On the crisp, winter evening of Sunday, January 10, 1999, the Home Box Office premium network (HBO) aired the pilot episode of a new television series called The Sopranos. The show’s plot line centered around the escapades of a cigar-chomping, middle-aged, middle-management, New Jersey mobster who begins to consult a female psychiatrist after suffering a panic attack which places him in the hospital. Staring James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano—a caporegime in the DiMeo crime family—the six-season, eighty-six episode series shared a total of twenty-seven actors and actresses with the 1990 Martin Scorsese gangster film, Goodfellas. Within weeks after the airing of the pilot episode, the show had garnered enough “buzz” to become the hot topic around workplace water coolers and happy-hour watering holes. In fact, after settling down with a cigar on Monday evenings at tobacco shops across the land, the newly-arrived smoker was inevitably asked a single question—“Did you see what Tony Soprano did last night?”
In 2005, the cigar manufacturer CAO signed a licensing agreement with HBO and released a new line of cigars commemorating the award-winning television series. Offered in three vitolas named after individual positions within a mob family, the CAO Sopranos cigars were composed with a Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper, a Honduran binder, and long-leaf filler tobacco from Columbia, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. The cigars were shipped in bright-red, highly-lacquered boxes, which resembled the trunk of a large sedan. With an eye-catching black and red oversized band, the rather-expensive “Associate” robusto became one of Cigar Aficionado magazine’s top 25 cigars of 2005. Unfortunately, due to a lack of quality Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper leaf, CAO began using Connecticut broadleaf after the first year of production, resulting in a lower-quality smoking experience. The CAO Sopranos cigars were finally discontinued in 2013.
At the recent IPCPR trade show in Las Vegas, General Cigars’ CAO division introduced a new line of cigars named the CAO Consigliere—a consigliere being the trusted advisor or legal counselor to the boss of a Mafia family. Rick Rodriguez, CAO’s brand ambassador and blender, was mostly tight-lipped about the launch of his newest line stating, “Right now, all I can say is leave the cannolis and take the cigars. Capisce?”
Consigliere “Associate” Breakdown
- Wrapper: Brazilian Mata Fina
- Binder: Honduran
- Filler: Columbia| Dominican Republic | Nicaragua
- Factory: STG Estelí (Nicaragua)
- Production: Regular Production
- Vitola: 5″ × 52 “Associate” robusto
- Price: $6.99
The Consigliere is the newest brand release from General Cigars’ CAO division, becoming their twenty-first, regular-production offering. This new line of cigars is offered in three sizes named after positions within a crime family—”Associate” (5 x 52 robusto, $6.00), “Soldier” (6 x 54 toro, $7.99), and the “Boss” (7 x 56 torpedo, $8.99). The vitolas are packed in red-lacquered dress boxes which contain twenty cigars.
The CAO Consigliere cigars are constructed with a Brazilian Mata Fina leaf, wrapped around a binder from Honduras, which encases a three-tobacco filler blend from Columbia, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. This is the exact composition of tobacco that the company used in the initial release of their award-winning Sopranos cigars, which were introduced in 2005 to commemorate the HBO television series. In reissuing a blend that was on the market prior to February 15, 2007, the CAO Consigliere line should be able to meet the new FDA guidelines concerning “grandfathered” cigars—allowing the three vitolas to remain in the market for the foreseeable future.
And now let’s move on to the full autopsy.
The CAO Consigliere Associate is a rather rough-looking robusto with an asymmetrically-applied cap and a bit of filler tobacco protruding in a lopsided fashion at the foot. Its Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper conveys an overall “tough guy” image—visible seams, sporadic, heavy toothing, and a few prominent veins, which resemble knife wounds stitched up by a third-rate doctor in an illegal chop shop. The color of the robusto is a mixture of dark russet and smokey topaz, with a few splotches of Charleston green scattered across the wrapper like three-day-old bruises. Medium-light in the hand, the cigar’s overall oiliness produces a discernible sheen, which resembles a short length of rubber tubing underneath a flickering streetlight in a midnight rain.
The Associate is equipped with an oversized oval band, the CAO logo vertically embossed in red against a black background. Departing from tradition, the oval is secured to the wrapper with two individual side strips instead of the single one used on most cigars. Very firmly packed from the foot to the cap, the wrapper aroma combines tilled earth with a subtle sweetness, while the open foot smells of barnyard, hardwoods, and a hint of molasses.
After the cap of the robusto is opened with a double guillotine cut—to ensure the maximum amount of taste from the wrapper, binder, and filler—the cold draw is a tad tighter than ideal. Flavors of coffee, cedar, and natural tobacco immediately touch the palate, while a slight amount of spiciness formulates on the lips.
After toasting and lighting the cigar with a soft flame lighter—using one hand holding the lighter and the other curved around the foot of the cigar, like Tony Soprano does in the title sequence of the television series—the first draw is tainted by a mineral taste, which almost immediately begins to dissipate. By the fifth puff, the robusto begins to produce the nuanced sweetness indicative of its Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper. The draw of the cigar is fairly open, with just a touch of resistance, producing an average amount of smoke output. Aromas and flavors are redolent of medium-roast coffee with sugar, charcoal, cocoa powder, and leather, with an underlying taste of assorted minerals. Red and black pepper notes are dominant on the retrohale. The smoking experience at this point is medium-to-full in body and medium in strength.
As the CAO Consigliere Associate burns into the second third, the cigar begins to enter its sweet spot. The aromas and flavors present in the first third of the cigar continue to develop, while the initial medium-roast coffee notes shift toward shots of espresso. Flavors and aromas of dried hardwoods, earth, and warm cinnamon rolls appear on the palate, adding to the complexity of the cigar.
Room aroma is reminiscent of a charcoal and peat fire burning in a fifty-five gallon drum on a damp autumn evening—the rusty enclosure surrounded by wise guys telling tall tales over boilermakers. The burn line is sharp, holding over an inch of flaky, white ash, highlighted with streaks of silver. On the retrohale, the initial, smooth pepper combination is replaced by an almost eye-watering blast of black pepper with a small touch of anise.
As it burns through its final third, the Consigliere’s complexity and overall sweetness begins to diminish, resulting in primary tasting notes of natural tobacco, assorted hardwoods, and leather. The draw becomes very open, requiring only single puffs to produce a prodigious amount of smoke. Ash continues to fall off in over one-inch increments, leaving an unusually sharp burn line for a maduro-wrapped cigar. A touch of bitterness appears near the end of the cigar’s life, producing an unpleasant roughness at the top of the throat. After a few additional draws, the cigar is placed in an ashtray to naturally extinguish itself.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
The answer to that question is, “Every now and then.” The CAO Consigliere Associate is a wallet-friendly cigar which provides an overall pleasant smoking experience. I intend to keep a few on hand to enjoy when I’m in the mood to watch The Sopranos on HBO NOW.
- Smoking Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
- Pairing Recommendations: Espresso | Ale | Assam | Hot Rum Toddy | Rye whiskey
- Purchase Recommendation: Five-pack
- Price point
- No touch ups
- Initial smoothness/sweetness
- Mineral tasting start
- Loss of complexity at finish