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Aging Room: Complex Cigars with Character


By: Lindsay Heller, Lead Merchant

If you compiled all long-term cigar industry employees with a serious musical background, you could form one heck of a jazz band or chamber orchestra. (Many of us have conservatory backgrounds—myself included.) There's something to be said for those who are creative, as the artistic brain views the world differently, and thus, rallies against being generic. Enter Rafael Nodal: a Cuban who made his way to Miami via the infamous Mariel Boatlift as a teen, but never imagined he would transition from violinist to cigar brand owner as an adult.

Initially working in the medical field, Nodal met Dr. Alina Cordoves (his now wife) and Dr. Hank Bischoff, a self-proclaimed Cubanophile, and the three formed a company. Together they three spent years selling smaller Miami-based brands online, and after acquiring the Oliveros label, began redesigning that portfolio to increase their overall profitability. Success did not sustain itself, and so Rafael pivoted to making small-batch cigars with Jochi Blanco at Tabacalera Palma in the Dominican Republic.

Rafael, Hank, and Alina eventually changed the company name to Boutique Blends to better align with their newfound philosophy, and in doing so, ultimately found success with the creation of Aging Room. After earning a spot in Cigar Aficionado's coveted Top 25 of 2011, Nodal got his first taste of broad fame, with future blends produced by Blanco, as well as the then up-and-comer, AJ Fernandez, in Nicaragua. In May 2017 Rafael signed on with Tabacalera USA (premium cigar division of Altadis U.S.A.) in a niche professional capacity, and there he became better acquainted with Fernandez, a fellow Cubano.

Although Nodal and his wife, Alina, are both Cuban, like many expats in the cigar industry they too were drawn to Nicaragua. For quite some time the concept of a puro in this business was almost solely tied to Cuba, but with Aging Room, the company created the Pura Cepa within its Small Batch Series to explore the Nicaraguan growing regions of Condega, Estelí, Jalapa, and Ometepe. The blend’s name translates to “pure bred,” and they’re produced at Plasencia Cigars S.A. in Estelí. Shortly after its release it received a ‘90’ rating from Cigar Aficionado for its construction, fluid draw, and even burn. Medium to full-bodied, there’s an earthy sweetness to its profile with notes of leather, nuts, cocoa, honey, and black cherry. 

True to his musical roots, Nodal will often liken blend development to that of writing an opera: there are desired themes, key melodies and harmonies, a story arch, and the need for it to all work together inside one neat package. When it came to the ‘96’ rated Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua, however, you could call Rafael the librettist, and AJ the composer/arranger. Striking all the right notes between flavor, construction, and consistency, AJ's ability to make Rafael's vision into a reality is another means to comprehend the immense respect and understanding that exists between these two gentlemen.

Named the #1 Cigar of 2019, this premium is a puro, and all tobaccos utilized originate from 100% Cuban seeds. While the distinctions between each leaf are not specified other than the binder (Nicaraguan Sumatra), what we do get upon smoking is a symphony of flavors. Ranging from a variety of pepper, to roasted nuts, wood, baking spice, earth, cacao, and espresso, there's an underlying caramel sweetness which peaks through from start to finish. While numerous pairings exist for this full-bodied cigar, I'd highly recommend enjoying alongside mineral water so not one nuance is missed, as this blend is a masterpiece.

If you can indulge me for a moment and allow the use my collegiate degrees, a sonata is written for a soloist often with a piano accompaniment where at least one movement is written in sonata form. This musical structure consists of three main sections – exposition, development, and recapitulation – and it is easy to see why Nodal chose to bestow his latest release with this specifically musical nomenclature.

Debuting at the TPE trade show in February 2023, Quattro Nicaragua Sonata was the first new line for the Aging Room portfolio in a year-and-a-half. Yet another collaboration between Rafael Nodal and AJ Fernandez – and another Nicaraguan puro – Sonata was blended to be a more mellow counterpart to the original Quattro Nicaragua, composed of tobaccos grown across AJ’s various farms throughout the country.

Having received an initial ‘93’ rating by Cigar Aficionado a mere six months after its release, all vitolas are box-pressed. Its wrapper leaves are richly-hued and reminiscent of European milk chocolate, and they’re smooth to the touch. Medium in body due the implementation of a longer fermentation process, its profile is still complex and rewarding. Beginning with sweeter notes of honey and roasted nuts before moving onto spiced chocolate, its finish is hearty and lush. 

Harkening back to the definition of sonata form, if the original Quattro Nicaragua is the exposition, then assuredly the new Quattro Nicaragua Sonata is the development. This begs the question, what do Nodal and Fernandez have planned for this line’s recapitulation? Whatever the future blend may be, we know it will be well-made, a loving ode to Nicaraguan soil, and the result of nearly a decade of collaboration between two masters of their respective crafts. 

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