For those of us with a passion for them, Cuban cigars can enhance pretty much any occasion. Finished a meal? Light a cigar. Walking the dog? Pass me my cutter. When something brings someone as much joy as smoking cigars brings us any moment is the perfect moment to partake in it.
Not everyone, however, thinks like the aficionado. Like most gastronomic pleasures cigar smoking is best when shared, and while the majority of smokers will have their cigar “inner circle” who are always keen to join for a smoke it can be difficult to convince all the guests at larger social gatherings that the moment calls for a tobacco pairing. Luckily, there is at least one event where the atmosphere seems to make cigars seem even more appropriate, even to the most infrequent of indulgers – the Aperitivo.
The traditional Italian Aperitivo is a magical time of the day, just between work finishing and dinner beginning, where friends, neighbours, and sometimes even total strangers, can come together to unwind with a drink, strike up good conversation and prepare for the serious business of enjoying the final meal of the day. The word itself derives from the Latin aperire – to open – and signifies exactly that – the opening of doors, bottles, homes and hearts so that people may join together to process the day just finished. Drinks served are usually wines or cocktails – but this really depends on local taste – along with a selection of nibbles, so that the combination of alcohol and small plates can stimulate the appetite for the larger evening meal to come. A delicious cigar will complete a holy trinity when added, but it is important to choose the correct stick: something too large may intimidate guests less familiar with smoking; something too strong may overpower the food and drink, and spoil the appetite for dinner. Here to take the pressure off your selection, then, is the EGM Guide to the Top 5 Cigars for Aperitivo.
The long, slender profile of the Cohiba Coronas Especiales is the pinnacle of cigar elegance. The shape is ideal for aperitivo gatherings – not so imposing it will put off the uninitiated, not so small it will disappoint the connoisseur. The body is medium-full, so it will not combat too fiercely with whatever drink you decide to serve, and the prominent cedar notes will accompany all the most popular cocktails for this type of occasion. The legendary foil band of Cohiba is something everyone recognises, and will make your party stand out from all the other post-work gatherings. For aperitivo with guests who truly appreciate cigars, or guests you wish to impress with your knowledge and refined taste, there can be no better choice.
The Mareva vitola is one of, if not the, most well-loved sizes in the Habanos portfolio, but the Rafael Gonzalez version is probably the most overlooked. What began as a super-luxe brand in the 1930s has now become a little under-appreciated in the smoking community, which is a great shame as the excellence of the cigars has been consistent in the 90-odd years of their existence. The medium body smoke and earthy, spicy flavours of the Petit Corona will be with you for about 30-40 minutes, and create a fine pairing with the meats and cheeses most often served at aperitivo gatherings. It goes great with a Negroni, and will even provide a conversation topic if guests are unfamiliar with the brand.
3. EGM Blecos
The sweet and creamy nature of the fine Dominican tobacco which has gone into our own line of EGM Cigars is perfectly suited to early-evening cocktails. The medium body of the smoke will stand up to classic cocktails but not overpower sparkling wines, and the smoking time of this 52 ring gauge expression will not interfere with whatever plans follow. Our Blecos are designed to stand out from the crowd, with their use of the “dropped head” at the cap, and will introduce less-familiar guests to a cigar rolling technique rarely seen in the modern industry. The name pays homage to the famous oceanside esplanade of Havana – serve it with a rum cocktail for a Caribbean twist on this traditional Italian gathering.
Sometimes aperitivos will not be able to last longer than one glass, and sometimes they will be attended by people who only wish to smoke a little at a time. For such occasions, look no further than the Romeo y Julieta Sports Largo. At only 35 ring gauge and 4 ⅝ inches long, this cigar is a mere 15 minutes of smoke, so will address either situation perfectly. The smaller stature does not mean a drop in quality, as the medium body and complex flavours of Romeo y Julieta are still very much in evidence. Cutting your party short does not mean pouring sub-standard drinks, and nor should it mean concessions on quality of cigar.
The same vitola which began this list shall finish it – the superb Laguito No. 2. As with the Cohiba, the long and slim nature of the Montecristo Especiales No. 2 makes it a superbly elegant cigar to smoke. Richer in body and deeper in flavour, this cigar is probably for parties where the drink is a little stronger and the smoker a little more experienced, but it will still be an excellent choice for pre-dinner drinks. Aperitivo may be most commonly associated with warmer months and al fresco enjoyment, but in the autumn with a mulled wine is an equally valid way to host one. Those evenings, where cosiness and warmth are more required than sweetness and light, are perfect for this cigar.