There's no denying that the Cigar of the Year title generally goes to major blenders who are already well known to cigar enthusiasts. When Arturo Fuente, My Father, Oliva,...
There's no denying that the Cigar of the Year title generally goes to major blenders who are already well known to cigar enthusiasts. When Arturo Fuente, My Father, Oliva, Montecristo, or Padron win Cigar of the Year, no one is particularly surprised. But 2010 was a rare exception in two ways. First: the overall #1 title went to the Cuban Cohiba Behike, only the second Cuban cigar to win since 2004. Second: the highest-ranking cigar available to smokers in the US was the Oro Reserva No. 5 by relative unknown blender Viaje.
Before this accomplishment, very few people had heard of Viaje. Even today, years afterward, Viaje cigars are a rare treat if you find them in your local B&M or on an online retailer. The reason is simple: founder Andre Farkas created Viaje to produce small batch cigars that met his exacting standards and stood out from the mass-produced competitors and he wasn't going to let success make him lose sight of this vision. The Viaje Oro Reserva No. 5 didn't make Viaje a mainstream brand, it made them a sought-after commodity for collectors everywhere.
Blended at the Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras, which also produces the 2011 Cigar of the Year Alec Bradley Prensado, the Viaje Oro Reserva No. 5 shows just how great cigars can be when they tame strong Nicaraguan tobaccos instead of letting them run wild. Major blenders might opt for pure Nicaraguan pepper-bombs but Farkas wanted something more complex and restrained. He used a hefty dose of ligeros in the long-fillers to give the cigar a strong backbone, but balanced the spice out with sweeter flavors from the other well-aged long-fillers, two Nicaraguan binders, and gorgeous Corojo '99 wrapper.
This firm robusto boasts a burnished bronze wrapper that gives off a slightly spicy, leathery aroma. The cold draw delivers dry cocoa and earth with just a hint of pepper. These are surprisingly accurate predictions of what you can expect when you light this gorgeous cigar up. Toast the foot, take a few puffs, and you'll be rewarded with plumes of flavorful smoke simply bursting with leather and sweet spice. The Nicaraguan long-fillers and ligeros give off more of a baking spice note, sweet nutmeg and clove than savory, tingling pepper. But for those of you who can't live without pepper, there is plenty of it on the retrohale and some pepper does come into the palate as you get to the nub. But first, the sweetness builds as the leather takes on an almost caramel quality, hitting a wonderful savory-sweet point that we at least couldn't get enough of. The cocoa that we picked up in the cold draw also starts coming into play as you smoke, joining the leather and baking spices and adding a dry sweetness that balances the palate perfectly. It's rare for cocoa to sweeten things up and dry them out at the same time, but that's just what it does for this remarkable smoke. The finish is pure dry cocoa as well, making for a surprisingly light and clean aftertaste that is still flavorful enough to leave an impression.
Viaje's production is so limited that you may have trouble getting your hands on the award-winning Oro Reserva No. 5. But the brand is constantly coming out with new and innovative blends that are at least as good as the one that put them on the map. And the limited production is freeing in many ways because you can't get too attached to any given cigar: you appreciate the craftsmanship even more because you know you can't stock up and smoke them for years to come. You can look forward to the unique strengths of the future Viaje offerings. Quality is the only truly consistent thing between the cigars, which means that you can expand your understanding of cigars and dive into entirely new styles and tobaccos just by following their annual releases. If you're ready to journey into the boutique world of small-batch micro-blends, Viaje is the perfect place to start.