While most people know wine has terroir, I was surprised on a recent trip to the Dominican Republic to learn that cigars are also affected by the region the tobacco is grown in, as well as body, aroma, flavor and aging.
This was a foreign concept to me as I stepped in the Westin Puntacana Resort & Club‘s Don Queco Cigar & Rum Bar, opened in December 2013 and named after the father of one of Puntacana’s founders. It was created in order to commemorate and personify the harmonic relationship between spirits and tobacco. While the centerpiece of the room is the expansive mahogany bar, bottles of local and international spirits illuminated behind, to the right is a glass enclosed cigar room that also deserves your attention.
To me it feels more like a museum, as a staff guide named Victor escorts me inside, pulling out individual cigars for me to smell. For each, he explains the characteristics, and why one person might prefer it over another. Body, shape, size and taste are the most popular ways to categorize cigars, and you’ll often hear adjectives like coffee, cherry, sweet, salty, apricot, mature and green being used. It’s truly a full sensory perception in and around the mouth.
The room provides a glimpse into local culture, a diverse and expansive selection of premium Dominican cigars showcased: Arturo Fuente, Pedro López, José Seijas, La Flor Dominicana, Aurora, Cohiba, E. León Jiménez, La Aurora, Montecristo, Vega Fina, Romeo y Julieta, Davidoff.
As I’m not a seasoned cigar smoker, Victor chooses a E. León Jiménez for me, a surprisingly budget-friendly ($8) mild, local cigar. He sets me up near the pool just outside, cutting the end of the cigar with a special cigar clipper that helps preserve the stogie’s shape. While it takes me a bit to get the hang of exactly how to smoke it — don’t inhale, just savor it — when I do I taste intoxicating notes of earth and cedar. Victor expertly pairs this with a local Brugal Rum, rich vanilla and caramel flavors adding sweetness and the inherent woodiness perfectly complimenting the cigar.
I’m informed that cigars naturally pair well with local rum, as they have strong roots in the Caribbean and are produced in very similar climates. That being said, some prefer a traditional brandy, scotch or Port. Cigars can carry a myriad of flavors. In pairing a cigar with a drink, the key is to enhance or contrast the flavors between the drink and the cigar.
The Dominican Republic is a mecca for cigar smokers. Since the Spanish arrived in 1492, tobacco has been a driving part of the island’s history, culture and economy as it’s one of the biggest cigar-producing countries in the world. Don Queco is one special place to learn about this important cultural facet, a space designed to seduce your senses with a dimly lit ambiance, soft leather couches and indoor/outdoor seating.
It’s recommended to visit on Tuesdays for “La Peña,” a special gathering where customers can enjoy a solitary indulgence, socializing with friends or planning a future business transaction. During this time, there are happy hour prices on rum and spirited drinks from 5pm to 9pm, and special discounts on local premium cigars.
As I sit, enjoying my culturally immersive pairing and staring up at the starry night sky, the taste of booze and smoke sitting on my lips, I reckon there is no better place to be in the world at this very moment.
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