Cigars International Legends Series
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The concept is intriguing — gather the world’s best blenders and manufacturers, give them a ceiling of $5.00 per stick MSRP, a single format measuring 5.75″ x 54, and turn them loose to create the best long-filler cigar possible. The result is arguably the most ambitious of all house brands, the Cigars International Legends Series.
The 2005 launch featured color-coded entries from four manufacturers — Puros Indios, Perdomo, Camacho, and Manuel Quesada of MATASA. In the ensuing years, the roster of Legends has swelled to 11 with the inclusion of Cusano, Pepin Garcia, Drew Estates, Nestor Plasencia, Graycliff, La Aurora and Rocky Patel. With primary colors spoken for, they’re now reaching deep into the Crayola box. Gray, copper and maroon are the most recent additions. Periwinkle and raw umber can’t be far behind.
I regularly see new smokers and bargain hunters seeking opinions of these on Cigar Live. And why not? At an average price of $3.00 per stick (often cheaper on CI’s auction site Cigarbid.com), the hope of striking gold on the cheap is irresistible.
So here’s my take on the four versions I have on hand:
PURPLE LABEL by Graycliff: 81
The announcement of a Graycliff entry quickened pulses. After all, the notion of a factory first Graycliff at three clams a throw is big news. Nothing else from the Bahamian factory is attainable for less than a car payment.
Unfortunately, it was also the disappointing performance of the Purple Label that spoiled the reputation of the entire Legends line in some circles. Those expecting a “real deal” Graycliff were sorely let down. As we know, bad news spreads faster than good.
The Purple Label is pale with a gritty wrapper texture. It begins with light spice and a nutty, amaretto-like finish. There is a one inch “sweet spot” around the one-third mark that is excellent. Right at the point at which you get intrigued, the flavor vanishes. The second half is ashy and increasingly bitter. I usually pitch these after about 30 minutes to spare myself the frustration. Age helps take the bite out of the second half, but they’re still a letdown after the impressive start.
WHITE LABEL by Camacho: 83
Don’t expect a Camacho Corojo here. In fact, the White Label doesn’t resemble anything I’ve had from Camacho. It is papery at the start but settles into an earthy, nutty and medium-bodied groove by the haflway mark. It is very Honduran, so if earthy isn’t your bag you should skip this one. It is one-dimensional and unbalanced. But it’s never muscular enough to turn unpleasant, either. Construction is above average with a full, easy draw.
I enjoy the White Label as a change of pace. A thoroughly respectable smoke, though it doesn’t hold a candle to the old Camacho H Series, which I only mention because the H can also be found in the $3.00 per stick range.
MAROON LABEL by Nestor Plasencia: 86
Nestor Plasencia’s Maroon Label is the most recent addition to the Legends line. It is a handsome, oily Connecticut Broadleaf-wrapped smoke, but without the heavy veining typical of the CTBL.
The more I smoke the Maroon Label, the more I like it. It is sweet, almost syrupy at the start. But after a few minutes, spice and earth roll in to bring the flavors into balance. By halfway, it is surprisingly complex. Still predominantly sweet, but with an earthy and leathery backbone. (For those who have tried the 5 Vegas Miami, imagine that smoke cloaked in CTBL.) It never gets beyond medium strength. The draw remains cool despite a quick, uneven burn.
I suspect the Maroon Label might be a “love it or hate it” kind of smoke. For just under $2.00 per stick at auction, I’m planting my feet in the “love it” camp.
YELLOW LABEL by Don Pepin Garcia: 88
This one is the show-stopper. As a raving fan of all things Pepin, the idea of a $2.00-$3.00 DPG had me at hello. If you’re anticipating something similar to his fuller bodied Blue or Black lines, you’ll be let down. But if you enjoy his lighter fare like the Nacionales W or Padilla Achilles, the Yellow Label will be right up your alley.
It is a smooth, medium-bodied cigar with a leathery core. Peanutty notes intensify as it becomes richer on the second half. The smoke has a dry character that bothers some, but I don’t mind it. Build is first rate, though the wrapper is fragile. You may notice some splits if your humidor suffers RH fluctuations.
The Yellow Label lacks the complexity of DPG’s upmarket brands, but it’s a very good blend that suits any time of day. I love these with morning coffee.
After my first five-pack, I bid on box after box at $40 and $43. I’ll be smoking my “winnings” until I’m in my sixties.