As he approaches his 40th birthday, Nicholas Melillo can easily say he has accomplished quite a bit in the cigar industry. He spent more than a decade with Drew Estate, rising to the position of evp of international operations, a role in which he oversaw the company’s tobacco and blending operations, before leaving to launch his own cigar company, Foundation Cigar Company.

While he’s known as NickRAgua or the self-proclaimed “Chief of the Broadleaf,” depending on your place of interaction and preference for nicknames, he’s also known for something else: creating a cigar with one of the hardest names to pronounce in recent memory.

That cigar, of course, was his debut line, El Güegüense, a Nicaraguan puro named for a Nicaraguan folk dance that means “the wise man” in English. It dates back some 500 years and draws on Nicaragua’s crossroads of cultures, telling the story of its indigenous peoples mocking the Spanish conquistadors by way of a colorful costumes, drama and satire. It is said to be the country’s ultimate expression of its history, language, dance, and culture.

As its follow-up, Melillo announced a maduro version dubbed The Wise Man Maduro, choosing to use the English translation of the word for its name. As for the blend, it uses a Mexican San Andrés maduro wrapper over Nicaraguan tobaccos from Condega, Estelí and Jalapa.

“I was looking to create a line extension with a whole different level of complexity and the San Andrès wrapper brings just that,” said Melillo in a press release at the time of the cigar’s announcement.

The Wise Man Maduro is offered in five sizes, which are made at the TABSA factory in Estelí:

  • The Wise Man Maduro Churchill (7 x 48) — $11 (Boxes of 25, $275)
  • The Wise Man Maduro Corona Gorda (5 5/8 x 46) — $9.90 (Boxes of 25, $247.50)
  • The Wise Man Maduro Robusto (5 1/2 x 50) — $10.50 (Boxes of 25, $262.50)
  • The Wise Man Maduro Toro Huaco (6 x 56) — $11.50 (Boxes of 25, $287.50)
  • The Wise Man Maduro Torpedo (6 1/4 x 52) — $16 (Boxes of 25, $320)

  • Cigar Reviewed: The Wise Man Maduro Corona Gorda
  • Country of Origin: Nicaragua
  • Factory: Tabacos Valle de Jalapa S.A.
  • Wrapper: Mexican San Andrés Maduro
  • Binder: Nicaragua
  • Filler: Nicaragua
  • Length: 5 5/8 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 46
  • Vitola: Corona Gorda
  • MSRP: $9.90 (Boxes of 25, $247.50)
  • Release Date: October 2017
  • Number of Cigars Released: Regular Production
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

The Wise Man Maduro Corona Gorda features a well-done box press with slightly rounded corners and at its most extreme, a nearly square shape. There’s little to no give top to bottom and only a slight bit from side to side. The Mexican San Andrés wrapper is dark and toothy, even in color and offering more in the way of texture than oily shine. The foot offers one of the more complex aromas I can recall, in particular because it varies from sample to sample. The first has just a bit of sweetness and pepper, reminding me of a chili pepper marmalade that I seem to recall experiencing somewhere along the way, while the second starts with a bit of chocolate cake before picking up a good bit of pepper. The third is the most pepper-forward of the bunch, with chocolate cake in the background, leaving me with similar notes but distinct experiences among the samples. The cold draw is smooth and just the slightest bit firm, with varying similarities to what the aroma had, with chocolate being the most consistent, though it’s now along the lines of syrup or a brownie, along some damp soil, and just a pinch of pepper.

The Wise Man Maduro gets underway with a fairly full flavor of chocolate, earth, bark, pepper, and spice, a complex opening note that goes neither unnoticed or unappreciated. Early retrohales are bright and a bit sharp with pepper, though for some reason I don’t seem to get as much smoke as I had been expecting in some exhales. The chocolate sweetness is the first to depart around the one inch mark, which allows the pepper to become a bit brighter and more dominant, something aided by the earth and bark fading soon after. The spicy heat I picked up from the foot begins to develop as the ash grows to almost two inches in length in the first cigar, which also gets me worrying it will drop off unexpectedly and in an unwanted place, though it holds on even with a slight waggle of the cigar. The ash finally drops just ahead of the second third beginning, and with its departure the cigar gets a brief respite from the heat, though pepper feels to be quickly building in its place. Among the other two samples I get enjoyable notes that border on a bit of smoky campfire, and while each cigar moves through its first third in its own way, each progression is quite enjoyable.

