 

For this cigar, Villiger turned to a well-established cigar maker and factory in the Dominican Republic but one it hadn’t worked with previously: Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr. and Tabacalera La Alianza S.A.

The blend features an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper, Nicaraguan binder and fillers from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. The cigar is a toro measuring 6 x 54 and which gets a box press. Just 10,000 cigars were produced, split into 500 boxes of 20 cigars. Boxes have an MSRP of $180, while single cigars are priced at $9, both before taxes.

Unfortunately, the event was not able to be held in person in 2020 due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, but after exploring postponement to the fall, the organization canceled the event and pivoted to an online format, with a total of 14 companies contributing new cigars to the TAA’s Exclusive Series Program:

The Villiger TAA 2020 Exclusive began shipping to member retailers on July 15.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Villiger TAA 2020 Exclusive
  • Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
  • Factory: Tabacalera La Alianza S.A.
  • Wrapper: Ecuador (Sumatra)
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Dominican Republic & Nicaragua
  • Length: 6 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 54
  • Vitola: Toro
  • MSRP: $9 (Boxes of 20, $180)
  • Release Date: July 2020
  • Number of Cigars Released: 500 Boxes of 20 Cigars (10,000 Total Cigars)
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The Villiger TAA 2020 Exclusive has a beautifully colored wrapper, a slightly reddish-brown leaf that pairs well with the maroon and gold in the bands. It has a light bit of mottling, generally small veins and a very smooth, almost slightly waxy texture, though I wouldn’t describe it as being an oily leaf. As for the box press, it is very familiar with a soft pillow firmness. The foot offers aromas of a combination of sweet cherries and woods, the former making me think of what would be coated in chocolate, yet that coating isn’t part of this equation. There are also hints of a coffeehouse and a bit of effervescence, reminding me a bit of opening a bottle of club soda. It’s an interesting trio of presentations, none of which are exactly like the others. The cold draw is generally smooth and easy, lacking the cherry sweetness and replacing it with cocoa powder alongside a more generic tobacco note along with a bit of mixed pepper and woodiness. One draw is both firmer in air movement and flatter in flavor.

The first puffs of the Villiger TAA 2020 Exclusive start with a profile that doesn’t immediately lead me to think of any of its components; it’s been a while since I’ve had an Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper so I’m sort of looking for those flavors, but they aren’t quite there. There’s a bit of woodiness, black pepper, chocolate and black coffee, all of which are fairly vibrant even if their sum isn’t immediately identifiable. The drier version of the introduction isn’t as palate-friendly, at least from a physical reaction perspective. Regardless, there aren’t a lot of changes to be found in the first third, as things stay pretty similar from the first puff. After the first clump of ash drops, the cigar gets a bit more robust and peppery, particularly via retrohales, though it’s noticeable without passing smoke through the nose. There’s a bit of cocoa powder beginning to emerge at the end of the first third, which reinvigorates the flavor, while the aroma seems to be just a bit more fragrant, a summons to my palate and attention in general as the second third gets ready to begin. Other than a slightly loose draw, the technical performance has been very good. Flavor sits at an enjoyable medium to medium-plus, body is closer to medium and strength is a fairly tame medium-minus.

The second third introduces a woodier profile, much more of a bold, natural wood note as opposed to the more processed lumberyard expression. The flavor that the Villiger TAA 2020 Exclusive is offering now feels a bit more pointed if the core notes haven’t changed, but just puffed up a bit. The black pepper combines to hit the back of the throat a little more prominently than it did in the first third, and as the cigar approaches the midway point it builds off that sensation, becoming a bit more vibrant and occasionally aggressive on the palate. A bit of very subtle sweetness comes in, seemingly woody as well or at least too close to the wood to separate it into its own distinct flavor. The technical performance continues to be flawless including an ash that holds on well to three-quarter inch intervals if not longer. Flavor is now medium-full, if not full at times, body is medium-full and strength has pushed itself up to medium-plus. 

The Villiger TAA 2020 Exclusive is definitely on a progression of flavor, strength and physical sensation. While the cigar has never gone wildly off the rails or taken a sharp turn in flavor, it continues to intensify all three areas over its journey to this point. Each puff now elicits a sharp physical sensation, one that detracts from what is an otherwise enjoyable flavor profile. It becomes hard for the consistent woodiness to shine through, let alone the black pepper subtle sweetness that the cigar is trying its darnedest to offer. The final two inches sees the flavor turn a bit sharper and more robust; I get a bit of heat in the equation, while the pepper tingles a bit more intensely on the tongue, and in what feels like localized clusters as opposed a whole-tongue sensation. From there, everything sharpens up a bit, most noticeably the woodiness, while a more pronounced earthiness comes out to firm up the base flavors. It can be mitigated a bit with a slower puffing rate, but even that can only do so much at this point and I have a feeling it may be up to time to smooth out this final third. The technical performance is fantastic and problem-free, guiding the cigar to a medium-full flavored finish, while the body is medium-plus and strength somewhere in between.

Final Notes

  • In addition to producing Villiger’s release, E.P. Carrillo is releasing its own TAA 2020 exclusive, the Encore 656.
  • The 2020 TAA was not the first time the organization went to a virtual format; the organization moved its Dream Machine buying event to a virtual event in 2017 due to Hurricane Irma hitting St. Martin, where the event was scheduled. They have had similar virtual events ever since.
  • During the online meeting of the TAA the replaced the in-person event, Joe Arundel of Rain City Cigar in Seattle, Wash. was named the organization’s new president.
  • The next TAA meeting is scheduled for April 11-15, 2021 at Casa de Campo in La Romana, Dominican Republic.
  • I was a bit surprised that there wasn’t more nicotine strength from this cigar, as everything else about it seemed like it was aiming for the fuller end of the spectrum.
  • The cigars for this review were provided by Villiger Cigars North America.
  • Final smoking time was one hour and 20 minutes on average.
89 Overall Score

The phrase “this cigar will likely get better with time” is one generally used for those made in Cuba, though I think it is particularly appropriate in the case of the Villiger TAA 2020 Exclusive. While what it offers right now is good, there are a few too many rough spots to make this a wholehearted recommendation at this moment. Yet if time works its magic, which may only need to be a matter of months as opposed to years, this could end up being an outstanding cigar. Ecuadorian Sumatra has a noted reputation amongst cigar makers. This profile is only beginning to scratch the surface of what those flavors can offer and are too often overshadowed by the overall amplitude of the profile. Construction is fantastic and the flavor doesn’t take long to get down to business and deliver from start to finish. If you’re willing to sit on some of these for a little while, it would seem that the payoff could be more than worth it.

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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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