Corona, 5.5" x 44 ring gauge / $8.20, Burns
Last year A.J. Fernandez did one of the most difficult things in the cigar world--he pioneered a new shape that is both unique and widely heralded as "a good idea." If you think about it, how many really new ideas for shapes have there been in the cigar biz since you started smoking? In almost 11 years of enjoying cigars, LFD's Chisel is the first one that comes to mind...then perhaps the box-pressed pyramid of the La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Obeliscos. Drew Estate pioneered the "Wafe" vitola, apparently when someone stomped a cigar completely flat. Other than that...there just are not that many new ideas in shapes. The idea of the Oval does not seem spectacular...combine the best of regular round and box-pressed shapes into something more like a rounded rectangular shape...really rounded! Doesn't see much to it or that it would make a difference. But it does. The result creates a cigar that feels better in the hand and mouth than either round or box pressed shapes do. Remarkable that such a big difference could come from such a small alteration.
Like many of you, I tried the Oval in late summer last year...at the 2011 Chattanooga Tweetup to be exact. I immediately fell in love with that cigar...I felt it was easily the best thing in the San Lotano line AND probably the best thing A.J. had ever committed to the blend book. It got lots of praise...and he decided not to wait too long to follow it up with a Maduro version. This cigar features the same binder and filler as the regular Oval: Nicaraguan, Honduran and Dominican leaf held together by a Nicaraguan binder. This version substitutes a Maduro wrapper for the Habano 2000 one (most sources call this an Ecuadorian Habano Maduro wrapper, but one place stated that it is Connecticut Broadleaf). I bought a couple of this size and this review is based on my second one; also check out Keith's review of the Robusto size from last month.
Same Bat-Time, same Bat-Channel...same San Lotano Oval band...this cigar really would benefit from a different band that says "Maduro" on it or a secondary band below the regular one. I couldn't tell by looking in the box at Burns if the were Maduro or not; I saw a picture of the original Oval and Maduro side by side and there just was not a huge amount of difference in appearance. The wrapper itself looked great...plenty of oils and a delicate network of small veins that were visible in the right lighting. The wrapper had an aroma that was a mixture of manure and dried fruit; the foot had a big chocolate smell. The cold draw was very good and had notes of cocoa powder and black coffee.
And I got the same from the newly lit cigar, too: cocoa powder and black coffee...along with a little sweeter chocolate, earthy, natural tobacco and anise. The retrohale was very peppery. Midway through the first third, I noticed the retrohale lose some of its pepper and take on more of a full bodied nuttiness, which a bit of pepper zing just hanging around. The Oval Maduro started off in the lower end of full bodied with what was to me a pleasing balance: thick, oily smoke with bitter earthiness and semi-sweet chocolate in a contentious battle that I thoroughly enjoyed.
In the second third, earthiness took the lead, along with strong notes of black coffee and hints of anise. The draw was perfect so far and the ash was strong, not flaky. The only issue was a minor one: as with many Maduro wrappers, the burn line was quite uneven at times and took a bit of touching up to keep consistent. As I said, minor issue, but one you might want to be aware of...I've found that this type of cigar might work well sitting on the porch, but not so good while driving, especially after dark. And if you don't smoke in your car...well, then I have to question your commitment to the hobby of cigar smoking. :-)
In the end the Oval Maduro went full-on earthy with more of the coffee and anise I noted before and losing most of the sweetness that had provided a good balance in the beginning. After the first sample of these I thought I liked this one better than the Habano version, but after smoking this one and paying closer attention to this progression I find I am uncertain of that. If the sweetness had remained in play, I think the result for me would be certain, but without that balancing element, this one felt more one-dimensional toward the end...and less pleasing. Not that I disliked it, by any means, but I think the original Oval might just have the edge on this expression. Like the original, I would call this medium to full in body and the same in strength.