All things being equal, if someone walked up to you and offered you a drink – a choice being the Perrier-Jouët ‘Belle Époque’ Blanc de Blancs 2002 (a bottle is worth many hundreds of dollars, if you are lucky enough to find this glorious, Audrey Hepburn-elegant champagne) or a rough young earthy red costing perhaps a tenner for a bottle...
Upmann Magnum 50 – Cardrona Rose Rabbit/Talisker Dark Storm
All things being equal, if someone walked up to you and offered you a drink – a choice being the Perrier-Jouët ‘Belle Époque’ Blanc de Blancs 2002 (a bottle is worth many hundreds of dollars, if you are lucky enough to find this glorious, Audrey Hepburn-elegant champagne) or a rough young earthy red costing perhaps a tenner for a bottle (if it even comes in a bottle), unless one had an aversion to Champagne, my guess is that most of us would crawl over broken glass to get to the Belle Époque (for our American cousins, I believe you might know it better as one of the series in the flower bottles). I know I would.
Now, say that person had just served you a big slab of juicy, dripping, ever-so-rare steak and then gave you a choice of those two drinks. Suddenly, unless you were simply a fizz freak, or had no real interest in matching your food with the most appropriate wine (and I know many people for whom that applies and good luck to them), you might not be so keen on the champers. Understandable – the young earthy red is likely to be a far better fit with the rare steak.
The point is that merely because one drink has a more impressive pedigree and/or reputation or even if it just costs a lot more thsn an alternatove, it is not always the better choice with certain foods. The same goes for matching drinks with cigars. If someone offered me a choice of, say, the 1961 Mouton-Rothschild or a decent but basic rum as a match with almost any cigar, I have no doubt the wiser choice is the rum, as a decent rum almost always works better with a cigar than any red, no matter how good. Okay, in all honesty, I’d go with the Mouton but only because I want to drink it, not because it would work better.
With cigars, it is normally easy to try a few different drinks with any smoke to work out what works and what does not. Do not assume that because you have a wine or spirit that you love that it will automatically match a cigar you love.
One cigar which for me is really smoking beautifully at the moment is the Upmann Magnum 50, a bit of a whopper in ring gauge (yes, there are plenty bigger but that doesn’t make it right), with my current box having a code of EMA May 08. The cigar was in immaculate condition but opened a fraction harsh. This very quickly dissipated and the cigar settled down and slowly revealed its glories. Dense smoke, a little leather, creamy coffee, early notes of tobacco leaf and an array of spices, with an intense nuttiness emerging in the second half, along with a touch of almond creaminess. A few lighting issues towards the finish but no dramas. A complex and strongly flavoured smoke.
To match? Two very different drinks.
First up, from New Zealand, a new distillery in the Central Otago region doing some fine gin and also a delightful Orange Liqueur they call ‘Rose Rabbit’ (NZ$130). It was 45%, but to be honest, I would never have picked that. It seemed so much lighter. They make it by soaking Kiwi oranges in their own “un-aged” malt whiskey before enhancing the sweetness. I loved it by itself – perfect for a summer afternoon. Bizarrely, my first impression was that it had strong grapefruit notes (nothing wrong with that) though with time, that soon did evolve into a more sweeter, orange-y character. A fresh, vibrant drink.
Next, Talisker’s ‘Dark Storm’, a malt from the Isle of Skye. Originally a duty free offering, but I believe that might now have been expanded? A lovely golden malt with gentle smokiness and slight orange peel touches. Teak, linseed oil and a more powerful and richer drinker.
Both were thoroughly enjoyable but the complexity, the slight smokiness, the extra power and richness of the Talisker carried the day. The drive of the citrus notes from the Rose Rabbit worked well and it was certainly far from a disaster but the power of the cigar worked better with the malt.