March 1, 2004
Each man’s [tobacco] preference is the only standard for him,” wrote Mark Twain in 1893. Israel Capellan agrees. “Cigars are an acquired taste,” says the young tobacco merchant and owner of New York City’s Reserva Dominicana Cigars Inc.
Capellan’s cigar traditions are rooted in the Dominican Republic. The country’s mild cigars are top sellers in the U.S. market. Nutty, peppery, mildly sweet, and floral are accurate descriptors.
Finding the perfect cigar is more a journey than a destination; it’s an exercise in contemplation, and time is required.
Reserva Dominicana makes its cigars by blending two types of tobacco—Ecuadorian and Olor Dominicano—then wrapping them in a Dominican binder followed by a tobacco wrapper made in Connecticut.
Like wine making, cigars are subject to atmospheric factors, such as soil and aging. Then there is the blend—a combination of tobaccos with contrasting flavors in what ultimately becomes a marriage.
In 1910, Capellan’s grandfather, Jose Rafael Flores, began to grow tobacco in the island’s fertile Cibao River Valley, one of the world’s leading producers of filler tobaccos. In time, the business grew and he learned the art of hand rolling his tobacco. Almost 100 years later, his grandson stewards the family tradition.
Reserva Dominicana’s urban clientele—lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, and construction workers—are treated like family. The smoking lounge is cozy, and patrons greet one another on a first-name basis.
Capellan’s roller, Jose, has been making cigars for 40 years. Each hand-rolled and pressed cigar takes, on average, 30 minutes to create. And while larger operations stock more in the way of quantity, Capellan says his superior product results from a family tradition that believes good cigars cannot be mass produced. “I grow my own tobacco, so aside from the rolling, I know what tobacco we put into our cigars,” says Capellan. “Customers like our consistency. We [manage] every cigar. Things take time, and we’re going to keep it that way.”
CHOOSING A GOOD CIGAR
Capellan, 25, is smoking a Churchill ($6), one of 17 cigars hand-rolled on the premises. Aged more than five years, Capellan’s Churchill typifies the best of Dominican tobaccos—rich and mild tastes with a hint of pepper. It can be savored for 45 minutes.
CIGARS AT THEIR BEST
“You have to begin smoking cigars to be able to differentiate types of tobacco, the different tobacco strengths, and the different blends,” says Capellan. “Only then will you discover whether your palate is more suited to a spicy or peppery taste, or whether you might prefer a milder cigar.” Many aficionados prefer a cigar following a meal with spirits, such as brandy. Puffing, Capellan says, should be unhurried, at one-minute intervals. Like a good meal, a cigar should be savored.