Bite Size Review: La Palina Red Label
No one I know mentions them. No one I know smokes them. There’s no rave or disparaging undercurrent on social media. It’s not chic, en vogue or so totally like, now. But, there’s advertising with slick brand positioning and a subliminal call to action. Yeah, ok, then there’s Al Gore’s self-proclaimed tour de force: the internet. Some time ago I discovered the under-the-radar La Palina in the pages of a cigar magazine. It’s not unusual. That’s what marketing is all about, right? Anyway, the ad stuck with me and like any cigar nerd and researcher, I did my homework. Sometimes, you kick over a rock and find an ant hill. Other times, it’s a hidden treasure. La Palina turned out to be the latter.
A brand that began with Sam Paley in the mid 1800s…in Chicago. After fading into irrelevance, in 2010 Sam’s grandson, Bill Paley, decided to get the band back together. To say La Palina’s return over the last 8 years has been successful is like saying The SR-71 Blackbird is fast. By 2013 (in 3 years), two cigars made the ranks of Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 Cigars of the Year honors. No less than 10 La Palina lines have been reviewed and scored well, some in the 90s (the Red Label toro scored a 92 in 2016 – CA). The Red Label line was launched at the IPCPR show in 2015 and continues to delight and amaze to this day. Quietly, apparently.
For this review, we got the fat boy, the gordo. The gordo didn’t do too bad in the ratings department, landing a respectable 89 from Cigar aficionado in 2015. Gordos present a blend challenge as it is tricky to achieve the desired palette in a bigger package, and it’s not ‘oh, just stuff more tobacco leaves in.’ Our Red Label was nice and firm from foot to cap. Wrapped in a sultry Ecuadorian Habano skin, she’s a little lumpy and veiny with some tooth. Strong barnyard aromas from the wrapper are…um…strong. Fortunately, the foot’s floral notes and candied nuts were a welcome contrast. The draw is tight at first, but loosened up over time.
After lighting, a smooth and rich profile of nuts, leather and candied nuts is nicely balanced with a light spicy mix of black pepper, cream and wood. The finish is toasty with hints of graham cracker. Complexity wanes a bit in the first transition, but returns in force in the last. Along with a boomerang spiciness, woody profiles in transitions nicely complement notes of pecan, baked bread, chocolate and charred wood.
Combustion is wonky at first, but improves with an even char. One touch up was required. Balance never wavers and even with this big boy, the velvety hits just keep on coming. It simply doesn’t get old. There’s always something interesting going on. This one’s a slow burner so reserve a little over an hour and a half – a good excuse to blow off the dishes.
Oddly, about midway, there was a faint odor to the smoke. I hate to say it, but what first came to mind was, “swamp gas.” Fortunately, it didn’t linger. The price is right, I think, as it’s hard to have this much fun for an hour and a half for under ten bucks. Minus the swamp gas. This one’s a keeper. – In Fumo Pax!
Did you Know: After being resurrected by Bill Paley in 2010, La Palina cigars were initially manufactured in the Bahamas. The Red Label line is produced at the PDR factory in Tamboril, Dominican Republic.
NOTE: La Palina’s website is under construction.
- Profile: Medium
- Vitola: Gordo
- Length/ Ring Gauge: 6.0″ x 60
- Purchased: B&M
- Origin: Dominican Republic
- Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
- Binder: Ecuadorian
- Filler: Dominican, Nicaraguan
- Cutter: Colibri V
- Lighter: Colibri Firebird
- Price: $9.45
- Humidor Age: 12 mo.
- Box: 20
- Other Vitolas: Robusto [5.0″x52], Toro [6.0″x50], Petit Lancero [6.0″x40]
Smoke Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Build: Smooth; veiny; lumpy; firm throughout; some tooth; bourbon-colored Habano wrapper; holds 1″ ash; ash flaky
Draw: Tight – loosens as you smoke
- Shaft – Barnyard
- Foot – floral, bready, candied nuts
- Cold Draw – wet grass
- Initial: Light spice accompanied by candied nuts; wood; leather; toasty finish; early spice exit; cream w/light black pepper; smooth and moderately rich; light graham cracker on finish.
- Transition: Woody profile; light spice returns and increases into the next transition; pecan intonations on draw and retro; chocolatey finish w/light black pepper and baked bread; still creamy.
- Transition: Sweet cedar on retro; hints of pecan against a woody savory background; complexity amps back up; coffee intonations on draw/retro; zesty charred wood, baked bread finish.
Touch ups: 1
Combustion: Very good
Weaknesses: Swampy aroma to smoke at times
Recommend: 1. Go-to
- Go-to (boxworthy)
- 3rd stringer (keep 1 on hand)
- Smoke a banana instead