Prolong the pleasure: grappa and cigar pairings
A cigar, if enjoyed slowly, can last up to four hours. Pairing it with the drink is a natural, almost spontaneous, act to enhance the experience to the sublime.
How do you pair grappa and cigars? Are there rules or suggestions? Follow along and discover how to prolong your gustatory and meditative pleasure.
The pairing of liquors and cigars is the discussion of many a connoisseur and must be tackled case by case. This is a singular experience, subject to personal tastes and part of a larger ambiance of relaxation.
THE FIRST RULE IS THAT THERE ARE NO RULES
It is important to state right away that taste and mood go hand-in-hand. This is sensory synthesis is only magnified when smoking a cigar. Which is why pairing a cigar with grappa is not an exact science, but rather a personal exploration of pleasure. Take risks and try new combos, but heed a bit of caution so as not to ruin the moment. Use our mini-guide to begin your pairing journey.
ONE PUFF MORE IS BETTER THAN ONE PUFF LESS
The first step to a great pairing is to prepare your mouth for the flavours. The incisive flavours of grappa are too strong to mix with the warm smoke of a freshly lit cigar. Puff a few tokes of the cigar first, allow the taste buds to filter the strong flavour through the smoke of the cigar.
CONTRAST AND COMPLETE
Usually when we talk about pairing, we are talking about matching like with like: similar tasting notes and similar aromas. When they contrast, it is often seen as not a match. So when smoking a cigar, the heat of each puff is a pleasant sensation, rich in aromas, just as taking a sip of grappa imbibes warmth and pleasure. If the two combine and grow in pleasure together, then it is a completion. If not, a contrast. However, the contrast can be just as pleasant if paired properly: the fusion of flavours must be balanced with a clear distinction in taste perceptible. Essentially, you are either rounding out or cutting through a primary flavour.
CONTRAST Antico Toscano is a decidely strong Tuscan cigar with a bitter profile that is perfectly balanced by the silky sweet profile of Grappa Moscato Après. It is aged for five years in barrels previously used for Moscato from Pantelleria which enhances the sugary fruit notes.
COMPLETE When the cigar smoke lays out a good structure and a perceptible sweetness in your mouth, it is best to enhance it with a grappa of similar profile. Take a Modigliano for example, a slightly sweet, fruity, barely bitter, and mild cigar, that pairs perfectly with a Grappa di Brunello or a Grappa Marolo Doppio Fusto di Barbaresco for their softness, elegance and mild spiciness. While a Dominican cigar, which is round, full, and sweet, would find its completion with an Amarone Grappa for its subtle “passito” like notes.
PAY ATTENTION TO TANNINS
Have you ever wondered why red wine is rarely recommended as a pairing with cigars? It is the tannins. Those in the wine will collide with those in the tobacco, creating an overly astringent sensation in the mouth and cancelling out any pleasure. Red wine grappa is preferred because they have a greater softness that refresh the palate, cause salivation which then prompts a new puff, followed by another sip, and so on.
THE AROMAS OF CIGARS AND GRAPPA
Cigars can be categorized according to the tastes they leave in the mouth during smoking. Like grappa, the flavours are derived from the soils where the tobacco grows, if there were tandem crops growing (like coffee), the variety of the leaves and how long they were aged, the mix of various tobaccos, the rolling process, and finally the ageing of the cigars.
These various notes make up 75% of the flavour of a cigar and pairings should be guided by the dominant flavour.
- Spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, chili). We recommend a contrasting grappa, one that is not too spicy and so will not impede the flavours of the cigar. A Grappa di Dolcetto, di Verdicchio, or di Arneis are all great choices. If you wish for more of a complete pairing, try Grappa di Pelaverga or Gewürztraminer, which have subtle spice notes.
- Savoury and smoked scents. These are perfect for a grappa with a lot of character that are capable of supporting a well-structured cigar, such as Grappa di Barolo 9, 12, 15, or 20 years aged.
- “Sweet” flavours due to ageing or variety. These are notes of vanilla, caramel, cocoa, and chocolate. These should be paired with equally soft and enveloping grappa that has a refined profile and subtle alcohol. We recommend to pair these types of cigars with 10-year Grappa di Barolo, which is aged in old Barolo Chinato barrels, or Grappa di Moscato. Another great match is the Grappa di Barolo Grandi Riserve which thanks to 30 plus years of ageing, is rich with jammy notes of cooked apple, prunes, almond and nuts.
- Strong earthy notes, such as wood and cut herbs. These cigars are best completed with a grappa rich in fresh, herbaceous notes like the Grappa di Pigato, the Grappa di Verdicchio or the Grappa di Arneis Vigneto Renesio.
- Acidic or bitter notes. These cigars should be contrasted with grappa that is “austere” but sweet, to cut through the cigar flavours and balance them in the mouth. We recommend the Grappa di Brachetto, Grappa di Amarone or an artisanal apricot, pear or apple acquavit.