Gilberto Oliva Reserva Blanc was announced with, and released a couple months after, the Oliva Gilberto Reserva (a sister blend wrapped in an Indonesian Sumatra wrapper). The latter cigar was reviewed back in March, so some of this may sound fairly familiar. If you’ve been around the world of cigars for a minute or two, you’ve probably become familiar with the Oliva family name. Their cigars have always rated highly, and I can’t remember seeing a Cigar Aficionado yearly top 25 list without an Oliva being featured. Worth noting, however, is the the Gilberto Reserva was the first release after the company was purchased by J. Cortès in 2016. One thing that is surprising, when compared to other big-name cigar manufactures, is that there are very few cigars in the Oliva lineup. Essentially, there’s the esteemed Serie V/Melanio, Serie O, Serie G, Connecticut Reserve, and Master Blends. That’s a total of six lines, not counting the maduro line extensions. While many companies have a seemingly endless number of blends available (with new lines added every year), the Oliva family has focused on quality and consistency over the years, without an ever-expanding portfolio. So with the 2016 announcement of an upcoming new line, many, myself included, were understandably excited. But would the quality for which Oliva has been noted for hold up after the acquisition by J. Cortès?
In the initial announcement, Gilberto Oliva had stated the cigar would be named Facundo after his father (and son of the company founder, Melanio). There was, however, an issue regarding trademark of the name with a spirit distiller, so the name was changed to Gilberto before the official release of the cigar last year. Being based in Nicaragua, Oliva cigars have traditionally focused on Nicaraguan tobaccos, although they haven’t shied away from using Ecuadorian, African, Connecticut, and Mexican wrapper leaves. This new particular blend offers the distinction of being the only cigar for which Oliva has used an Ecuadorian binder. So we have more than just a new name, new vitola, or slight blend tweak masquerading as a new cigar—Oliva has broken new ground. And, as a refreshing aside, the Gilberto Oliva Reserva Blanc debuted as one of the most affordable cigars (albeit fifty cents more than the Sumatra version) in Oliva’s entire catalog.
Gilberto Oliva Reserva Blanc Breakdown
- Wrapper: Ecuadorian Connecticut
- Binder: Ecuador
- Filler: Nicaragua
- Factory: Tabacalera Oliva de Nicaragua S.A. (Nicaragua)
- Production: Regular Production
- Vitola: 5¾” x 43 (Corona)
- Price: $5.75 (MSRP)
When I recently reviewed the Sumatran-wrapped version of this cigar a while back, I remarked that I didn’t particularly care for the cigar band, saying it looked cheap. For some reason, that didn’t occur to me this time around, and it’s only while looking back on that review that I’m reminded of that. Perhaps it grew on me, or perhaps the combination of this cigar’s wrapper color and band formed a greater harmony. Anywho, this particular cigar has a slightly more caramel tone than the coffee-with-too-much-cream hue usually seen with Connies (perfectly uniform, by the way—not a hint of gradient or splotches). There’s one large vein, with a network of smaller veins that give the leaf a slightly rough appearance. There is also a microfine furriness that gives it a hint of texture and keeps the leaf from getting that Connie shine, although there is still a haze of oil. A large, sloppy double cap extends down nearly half an inch, with the second-tier cap being a tiny yarmulke that sits right on top. Aside from a swapping of colors on the cigar’s band, the Connecticut is identical to the Sumatra-wrapped version, being encased in a cedar sleeve and black foot band. One thing that is discouraging is that when I pick the cigar up, there’s an Unbearable Lightness of Being noticeably under-filled (that’s a literary joke, great book, check it out).
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Right away, I know I’m going to be disappointed with the draw of the cigar. The cold draw was very, very loose. Between the two versions of this new line, it seems that this is consistent and it’s probably quasi-intentional, as this is a relatively inexpensive cigar (corners gotta get cut somewhere). I used a punch cut on all samples in an attempt to somewhat limit the draw, as a straight cut would make this thing a straight-up wind tunnel. Pre-light flavors are way different from the Sumatra version, which I find somewhat surprising, given that it’s the same filler and binder. Gone is the fishy, wet, earth/barnyard, and instead I get some berry fruitiness and creamy sweetness (there’s also a touch of cedar). I find this interesting, as it seems like I’m tasting the outside of the cigar more (wrapper and the influence of the cedar sleeve) than the filler. I’d expect that to show up more after lighting, but what do I know?
