Recently, I was invited to attend a Master Class conducted by Hendrik “Henke” Kelner of Davidoff of Geneva. Kelner, a courtly gentleman who speaks English with a robust Spanish accent, has been the tobacco producer and master blender of every premium Davidoff cigar since Zino Davidoff decided to begin moving production from Cuba to the Dominican Republic in the late 1980s.
Twenty years ago, Henke acquired one hundred hectares of harsh swampland in the Yamasá region of the Dominican Republic, which lies just north of the city of Santo Domingo. Despite the fact that the area was not known for successful agricultural farming, Kelner was convinced that the soil, which is high in micronutrients, could produce a uniquely flavored tobacco leaf.
During his presentation, Henke spoke at length about the difficulties he faced in cultivating tobacco in the Yamasá region. While the dirt was also high in loam and sand, the pH content was very low. In order to raise the pH to a level best suited for growing tobacco (5.5 to 6.5), Kelner and his team began conditioning the soil though the addition of agricultural lime and calcium carbonate. This process was done by hand, to each individual tobacco plant. After years of intuitive trial and error, Henke was able to finally grow the tobacco that he had dreamed about when he first set foot in the region. Only twenty-one of the one hundred hectares are farmed during each growing season, ensuring that the soil will continue to produce quality tobacco for decades. It is only through Kelner’s relentless determination—his son rather gleefully stated that it was his father’s “stubbornness”—that the Davidoff Yamasá cigar was born.
Davidoff Yamasá Breakdown
- Wrapper: Yamasá
- Binder: Yamasá San Vincente
- Filler: Nicaragua (Condega & Estelí) | Dominican (Mejorado & Piloto)
- Factory: Cidav Corp, Inc. (Cigars Davidoff – Dominican Republic)
- Production: Regular Production
- Vitola: 4″ × 48 Petit Churchill
- Price: $12.90
The Yamasá is the third release in Davidoff’s “Black Label” series, following their Nicaraguan line of cigars and the Brazilian-inspired Escurio. This new line of cigars is offered in four sizes—Petit Churchill (4” x 48, $12.90), Robusto (5” x 50, $19.70), Toro (6 “x 52, $22.70) and the Piramides (6⅛” x 52, $23.00). The three larger sizes come in boxes of 12, while the Petit Churchill is packaged in boxes of 14. Additionally, all four sizes are offered in convenient four-packs.
The tobacco filler blend for the four vitolas is identical, consisting of a mix of leaves from the Viso and Seco sections of the Nicaraguan and Dominican plants. However, in order to compensate for the “filtering effect” that is naturally present in longer and larger ring-gauge cigars, the percentage amounts of the stronger Viso leaf in the Robusto, the Toro and the Piramide is a few points higher compared to the filler distribution of the Petit Churchill. This slight change, according to Kelner, produces a consistent strength and taste profile throughout the entire range.
The overall look of the Petit Churchill is exactly what the customer expects from a premium Davidoff cigar. Its shade-grown Yamasá wrapper is virtually flawless, with a tiny bit of tooth, a few subdued veins, and a light oiliness. The color of the cigar is a beautiful shade of brown, slightly darker than a ripe cocoa bean. Underneath the elegant and oval black Davidoff band, a glossy sub-band in red, black, and silver identifies the cigar as the Yamasá. Properly packed from the foot to the cap, the wrapper aroma is delicate and sweet, while the open foot smells of cedar, earth and dried hay.
After the cap is opened with a guillotine cut—to ensure the maximum amount of taste from the wrapper, binder, and filler—the cold draw is very good for a cigar of this size; not too loose, nor too firm. Silky flavors of cedar, cream and pepper immediately touch the palate.
After toasting the foot and lighting the cigar with a soft flame, the first few puffs produce an attractive tingling on the tip of the tongue, which is indicative of the Piloto tobacco used in the filler. By the third draw, the taste of the Nicaraguan tobaccos begins to complement the well-aged Dominicans, with the noticeable spiciness of the leaves from Estelí melding with Condega’s natural sweetness. The combination of the four filler tobaccos produces a mouthwatering flavor profile that proceeds in a linear fashion from the front of the tongue to the rear of the palate. The draw on the Petit Churchill is perfect, with an ample amount of smoke output. Aromas and flavors of slightly-salted nuts, cream, hardwood and earth mingle together in a delightful balance, while white pepper is dominant on the retrohale.
As the Petit Churchill burns into the second half, the strength gradually increases toward a full-bodied smoke. The intensity of the unique binder and wrapper assimilates with the filler tobaccos, adding increased complexity to the taste of the cigar. The aromas and flavors present in the first third of the Yamasá continue to build, while notes of espresso shots with a touch of lemon peel appear on the palate. A pleasant, but slight, amount of acidity and bitterness is present, producing a desirable coating of saliva at the back of the tongue.
Room aroma created by the Yamasá is reminiscent of a dwindling campfire fueled with logs of cedar. The burn line is razor sharp, holding over an inch and a half of white ash, highlighted with specks of slate. On the retrohale, the white pepper is replaced by black pepper with a touch of allspice.
The Yamasá continues to impress while it burns all the way down to the nub. The selection and the blending of the tobaccos used in this cigar creates an exquisite and unique smoking experience which triggers all of the five senses of taste—sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory. After finishing the Petit Churchill, my immediate inclination was to light another.
There is a word in Japanese and that word is umami. This word translates to “delicious taste.” It is an appropriate word to use when describing Henke Kelner’s newest creation.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
The answer to that would be a resounding “Yes”, even if I would have to force myself to start following the old “smoke less, but smoke better” rule. Despite the premium price, the smoking experience that Yamasá provides is worth the cost of admission. Fortunately, all four of the vitolas are available in small-count boxes and four-packs.
- Outstanding construction
- Unique wrapper
- Mouthwatering deliciousness
- High price point