Cohiba Siglo VI - Barale Fratelli ‘Barolo Chinato’ - Fortaleza Agave ‘Still Strength 46’ Tequila
Whilst I remain convinced that humanity is rapidly sowing the seeds of its own demise, and hard to think that does not make us the dumbest species to have ever existed on this fragile planet, occasionally we do something remarkable. Imagine coming up with the idea of taking the heart of a large spiky succulent, pollinated by bats, and processing it into one of the most loved spirits found anywhere. The plant is, of course, the blue agave and the spirit is tequila.
But then, while we are thinking outside the box, imagine an entire industry based on taking leaves from some dodgy old plant, drying and then fermenting them, rolling them up into little tubes and then setting fire to them, but only after the end user has paid a bucketload of dosh for the pleasure.
Rob kindly left me with a few options for Kenfessions recently, but none really wowed me until this Cohiba Siglo VI (actually, the others rather underwhelmed me). No idea of the age of this Siglo, Rob was not letting on, but I suspect we are talking 2-4 years? Any younger and it was even more impressive than I thought. What to match with it caused some thought, but first, the cigar.
Does it suffice to say that it was an absolutely cracking Siglo VI? For many, I suspect it does. These are the Kings of Cigars for me. Stunning stuff when on. This one looked good, but the wrapper was a little dry/dusty and leathery, though in the end, the cigar showed no ill effects from this. It did crack a fraction during smoking and the very end may have been a fraction dry, but overall, not an issue.
The cigar opened beautifully, all nuts and honey with richness and balance. Good complexity. A real honeybomb. It did not take long for that glorious creamy character to kick in and it remained almost right through. First 2/3rds were very mild and subtle, well under medium bodied. The last part did power up. Overall, a real bowl of honey and cream, great length, and a cigar which burnt the fingers. 97 for me.
As the more highly evolved of you have already gathered, one of the drinks matched with this cigar was a tequila. The other, something very much from left field, a Barolo Chinato.
The tequila was the Fortaleza ‘Still Strength 46’ Blanco, gin-clear with lifted aromatics – crisp pears, green olives, spices, garden herbs, anise, possibly the merest whiff of honey and more. In wine terms, one might think sauvignon blanc notes. This is far from the slightly flavour-bland but fiery spirit one expects from the old ‘lip, sip and sick (sorry, suck)’ days. Finely balanced and with weight and good texture. It is twice distilled, from 100% blue agave, and is fermented in wooden vats. The clean finish, full of life and flavour, lingers with great persistence. This could easily be used as a sipping spirit. Indeed, I would argue it should be used as a sipping spirit. Many speak of it being representative of the flavours of agave. Anyone doubting that tequila can be the smoothest, most mellow of spirits, needs to get hold of a bottle of this as fast as possible.
If I have a problem with it, the cork comes with what I first thought was a pineapple on top – it is actually the heart of the blue agave, but looks bloody silly. No matter. A cracking tequila.
For a bit of background, Fortaleza is a relatively new brand, launched in 2005, but by a family with tequila in their blood. The current owner’s great-great-grandfather, Don Cenobio, founded his first distillery in 1873, in Tequila, Jalisco. His contributions to the development of tequila included using steam to cook the agave, rather than earth pits. He was the first to export to the USA and he shortened the name from ‘mezcal de tequila’ to simply ‘tequila’. His son, Don Eladio, also established a distillery. Eladio’s son, Don Javier, was involved in the establishment of the Denomination of Origin for tequila, after he was outraged to discover a bottle of ‘Japanese tequila’, during his travels. It was he who purchased the land and distillery which would become ‘La Fortaleza’, though it closed in the 60s. In 1999, Javier’s grandson, Guillermo, revived the original distillery and by 2005, they were off.
As a match, both were stellar examples of what they are and so it works on that level, but as for lifting each other, not so much.
The 2nd drink was the Barale Fratelli Barolo Chinato. Barolo Chinato is basically a spiced wine made from a base of Barolo. Usually, I am no fan of spiced wines. Concoctions like sangria and mulled wine are, I believe, true abominations. This is on a different plateau. The Chinato can have herbs and even bark included. It is perhaps most closely aligned with vermouth.
Barolo Chinato works as a digestif or an after dinner drink, a variation on fortified wines like port. Traditionally, it is considered an ideal match for chocolate. An alternative is add ice and/or soda and turn it into an aperitif. It can be used in a Negroni and it is also, apparently, a Christmas favourite, understandably so.
It was first made back in the 19th century and was largely for medicinal purposes in those days. The base wine must be Barolo DOCG, which ensures a very high bar. The name comes from the Italian word, china, which means quinine and quinine bark (from the China Calissaja tree) is a crucial ingredient. Among the other herbs and spices are orange peel, cloves, rhubarb roots, gentian, fennel, camomile, cardamom seeds, star anise, coriander, nutmeg and vanilla.
Barale Fratelli has been a respected Barolo producer for around 150 years. The Chinato that they and others do is very much a niche product and they’d surely be better off simply selling the wine as… wine. Needless to say, each producer has their own recipe, usually a well-kept secret. The wine used here, by Fratelli, is Barolo DOCG from the 2007 vintage, from the very highly regarded sub-region of Castellero and has been aged for at least ten years.
It has a pleasing savoury/sweetness, or more particularly, a bitter/sweetness, if that makes sense. Sweetness from the sugar and various additions; bitterness from the China Calissaja. And yet it seems balanced. There was a lovely cinnamon note and something akin to chicory. Coffee bean, cherries, red berries and chocolate notes as well. Excellent length. Not just fun to drink, but delicious and complex.
As a match, in fairness, I think that there are better drinks to match with a good cigar and better things to match with the Chinato. But it certainly was not bad and I probably preferred it to the Tequila.
So, great cigar and two very fine drinks. Just not things that really melded well. That said, I've had much worse.