My sense that The Wise Man Maduro was about to get back to full flavor wasn’t far off, as brash black pepper leads the effort, with a bit of rocky earth coming in underneath but little if any sweetness to be found, which is disappointing both because of how good it tasted in the first third and because I find it to generally add complexity both on its own as well as by how it ties the other flavors together. By roughly the midway point, the cigar has regained nearly all of its pepper and puts it front and center, particularly on retrohales, which are crisp but not overpowering. The brashness of the pepper and earth fluctuates from sample to sample, occasionally teetering on being too much, though it smoothes out in the final puffs of this portion, and a bit of the chocolate sweetness appears to be on the horizon, with the cigar moving north of medium in strength and flavor. The technical side of the cigar continues to be nearly flawless, with plenty of smoke and a sharp burn line.

The start of the final third is where The Wise Man Maduro Corona Gorda really hits its stride in terms of complexity and balance, though it can struggle with getting rid of a bitter taste that is somewhere between mineral and chemical at its lowest points, and the lack of sweetness is noticeable and regrettable. Retrohales stay in a place of being very bright and peppery with a lingering tingle, though just restrained enough to be enjoyable, an improvement from where they started. The abundance of terroir is quite evident in the final third, as there is a good amount of earth in each puff, most of it drying on the palate but fairly enjoyable. The chocolate has moved into cocoa when it is to be found, while the pepper has settled down but not gone away. I’m still hoping for more of the sweetness to emerge, as it is one of The Wise Man Maduro’s best notes on my tongue, and thankfully the cigar doesn’t disappoint, as the finishing inches are rich, thick, and filling, almost dessert-like in how they hit the palate and bring the cigar to a close, with only an occasional bit of drying char distracting from the enjoyment.

Final Notes

  • I’m a bit surprised there wasn’t more of a nicotine kick from this cigar, but I’m also quite pleased by that fact, as it left me feeling in the mood for another.
  • I can’t quite decide which background I like the better between the two El Güegüense releases, the blue of the original or the red of the maduro, though most days I lean towards the red.
  • We don’t award or deduct points for consistency among the three samples, rather we smoke multiples to allow for differences to emerge as even at a cigar’s best, each one is ultimately unique. I’m a bit torn on the consistency of The Wise Man Maduro, as each cigar had a distinct flavor, though shared plenty of commonalities with the other two. None of the three scored particularly higher or lower than the others, either, as well were quite enjoyable in their own way.
  • Like many of my favorite cigars, The Wise Man Maduro shines brightest in its brief transitional notes rather than in the extended stops it makes along the way. Some are better than others, but if you really pay attention to this cigar on a puff-by-puff basis, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.
  • In that same vein, I found myself puffing as methodically as I could, which resulted in a longer smoking time that I might have expected given the cigar’s size. It’s also not a quick burning cigar, something I’d have to attribute to fairly thick and oily leaves from Mexico and Nicaragua.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time was two hours on average.
  • Site sponsors Atlantic Cigar, Cigar Hustler, Corona Cigar Co., Elite Cigar Cafe (972.661.9136), JR Cigar, Payless Cigars & Pipes, and Smoke Inn carry The Wise Man Maduro.
91 Overall Score

I have to admit that I have gotten a bit weary of the seemingly standard protocol of following up a "natural" cigar with a maduro version, as for some time it seemed overly formulaic and simply too commonplace to get overly excited about. However, cigars come along once in a while that force me to rethink that attitude, and The Wise Man Maduro Corona Gorda is one such stick. The cigar is rich with complexity and only occasionally strays too far off the path of balance, smoothness, and engagement with most puffs rewarding the palate with plenty of enjoyable flavors. The pepper can flirt with being a bit much at times, which may scare off fans of lighter cigars, but for those willing to immerse their senses in a medium to full bodied profile, the rewards are abundant. The technical performance was near flawless, and the finish of each of the three samples left me more than satisfied. A very enjoyable cigar from start to finish and an impressive showing from Foundation Cigar Co.

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Patrick Lagreid

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 previously the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for Major League Baseball, plus I'm a voice over artist. Prior to joining halfwheel, I covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.