Villa Zamorano Reserva No. 15
Like many brothers of the leaf, I think there is something inherently sexy, mysterious and altogether exhilarating about women who smoke cigars. Our beloved sisters of the leaf. I’m encouraged by reports that the SOTL population is growing and by the fact that more and more women are becoming tobacconists, running their own B&Ms and serving in prominent roles for big time brands. But, when it comes to brand ownership, the numbers drop off precipitously.
The first time I heard the name, Maya Selva, I was reading a short review on an online cigar shop I frequent. More than a review, it was also a tacit recommendation for one of her cigars, the Flor de Selva. I filed it away. But then one day I was discussing various cigars with a good friend of mine in the business when the name came up again: Maya Selva. The more I learned, I just knew I would be adding several of her cigars to the 99 Cigars “to smoke” coffers.
“I wanted to manufacture a product that could be 100-percent produced in my home country – so that’s how I came up with the cigar“
– Maya Selva [Cigar Journal 2016]
Maya Selva is part of an exclusive, but growing club of woman cigar makers that also include Nirka Reyes (De los Reyes Cigars, Saga), Karen Berger (‘K’, Don Kiki), Angela Brown (Black Label Trading) and Sharon Holt (Southern Draw). Maya has quietly grown her brand since launching in 1995 just as the cigar boom was taking its last breaths. Born and raised in Honduras to a French mother and Honduran father, Maya studied engineering in France, but eventually returned to Honduras in search of a vocation.
Fate lent a hand when she crossed paths with legendary Nestor Plasencia. She learned every aspect of growing tobacco and making cigars first hand, but more importantly understood and focused on issues of quality and best practices. In 1995, Maya launched her first line, the namesake Flor de Selva. In 1999, she debuted the Nicaraguan puro, Cumpay, and in 2002 her company launched the Honduran puro, Villa Zamorano. All three lines garnered critical acclaim on an international scale and her cigars are now featured in over 30 countries.
What is shocking about this success, is that it came without much help from the US market, home of the largest cigar consumption on the planet. That is all about to change. Maya launched Villa Zamorano Reserva at this year’s IPCPR show in July and began shipping them later the same month. To highlight the new line, Maya devised a brilliant packaging plan to market 4-cigar samplers packed in VZR-branded aluminum beer cans. The sampler can is not yet for sale and pricing has not yet been decided.
The Villa Zamorano Reserva Aluminum Beer Can Sampler
Features pull tab, informational insert and 4 of the 7 available vitolas: The Expreso, Robusto, El Gordo and the No. 15.
Did you know: Maya studied engineering in France and obtained her Masters of Science degree in the US.
- Profile: Medium-Full
- Vitola: No. 15 [Belicoso]
- Length / Ring Gauge: 5.5″/ 54
- Purchased: Direct
- Origin: Honduras
- Wrapper: Honduran Jamastran
- Binder: Honduran
- Filler: Honduran
- Cutter: Colibri V-Cut
- Lighter: Colibri Firebird
- Price: $6.50
- Age: 2 weeks
- Box: 25
- Other Vitolas: Expreso [3.5″x52], Intenso [4″x46], Corona [5″x42], Robusto [5″x50], El Gordo [5″x56], Churchill [7″x48]
A Honduran puro, Villa Zamorano Reserva is an obvious extension of the original 2002 Villa Zamorano line but uses a higher quality tobacco sourced from one of Maya’s farms. It is blended by Maya herself and is produced at her San Judas Tadeo factory in Danlí, Honduras. Maya’s original and current vision for this line is that it is an everyday, economical smoke without sacrificing flavor or quality.
We were able to obtain the wickedly cool sampler can so all we had to do was decide as to which vitola we were going to light up. Since the belicoso is a tricky roll for most manufacturers, and at $6.50 the most expensive of the 4 in the sampler, that was our horse.
Our No. 15 features a nice belicoso treatment with invisible seams highlighted by a semi-oily, milk chocolate-colored wrapper. The stick is compact and uniformly firm. This cigar is incredibly fragrant highlighted by lots of caramel, cocoa powder and a sensuous hint of honeysuckle. The cold draw is on the tight side even with a V cut, so there is concern as fire is added.
The first noticeable aspect is the semi-sweet nuttiness on the inhale, followed by a light spice on the palate. Hints of leather and black pepper are delicious, capped off by coffee notes on the long finish. It is surprisingly smooth, but the draw is not improving. As it begins to settle in, sweet notes of caramel and cream become more apparent and the finish becomes a tad sweeter.
There’s a wonderful essence of pan dulce (sweet bread) on the retro. The texture is velvety as hints of oak add to the complex profile. Combustion is solid, char line is dead even and the ash is compact and semi-white. As it begins to transition, the profile and texture of the Reserva reminds me of a couple Cuban cigars I smoked recently: The Montecristo No. 2 and the Bolivar Belicoso Finos. Heady company for an everyday smoke.
As the oak becomes more dominant, the profile becomes woody overall, complemented with light hints of caramel and a bready finish. The draw is still tight as it approaches the 2″ mark, but the delicious profile, solid combustion and texture are seriously putting a dent in that worry.
The inhale becomes more buttery and there’s a unique, but fragrant quality to the smoke. This gal is a slow burner, so don’t rush her. Our belicoso holds a compact 1-2″ ash with no problem. The profile adds some earth notes late and there’s an uptick in the spice department. As she transitions, and gets shorter, the draw is appreciably better.
There is a noticeable transition to a profile of wood and chocolate along with an increase in strength and body. The complexity has waned since the initial impression, but it is still delicious and wonderfully consistent and balanced. It doesn’t fade and return. Coffee notes on the finish have returned and it remains very smooth. As it gets near the nub, the spice reverts back to the palate and she finishes with a heavy woodiness, but still balancing it with a bit of caramel on the retro. Most nuances are gone but she never becomes harsh, mineral or stale.
As I collect my final thoughts on what was a unique and truly enjoyable smoke, I’m absolutely racking my brain trying to understand how Maya checked so many boxes for less than seven bucks a stick. Trying to reconcile the expectations of a smoke characterized as an economical, everyday cigar with profiles resembling those of Cuban Montecristos and Bolivars is simply absurd.
This is Padron level quality, which is saying something and yes, I would easily pay upwards of $10 for a stick of this quality and refinement. Yes, the complexity wanes about midway, but what is there is still done very well. The flavors in the profiles simply do not fade in and out. Construction, roll, aesthetics, combustion, balance, flavor palette…all aces.
The tight draw is annoying at first, but it simply gets overshadowed by all the wonderful aspects, and by the time you no longer give a damn, the draw improves anyway. The Reserva is an absolute joy to smoke and I can easily see cigar lovers smoking these every… single… day. This is a go to smoke of the first order. Clearly, Maya Selva is not just a smart, successful woman in a male-dominated world: She’s a global brand carving her own path and irrespective of gender, part of an elite few helping to define what great cigars should be. Period. – In Fumo Pax!