Havana cigars and Port wine pair well and are recommendable. It depends on the cigar and it depends on the Port.
By João Barbosa
What is the connection between Portugal and Cuba? One of the best pairings for the palate is achieved with top-quality products from these two countries: Havana cigars and Port wine.
Both this superior form of tobacco and this regal wine have long been among the preferences of epicureans. However, the act of pairing them is not as simple as one can be led to believe. Naturally, each person has his or her own personal tastes, temporary appetites and preferences. The pairing presented here is successful, but all other forms are equally pleasurable, as long as one wishes it.
There is not just one type of Havana cigar, the highest category among the Cubans which already are the finest form of tobacco. Nor is there also just one type of Port wine. Apart from anything else, there are brands.
Port wines are divided into families: there are whites, but the most well-known are the Rubies and the Tawnies. Both of the latter categories owe their designation to the colour they display, which results from the type of ageing each is subjected to. Ruby Port is aged in bottle and Tawny Port is aged in wooden casks, registering micro-oxygenations which render them long-lasting.
It is not fair to say that a Ruby is better than a Tawny, or vice versa. They have different functions. However, in terms of price or perception of value, Vintage Ports (Ruby family) are higher up. Nevertheless, a Tawny Colheita can also fetch a high price.
Because there can be multiple combinations, here is a concrete suggestion for a pairing: Punch Descobridores (exclusive Regional Edition for Portugal) and Ferreira Tawny 20 years. In a joint demonstration by Empor, the exclusive importer of Havana cigars into Portugal, and the Ferreira house, the test was made between a superior category Ruby (Late Bottle Vintage – LBV) and a Tawny of repute, aged 20 years in cask.
Pedro Rocha, head of Empor, acknowledges that choices can be hard to make and that they also depend on the occasion. He proposes combinations of equal “potency”, so that neither the cigar smothers the wine nor the wine drowns out the tobacco.
On one side was the LBV with its hint of fruit and robustness in the mouth, and on the other the notes of nuts and spicy sweetness of the Tawny. At the Empor and Ferreira demonstration, the tasters’ choice went almost exclusively towards the combination with the Tawny 20 years.
However, this is not quite the classic image of the combination of Havana cigars and Port wine. The most common pairing could be with a Port Vintage, which the British prefer with a more advanced age and the Americans with the sweetness of youth.
The image of the Havana cigar with a Vintage, after a meal, holds true on all counts, according to Vasco Magalhães, wine educator at Ferreira. Nevertheless, he adds: “But like the advertisement used to go, tradition is not what it used to be! Vintage Port wines are now being consumed with a younger age, with such a strength of fruit, tannins and structure that there might not be any cigar that will pair with them. When this type of wine is bottled it’s still in a raw stage and only time in bottle will give it the complexity, elegance and mildness to establish, in the particular case we’re talking about, a good connection with the cigar.” This is because the youth of the young Vintages, their robustness and sweetness could smother the smoke and body of the Havana cigar.
Pedro Rocha says: “We could also have chosen a Vintage to pair with this Havana cigar. In that case we’d have to go to Vintages dating from before the 1990s, in order not to trounce this cigar.”
Nevertheless, this specialist in Cuban cigars is not dogmatic regarding the choice of a Vintage. “I believe there are no disadvantages. We only have to bear in mind that the pairing should be made between products of a similar strength; we may find it more difficult with the Rubies, Tawnies under 10 years of age and the more recent Vintages.”
There may eventually exist some very strong cigars that can cope with the young Vintage, or the other way around, but for the Vintage with some 15 years of age, which has already reached maturity, there are certainly many happy pairings!” says Vasco Magalhães.
If a Vintage or an LBV are very young wines, marked by a strong attack in the mouth, intense fruit, great structure and a firm ending which don’t allow a good involvement of the smoke, a Tawny 20 years, a Port wine which has matured slowly in wood and which through an oxidative process has mellowed, gaining balance, elegance and an incredible mildness, can be paired in a truly harmonious way with the Robusto Descobridores,” concludes Vasco Magalhães.
As pairing aromas and tastes is a vast science, Pedro Rocha gives us a few tips. For a white Port wine, he suggests mild cigars in terms of strength and taste. For the Tawnies aged up to 10 years, he recommends a puro with strong taste and strength. For the Tawnies with more than 10 years, he advises a medium taste and strength. He also suggests medium taste and strength for the LBVs. And lastly, he prescribes strong tobacco for the younger Vintages and medium-strong for the Vintages with age.