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After selling their two Cigar Inn stores in New York City to JR Cigar in June 2015, brothers Gus and Billy Fakih turned their attention to another cigar project: Artesano Del Tobaco and their own brand called Viva La Vida.

The Viva La Vida line is a Nicaraguan puro that uses a wrapper grown by A.J. Fernandez, which also produces and distributes the line. Fernández’s name also appears on the front of the boxes that the Viva La Vida line comes in, though not on the bands of the cigars. Instead, the Artesano Del Tobacco name appears on both the primary and secondary bands.

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The cigar is a 5 x 56 robusto gordo, and comes in a paper-wrapped five pack of cigars priced at $58, which works out to $11.60 per cigar before taxes, though it has been said the cigars are not designed to be sold as singles. It brings the Viva La Vida line to six sizes:

  • Viva La Vida Diadema Fina (6 1/2 x 52)
  • Viva La Vida Gran Toro (6 x 60)
  • Viva La Vida Robusto (5 x 54)
  • Viva La Vida Toro (6 x 54)
  • Viva La Vida Torpedo (6 1/2 x 54)
  • Viva La Vida Jester (5 x 56)

While the Jester is available to all retailers, it was first made available to retailers who hosted events for the brand since its launch in March 2019.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Viva La Vida Jester
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Tabacalera AJ Fernandez Cigars de Nicaragua S.A.
  • Wrapper: Nicaragua
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Length: 5 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 56
  • Vitola: Robusto Gordo
  • MSRP: $11.60 (Packs of 5, $58)
  • Release Date: October 2019
  • Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The wrapper on the Viva La Vida Jester is a dark, meaty and oily brown leaf, a vibrant presentation if there if there is such a thing in the leaf world. While the seam lines of the application are visible, veins are very small and there looks like there’s just a bit of tooth on the leaf, though they don’t jump out visually. It’s a very firmly rolled cigar that looks near perfectly cylindrical and offers just the slightest bit of give, with the heads constructed well if occasionally a touch lopsided. The aroma from the foot of the Jester is dry and tingles the nostrils, even though I can’t quite place the smell. It almost reminds me of going into a room with a lot of fabrics, an aroma that I can’t say is generally associated with tobacco. Behind that is a bit of juicy beef jerky, somewhat of a conflicting description given that jerky can be on the dry side, though the aroma suggests both the meat and its marinade, with just a bit of black pepper mixed in as well. As would be fitting, one sample flips those aromas around, leading with a vibrant, spice-filled marinade that I haven’t often come across. The cold draw offers a lighter, tangier wood flavor first, and while not followed by an exact copy of jerky note, the flavor does have some proximity to it. A bit of sweetness lingers on my lips, with little to no appreciable pepper to be found.

The first puffs of the Viva La Vida Jester aren’t shy about delivering some big flavors, namely pepper and more of the juicy beef jerky. While it’s very flavorful, it’s not as cohesive of a flavor as I would prefer, as if the flavor was a bit too eager to get out of the cigar. Black pepper comes in not long after and the flavor begins to settle down a bit, which helps it become more familiar and more pleasing to the palate. There is no shortage of smoke from the cigar as the draw on the first sample feels just a bit open, though the burn line doesn’t suffer and is sharp through the first inch as a light gray ash builds with small black rings.

The second third sees the Viva La Vida Jester further settle into a profile that is both more familiar and enjoyable. Black pepper moves into the nose with a pleasing tingle on retrohales while the taste buds get a softer, creamier profile that doesn’t see the pepper appear until the smoke has been exhaled, and even then it is a very gentle sensation. Rich, slightly damp wood notes begin to appear in the profile, which good as an accent note don’t work quite as well when they begin to dominate the profile in one sample. In a way it remind me of old furniture made from oak or a similar material, and the flavor is just too much to be the lead note, not to mention that it tends to linger on the finish. As the burn line approaches the final third, the profile feels like it is beginning to unpack itself a bit, becoming sweeter with an almost floral aroma that is backed with woods and even campfire in a few moments, though one sample adds a chalk flavor that like some other notes, feels out of balance with the profile. The technical performance remains quite good with no issues of note. 

The final third of the Viva La Vida Jester continues to see the flavor blossom, though it comes with a bit more pepper and harshness as the flavor intensifies up through medium-plus and approaching medium-full. Fortunately, there is some lightness to be found with an almost floral aroma and flavor beginning to emerge; it’s not as distinct as potpourri but the thought does cross my mind. Much like in the second third of one sample, the interesting wood note reappears, though it isn’t quite as prevalent or lingering. The final puffs are a bit heavier with wood, pepper and a smoky overtone, giving the profile some newfound depth and weight that is an interesting development as the cigar comes to a close, bringing some heat to the lips as well.

Final Notes

  • Wrappers on the two of the three cigars I smoked stayed perfectly in tact, yet the third split heading into the final third and quickly became a visual mess. There doesn’t seem to be an apparent reason as they were smoked in near identical conditions, so I’m just chalking it up to leaf variance.
  • When looking at the back of the bands, I found myself thinking that it reminded me of some of the more recent black-labeled Don Carlos releases from Arturo Fuente.
  • I didn’t feel much nicotine strength from the Viva La Vida Jester, as none left me with any sort of gut punch feeling.
  • The cigars for this review were provided by Artesano del Tobacco.
  • Final smoking time was one hour and 45 minutes on average.
  • Site sponsor Atlantic Cigar Co. carries the Viva La Vida Jester.
87 Overall Score

If I were to list out the main flavors and aromas that I found in the Viva La Vida Jester, I’d venture to guess that it would make for a pretty appealing description for a good number of cigar smokers. Yet just looking at those notes omits a key part of the equation—balance—and it is that with which the Jester seems to struggle most. From the first puffs through the final ones, the Jester seems to jump back and forth between places, never settling on any one particular combination, and certainly never finding the kind of balance and commitment to a central profile that is a requisite for truly great cigars. Much like the jingling of bells, the waving of a scepter and the brightly colored costumes that marked jesters of yore, there’s a lot going on with the Viva La Vida Jester, unfortunately it just doesn’t seem to tie them all together in a successful way. Time may help this cigar's act achieve that, but for now expect a vibrant cigar offering a lot of things to take in as you smoke it.

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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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