If memory serves right, we are about 3 years out from the debut of the La Palina brand...or re-debut, as it were, since Bill Paley resurrected the brand name that had been in his family decades before. The "Family Series" was a pricey introduction to the brand, but they followed on with El Diario--a more moderately priced line--then the Classic line--which is truly easy on the wallet. Coming more or less full circle, the brand recently introduced the "La Palina Collection" another super-premium priced line; this time they have another very interesting story to tell. The Goldie is named after the wife of Sam Paley, who originated the brand in 1896. These limited edition (1000 boxes) cigars were rolled at El Titan de Bronze in Miami, by a single roller: Maria Sierra. She was one of the first women in Cuba trained to roll cigars and she worked at Villa El Laguito for 32 years, was trained by Castro's personal cigar roller (Eduardo Rivera Irizarri) and Avelino Lara, who created the Cohiba blend. She is a category 9 roller with a 95 rating. "Each cigar is finished in the traditional Laguito style with a fan cap, exclusively taught to rollers at Villa El Laguito. The Goldie is blended with the prized Medio Tiempo leaf, found on only 10% of tobacco plants." Lots of info on the web about the history of the cigar, but not a word about the blend...so I'm going to reference you to halfwheel.com for that information: Nicaraguan & Dominican fillers, Ecuadorian binder, and an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. This review is based on my first sampling of this blend...and probably my only one since Burns didn't get these until fairly late in the run and by the time this posts they will probably all be sold out. I was given this cigar by Jacob at Burns, because he wanted me to review it.
The pigtail/fan-cap is very cool looking, though prone to breaking off in the box as these were shipped sans-cellophane. I noticed that Jacob skipped over a couple before giving me this one...those others in the box had the fan-cap broken to some degree. The band used here is the same used for the Family Series and El Diario, making me originally think these were part of one of those series...but, no, this is part of the La Palina Collection, which has only two releases: this and the Limited Edition 1896 Robusto, which shares no tobacco in common with this release and, in fact, seems to be closer in makeup to the Family Series. Confusing? A bit. A secondary band might be a good way to go for differentiating these different lines, but that's just the marketer in me thinking out loud...back to the review...so basically, you either like or dislike the brooch cameo look to this band. I think it looks classy, so I'll be giving full points for prelight in spite of the issue I just raised about it being a bit confusing. Construction looks flawless, as it should for such a highly rated roller and premium-priced cigar. On the wrapper leaf I smelled a bit of molasses and cedar. The foot had a slight earthiness with more cedar aroma. I clipped the cap off and noticed right away that the draw seemed tighter than I am used to on most lanceros. Because they are smaller ring gauge, there is less room for error with lanceros and a greater instance of tight draws, but for the most part the lanceros I have smoked have been very good in that regard...factories just seem to give that job to those who have the most skill. And with the skill of the single roller who produced all the Goldies, I would expect nothing less than excellence...so maybe the snug draw is the way it is supposed to be before it's lit and it will end up opening up once on fire. Anyway, the cold flavor is of sweet hay, cedar and just a touch of spice.
Light-up was fairly easy...a little more work than I expected, but that seemed to be due to the fairly dense bunching, which did end up drawing just about perfectly from the start. I got heavy notes of cedar along with background flavors of earth and natural tobacco, along with hits of pepper spice, especially on the nose. Midway through the first third, I consigned myself to the fact that the draw was just going to be tight on this stick...not unsmokeable by any means, but definitely tighter than I expected with all the hype made about the rolling of the Goldie. Still, I got enough smoke production to get really great flavor from it and I have to say...so far, this was easily the best thing I've had with the La Palina name on it. There was plenty of cedar and hay still, but the earthiness increased and more spice developed on the palate, as well as remaining on the retrohale. So far a very good balance and flavor development.
In the second third, the Goldie continued to develop more earthy flavors, while the pepper spice diminished quite a bit. I still struggled with the draw, but otherwise construction seemed very good with a very even burn line and a solid ash that had a remarkably consistent concrete color from the wrapper to the core. Normally the wrapper is either lighter or darker than the bunch after combustion, but this was all the same...a very nice effect.
In the last few puffs, the Goldie finally got the draw I had been expecting it to have throughout, so I would guess there was a particularly tight spot in the bunch in that last half inch or so. It did continue to produce a very good earthy flavor through the last third with touches of molasses sweetness and a slight return of the pepper spice. I would call the body on this one medium-plus, verging on medium-to-full, but not quite there. In the end this cigar is a tough call for me. While it was definitely the best thing I've had from La Palina, the tight draw was disappointing and the price tag was just too high to be justified, in my opinion. Yes, it is a handmade product and there is going to be some variation in the makeup; however, I have argued before and continue to argue that at this price point, there really isn't an excuse for the slightest bit of construction problem. Every other cigar in a box of 10 could be perfect, but the one tight one just shouldn't happen the way it does when you pay $6 or $8 for the same vitola. But I'm sure I could have that discussion for days with some cigar smokers and some who work in the industry and we'd never come to a common ground. As much as I love the lancero format, I would love to see this blend in a vitola that is not as prone to this kind of issue and perhaps would be a little less expensive...a corona, perhaps.
Note: last time I was at Burns, they did still have a few of these. Give them a call at 423-855-5200 if you want to give them a try.