Ometepe has to be the most unusual and dramatic location for growing tobacco imaginable. Picture the scene: in the middle of the largest lake in Central America, and 20 largest lakes in the world, two volcanoes rising out of the water, connected only by a thin isthmus. Thirty-thousand people live in settlements that cling to the mountainsides or hug the coast, the largest of which has a population of just 4000. It's a hard existence – so hard that the government recently recommended that citizens raise and eat iguanas to survive. An unlikely place to grow premium tobacco, yet some of the best long-filler leaves come from this remarkable island. Ometepe is not part of the 'holy trinity' of Nicaraguan tobacco of Esteli, Ometepe, and Jalapa, but a few master-blenders are starting to use it as the secret ingredient in their latest hits and the leaf is starting to gain widespread popularity. The Plasencia family, the largest tobacco grower in the world, has pioneered the art of growing tobacco on the slopes of the Ometepe volcanoes. They say that the rich volcanic soil, excellent drainage, and humidity from the freshwater lake surrounding the island make Ometepe uniquely suited for cultivating sweet, earthy tobacco with no harsh notes even when unaged. Yet despite these conditions, Ometepe hadn't been used to grow tobacco for decades before the Plasencias discovered it in the 1990s. Ometepe had been used for cigarette tobacco in the 1950s but was abandoned due to logistical difficulties and the Nicaraguan Revolution. When Nestor Plasencia moved his family's operations back to Nicaragua in 1990 after the revolution, he started looking for sites to find new plantations. He took some soil samples at Ometepe and was blown away by what he found. He planted a sample acre in 1994 and soon started full-scale production. Today, the Plasencias cultivate more than 130 acres of land in Ometepe. Still, that is a small number compared to the 3000 total acres that the Plasencia's use to grow tobacco in Nicaragua and Honduras, making Ometepe a rare commodity. And the difficulty in getting products to and from the island, not to mention maintaining staff in the cut-off island, add to the cost still further – meaning blenders save the tobacco for their very finest cigars. Want to try some of this remarkable tobacco? Here are three blends that showcase Ometepe leaves:
Plasencia Alma del FuegoAfter decades of crafting cigars for big-name brands on a contract basis, the Plasencia family finally launched their own brand in 2017. Their Alma line has delivered hit after hit, showcasing the family's incredible stocks of premium tobacco. The latest release in the Alma line is the Alma del Fuego, or “Soul of Fire”, named for the strength of the blend and in honor of the volcanoes of Ometepe. If you want to see what Ometepe contributes to a blend, look no further than the Alma del Fuego. This Plasencia Puro boasts double-binders, one of which is Ometepe, and a long-filler blend that is 75% Ometepe. That's the highest ratio of Ometepe ever released, making this stick a treat for fans of the tobacco and the perfect introduction for smokers looking to expand their palates. The strong Ometepe tobacco is tempered by a Sun Grown Jalapa wrapper which adds sweetness to the blend. That sweetness is a welcome addition because all that Ometepe makes for a seriously strong cigar. The Alma del Fuego might have the most different varieties of pepper on the palate that we've ever experienced in a blend. White pepper, black pepper, cayenne, green pepper, and chili flakes all contribute to the palate at different times, so fans of spice will rejoice – and the faint of heart might want to steer clear of the blend until they've toughened up their palate. That said, there's plenty of creamy sweetness to balance out the spice. The palate starts out with lots of dark and milk chocolate, espresso, and milky coffee notes. As you continue to smoke, these sweet notes start giving way to deeper, stronger notes of earth and wood but never go away entirely. The Alma del Fuego is one heck of a cigar and a can't-miss blend for anyone interested in rare Ometepe tobacco.
Avo Syncro NicaraguaWhile Plasencia went all-out on the Ometepe in the Alma del Fuego, Avo took a more restrained approach with the Syncro Nicaragua. The name is an abbreviation of “synchronize” as master-blender Henke Kelner created the blend to strike the perfect balance between mellow, sweet Dominican and spicy Nicaraguan tobaccos. In addition to being Avo's first cigar to use Ometepe tobacco, the Syncro is also Avo's first box-pressed release. It's delightfully firm, smooth, and overall very impressive in the hand. The long-filler blend of Dominican tobaccos, Ometepe leaves, and Peruvian tobacco is held together with a Dominican binder in a lustrous, red-brown Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. This complex blend lives up to its name, as the Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos work together to create a harmonious, unusual palate that contains many of the strengths of both tobaccos within a cohesive palate. Throughout the smoke, the Ometepe provides the backbone of the palate, adding just the right amount of pepper and rich earth. The Dominican and Peruvian tobaccos contribute an ever-evolving array of coffee, leather, earth, and vanilla, with the Peruvian leaves also providing some metallic mineral notes. The Avo Syncro Nicaragua is a truly unusual blend that makes excellent use of Ometepe tobacco to add strength and complexity to an already superb palate. It may not be the best stick to experience pure Ometepe flavors, but it's one of the best uses of Ometepe as a component in a more complex blend to-date.
Partagas Limited Reserve Decadas 2019Former General Cigar Co. President Angel Daniel Núñez was the first man of the Plasencia family to realize the value Ometepe tobacco. He sampled the first batch from Nestor's new plantation on the volcanic island and immediately bought the entire crop. Since then, Ometepe tobacco has played an important role in many of General's Cuban-emigre blends, lending an earthy spice that helps replicate the classic Cuban profile. While Núñez retired in 2009, his legacy lives on in the brands he used to run. The Partagas Limited Reserve Decadas 2019 is the best stogie by General Cigar to feature Ometepe tobacco in the post-Núñez era. As you would expect from a General product, it adds plenty of Dominican goodness to complement the fiery Ometepe. But the cigar's namesake is its 10-year old Cameroon wrapper. Genuine Cameroon wrappers are hard to come by thanks to the country's instability and the tobacco's delicate nature, let alone wrappers that have been aging for a decade. The Decadas was one of Partagas' mainstays until 2009 when they ran out of the aged Cameroon wrappers. But that year, Cameroon had a bumper crop and General filled their aging rooms to prepare for this re-release. Based on the feedback from fans and newcomers to the brand, the cigars were worth the wait. And the Ometepe adds a dynamic that was never there before, as the previous Decadas releases had never included any Nicaraguan tobacco. The Dominican Piloto Cubano and Ometepe long-fillers, Honduran San Agustin binder, and impressively dark aged Cameroon wrapper make for a seriously complex combination. The wrapper dominates at the beginning, with aromatic sandalwood and sweet cedar, but the Ometepe adds strong base notes of black and red pepper and rich oak. The Ometepe and Piloto Cubano fillers start playing more of a role as you keep smoking, with the Dominican tobacco adding just the right amount of earthiness and the Ometepe pumping increasingly large amounts of spice to balance out the sweet wrapper. The Decadas is back and better than ever thanks to the hefty dose of Ometepe!