Once lit, I get the expected creamy notes with some mild pepper that is only slightly stinging on the retrohale. This cigar is going to fly by (as expected), due to the light weight and easy draw. Only four minutes in and it’s burned over a half-inch. There’s a buttery, caramel flavor, along with fresh, ripe cherries. It reminds me of a note-for-note recreation (although less intense and softer) of my favorite Connecticut cigar, made by another prominent Nicaraguan cigar family. With this coming in at less than half the price, it might be my new favorite NiCon (I think I just made that up). Then again, after less than 15 minutes, I’ve already burned through the first third… so that’s certainly holding it back. Flavor is a little less than medium, body benefits from the ample smoke production (surprising given the airiness of the draw) to be a solid medium, and flavor is medium-ish as well.
My previous comparison to the other NiCon that I like so much has turned out to be wishful thinking, as this has really no complexity to speak of, and the only new thing going on is a kind of bitter piney flavor. I’m one hell of a slow cigar smoker, as you’ll know from my other reviews, and I’ll be at the halfway point of this cigar at 25 minutes! I thought the last Gilberto I reviewed was under-filled, but this thing is a JOKE! Flavors of walnut, creamy peanut butter, watered-down iced coffee with heavy cream, something vegetal (celery leaves?), and that pine-leaf-tip bitterness mix freely—not layered, no transitions. There’s not much in the pepper department to speak of at this point. The ash is lumpy; no “dime stacks” on this guy. You wouldn’t know, construction-wise, that this was made by the same company that produces the Melanio, which produces one of the very nicest ash stacks I’ve ever seen. I’m trying really hard to go slowly with this cigar, as I can sense the bitter pine and walnut wants to take over the flavors. At 33 minutes, the second third ends with a surge of Butterfinger sweetness on one side of the tongue, and bitter black walnut Nocino liqueur on the other; with a surprise addition of schmaltz-fried crispy onions. Strength is maybe four out of 10, with body and flavor ranked at five and a half.
The final third is getting interesting, finally. There is a nice interplay between sweet and savory, and the bitterness is decreasing somewhat. I’m enjoying the sweet/bitter nutty flavors, while the creaminess has moved away from the coffee flavor at this point to be more of a gooey, chewy candy, like the old Bit O’ Honey. It’s certainly slowed down a bit, and I think I’ll be able to squeeze a little more than an hour out of this cigar. This phase was short-lived, with the bitterness reappearing; and while it isn’t so much an unpleasant flavor element, it does overstep the bounds a little bit, particularly while everything else is more on the creamy and mild spectrum. Sadly, the bitterness stays around to dominate the flavor profile throughout the final inch, and other than a brief vision of cacao nibs, there wasn’t much else happening to hold my attention during the final minutes.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
Probably not. I am a fan of the new-style Connecticut cigars, but this one was boring, under-filled, and had a bitterness that overshadowed the good parts for the majority of the time. Looking back at to the Sumatran-wrapped version, I had expected to find a creamier version of the tasty chai tea custard flavors I enjoyed, as the two cigars share the same filler and binder, but there was little in the way of similarities outside of the draw.
- I’ve been using a punch cut on just about everything lately (except those cigars that have a tight draw) and I have concluded that this is the superior method. The intact shoulder feels better in the mouth, and it seems to ever-so-slightly concentrate the flavors. This was the method used for review.
- Oliva Gilberto Reserva Blanc was the last cigar released before Gilberto Oliva Sr. died on Dec. 16th, 2017, at the age of 86.
- This, the Corona vitola, is the only size in the series that is packaged in cedar sleeves.
- Flavor: Medium-Minus
- Strength: Mild / Medium
- Body: Medium-Minus
- Creamy coffee
- Peanut butter candy
- Smoke Time: 1 hour, 2 minutes
- Pairing Recommendation: Butterfinger and vanilla Nesquik, White Russian (another caucasian, Gary)
- Purchase Recommendation: Try one
- Quick smoke
- Under filled
- Low complexity