In 2014, A.J. Fernandez Cigar Company introduced the New World brand at the IPCPR show in Las Vegas. This cigar featured a design unlike anything in their lineup at the time, showcasing a classical and ornate, hand-painted look that gave the impression of a cigar in a more luxurious price range. But in typical AJ fashion, the cigars were not a luxury item, retailing for around $6—helping to earn a loyal fanbase and a spinoff blend the year following.
Why focus on New World? Because this new style reinvigorated a brand that seemed to be falling out of favor—consisting largely of the once-dominant San Lotano cigars that were, likewise, losing traction with enthusiasts. In 2015 AJ followed up with New World Connecticut and Enclave, following the ornate style of New World. And now, for 2016, they continue with a new project titled “Bellas Artes”.
The cigar’s name follows right along with our theme, translating to mean “Fine Arts” in Spanish. Another trend throughout these releases seems to be a slight transition away from the bold and in-your-face, powerhouse smokes AJ was previously known for. Bellas Artes seems to be the ultimate culmination of all these factors, showcasing a classic and elegant, flavorful, and innovative product that sets the bar for this increasingly intriguing brand.
Bellas Artes Breakdown
- Wrapper: Rojita (proprietary hybrid)
- Binder: Havana ’92 (Quilalí, Nicaragua)
- Filler: Nicaragua (Estelí, Condega & Jalapa) | Honduras | Brazil
- Factory: Tabacalera Fernandez S.A. (Nicaragua)
- Production: Regular Release
- Vitola: 5½” × 52 Robusto Extra
- Price: $8.75
The concept may be nice, but make no mistake, the real focus of Bellas Artes is on a unique and multinational blend. At the core is Nicaraguan-grown tobacco (no surprise), which is complimented by Honduran and Brazilian leaves. The binder is a little more interesting, showcasing a special Havana ’92 leaf from Quilalí—one of Nicaragua’s oldest growing regions. And the cigar’s pièce de résistance—an impressive 3-way hybrid leaf proprietary to AJ Fernandez, known as “Rojita”. This new wrapper leaf combines 50% US Connecticut seed, 25% Corojo ’99, and 25% Havana 2000.
Bellas Artes has been rolled in four sizes (Short Churchill, Robusto Extra, Toro, & Gordo) and are priced a little higher than the brand’s usual offerings ($8 – $10). Each size comes semi-box-pressed (Spanish pressed) and are expected to hit retail shelves by the end of August.
A hand-painted mural is displayed on the cigar’s band, accompanied by the obligatory gold coins and ornate fancification required by all traditional and/or “Cubanesque” cigars… Interestingly, there is an accompanying sub-band that reads “AJ Fernandez”, which seems unnecessary. Perhaps the idea will be to introduce other wrapper varieties in the future and replace the text here with classifications like “Habano”, “Maduro”, and “Connecticut”. The cigar’s hybrid wrapper is beautiful, having a very smooth look and nearly invisible veins and seams. The soft box-press looks attractive and the overall construction seems more than sturdy—having a medium/firm pack and solid exterior feel (think papier-mâché).
The cigar is not the most aromatic, having subtle notes of cedar and light citrus on the wrapper and a little barnyard hay on the foot. The pre-light draw is on the firm side, giving clean notes of bread and nuts.
After toasting and lighting, it is quickly apparent there is a lot going on here! There is no awkwardly rough first few puffs, where cigars are often overstuffed with ligero in an attempt to wow your senses with an overdose of pepper. Bellas Artes does indeed wow the senses, but it’s with a wider gamut of flavor. There is definitely pepper in the mixture though, having a slight bite in the retrohale and a more flavorful, fresh-cracked peppercorn taste on the tongue. Also noticeable is a very long finish—which usually seems like something that develops later in the smoking experience. But, as anticipated from the pre-light draw, it’s tighter than ideal and produces a lighter smoke output—both could be better, but neither are deal breakers.
Flavors are big and hard to miss. It’s an interesting combination of tangy sourdough bread, light pepper, a little cream, and a nice honey sweetness for balance. And while the flavors are full, the smoke texture is dry, sending you searching for your ideal pairing (try a saison, cream soda, mojito, or medium roast coffee). The cigar is a slow burner, but has required a few touchups going into the second-third. The ash holds consistently though, falling in 2″ chunks. The cigar’s strength picks up in the second-third and the flavor pulls back a tad, now at medium body, medium+ strength, and full flavor (down from the full++ flavor from before).
As far as flavor, I typically break this into three categories: intensity, complexity, and progression. Bellas Artes tops the scale on the first, is good on the second, and on the lower side of the third. This is fine, as I wouldn’t even care for a cigar that changed/progressed too much. Besides, there’s that whole “don’t fix what ain’t broke” mentality… That being said, there are some developments: buttery crackers (open a bag of RITZ and you’ll get it), anise, and a zestier spice in the retro.
With Bellas, once the profile started to tip, it committed! The aforementioned flavors intensify nearing the cigar’s last portion, building strength in the process. Black licorice/anise notes become a key ingredient, playing on the growing strength of the smoke. There is also a shift in texture, as the primarily dry mouth feel is contested by an oily sensation (I don’t normally see a shift in this area). This plays into the oily/buttery cracker flavors. But as these interesting changes take place, there is another movement close behind. A hot, chili/jalapeño spice creeps in, just before the fun flavors begin to break down, bringing harsh/burning-brush-like notes to signal the end.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
No question. This is an easy box purchase recommendation, even a multi-box purchase, considering I’d buy at least three of the four sizes (no Gordos for me, thanks). I’d be particularly interested in the 6 x 48 “Short Churchill”, but most of the sizes are in the robusto-toro range and should perform equally stellar. I could smoke this any time of day but would think afternoon to early evening would suit it best.
- High flavor output
- Long finish
- Unique flavors & balance
- Slightly tight draw
- Low smoke output
- Massive flavors pull back a little after second half