Top 9 Under $9
2020 for 99 Cigars is pretty much a wash. Thanks to this really weird year – COVID-19, moving our office and an abnormally high instance of cigar failures – we’ve had to make some difficult decisions regarding content. Ironically, one of those changes includes nixing the Top 9 Cigars of 2020 due to an insufficient collection of reviews. For those who recall what I projected in early February, that we’d be doubling our review efforts, we’ve obviously come up short of that goal. So, instead of an end-of-year Top 9, we’re focusing on those cigars we’ve reviewed in 2020 that were at or below the $9 mark. Why? A couple of reasons.
First, many of the cigars we reviewed were at or below $9 and second, all were highly enjoyable, and most were fantastic. Even better is the fact that some were in the $5-$7 range. Rather than try and filter these boxworthy blends and go-tos from #9 to #1, we thought it best to simply share this compendium of what we think are the best 9 cigars of 2020 under $9. Given all our efforts to break down the pros and cons of each cigar, it’s important to recognize how critical aspects like enjoyment and value are to most cigar lovers. The primary criteria was that the cigar’s recommendation must be either “boxworthy” or “go-to” and the final 9 were chosen based on their overall performance.
The following list is in no particular order and we do recognize one cigar as an Honorable Mention.
AJF Dias De Gloria
Transitions offer a complex, woody focus with an abundance of caramel, nuts and espresso notes. Smoky and elegant, draws are semi-sweet and woody, and the baked finishes are hardy and satisfying. Spice goes from very light to holy crap by the last transition as does the body and intensity, but the profiles are well balanced. Combustion of our Toro is near perfect, it produces copious amounts of smoke and it holds a packed ash. The vintage leaves add a nice level of sophistication and texture to the robust blend, but I do not get a strong sense of pre-Castro cigar profiles, if that was Fernandez’s intent. See full review
El Galan Reserva Especial
Vitola: Airosos [BP Robusto]
Recommendation: Go To
Our dapper Especial offers a delectable opening profile highlighted by a sweet draw of nuts and oats. This is followed by an equally alluring mélange of carmel corn, cream and roasted nuts on the retro. She then finishes with a hardy mix of charred mesquite and caramel notes. A light spice appears hand-in-hand with hints of red pepper. Transitions offer more robust foundations anchored first by a dominance of cedar followed by a savory profile of full-bodied charred oak. But, a rich draw and a balanced palette of dark chocolate, nougat and coffee keeps the Especial well mannered. See full review.
La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro
In true AJF fashion, the opening profile is a winner, kicked off by a lush draw of coffee followed by a mélange of caramel, leather and black pepper. A crescendo of cake batter on the retro eventually fades into the background where the Oscuro finishes with robust notes of charred wood. A nice spice appears soon after, building up to essentially an assault on the nose and palate, but is entrenched in well-balanced, woodier and chocolate-dominant transitions which are just as delicious. This was a knuckle burner and worth every hair lost. See full review.
Vitola: Corona Gorda
The opening profile is a good sign of things to come. The draw is rife with sweetbread and toasted oats. Atop a woody, toasty foundation is a delectable mix of caramel, toasted almonds, cedar and cinnamon intonations. The finish too is toasty with hints of black coffee, which becomes nuttier over time. Hints of vanilla appear late as does a light spice on the palate. Smooth and well balanced, Wayfarer continues this scenic hike with a smoky persona and more robust, woody foundations, moving from a profile of black pepper, toast and cedar to a spice bomb of dark chocolate, earth and espresso. See full review.
Vitola: Delicioso [BP Toro]
Recommendation: Go To
The good vibes continue with a lush opening of cinnamon, graham cracker and puffed rice notes followed by a robust finish of almonds and espresso. The draw is also rife with graham cracker notes. The texture is creamy and there’s just hint of spice along with notes of savory sea salt on the palate. Decadent. Cedar notes come late as the draw becomes more tangy. Transitions evolve from foundations of toast and cedar to dark chocolate and peat yet still offering a dizzying array of complexity with notes of salted caramel, carmelcorn, oak and brown sugar. This is special. See full review.
Southern Draw 300 Manos
Vitola: Corona Gorda
The opening profile begins with a chocolatey draw followed by a mellow medley of cream and pie crust notes with hints of oats. The 300 Manos finishes with a warm serving of toasted almonds. Hints of marshmallow, cacao and cedar stick around for a bit as transitions up the ante in body. While not super smooth, it’s still hard to overlook the complexity in the woodier transitions which feature palettes of cedar and oak mixed with coffee and nougat notes. A light spice appears and ramps up as it transitions along with more body and strength. See full review.
The opening draw is wonderfully rich with wood and oats followed by a lush retro of white pepper, cream and nougat. The creamy texture also adds hints of brown sugar. The long woody finish also features flashes of graham cracker. Settling into a dominant woody core, our robusto introduces some spice and oak notes and early nuances are replaced with a nice cocoa essence. Transitions offer spicier and smoky elements with more body highlighted by a steady diet of cocoa, cedar and black pepper notes and robust finishes of dark roasted coffee. See full review.
La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor
Vitola: Valentino [Gordo]
Recommendation: Go To
Mi Amor leverages her charms immediately providing a rich, bread crust draw followed by delectable intonations of vanilla, toasted almonds, cake batter and cocoa. Our gordo finishes with long notes of wood and oats as the lush, toasty foundation matures. The creamy texture complements more confectionary intonations of funnel cake but is balanced by a light spice and wood elements. Transitions are distinct and equally satisfying, combining woody and chocolatey cores with intonations of nuts, espresso, oak and charred wood that culminate in a full-bodied, savory, smoky ending. Qué bella! See full review.
The opening rush of cinnamon, crème and graham cracker is rich and mesmerizing. There are also some hints of baking spices on the retro and oak flavors on the palate. This is followed by a savory finish of wood and nuts complemented by a bready texture. Sweet chocolate notes slowly merge into the finish as well. During the first transition, for a minute or so, there is an unpleasant brine, peat-like aftertaste that does dissipate and fortunately, doesn’t return. Transitions are equally tantalizing featuring sweet and spicy draws, more robust wood cores and nuanced flavors like pretzel, salted caramel, hickory, nougat and hardy oats. See full review.
– HONORABLE MENTION –
Maya Selva Cumpay
The big Churchill comes to life with a lush draw of peanuts and an overt nutty profile complemented by creamy notes of hazelnut, caramel and nutmeg. With a light spice on the tongue, Cumpay finishes with a toast and nougat flare adding notes of coffee late. The texture is smooth and at times, “chewy.” The draw becomes smoky as leather and oak notes are added late. Transitions feature robust, woody foundations as the body and strength go from medium to full. Blend notes go from tangy leather and dark fruit to savory toasted oats and oak in the final stretch all while maintaining a light character. See full review.