Cigar Review #1 – CAO La Traviata Radiante

CAO La Traviata Radiante

Wrapper: Colorado-brown Ecuadoran
Binder: Cameroon
Filler: Long-filler Nicaraguan/Dominican
Size: 6×52 (Toro)
Price: $4.30

I’m sitting in my truck, at about 9:30 pm on Saturday, July 2nd. I’m listening to my local all-classical, all the time radio station, Classical 101 WOSU. I often like to listen to sports here in Columbus, but tonight, I don’t want to be distracted by talk, so I find classical is a safe, non-intrusive background for an enjoyable hour of tobacco. It’s a hot night… it’s close to eighty degrees outside, and because of a rainstorm earlier in the day, it’s very humid. I’m tempted to turn the truck on and get some A/C to cool off. In Columbus, during the Fourth of July celebration, we have the Red, White, and Boom fireworks display. That was last night, and the pyrotechnic kickoff to the weekend has left my neighbors indulging themselves. While I might otherwise be concerned that the pops and cracks are gunfire (I live in the South Orchard here in Columbus), but the proximity to the patriotic holiday puts my mind at ease.

My experience with CAO products has been almost exclusively positive. From the first CAO I tried, the MX2 dagger (I was a very inexperienced smoker two years ago) to the box of Brazilia Sambas I bought in North Carolina this past April, the draw and general construction has been mostly spot-on (with slight variations in the ten or so Sambas I’ve had). So it was with this expectation that I walked into my favorite humidor, at The Party Source in Newport, Kentucky. I immediately headed for the CAOs. Mike, the gentleman who spends most of his waking hours in the humidor, (I overheard him telling another customer, “This is my life,”) upon my inquiry about CAOs, suggested I give tonight’s cigar, the CAO La Traviata Radiante, a try. He suggested that it was a superior cigar to many of the CAO products, and at a very attractive price. Mike mentioned that it was among the best-selling cigars in his humidor. It’s a couple nights after the conclusion of a father-son trip to Virginia and Kentucky, and finally through Newport and Cincinnati, on which I picked up this stick that I head out to the truck to give it a go. I have high hopes given the auspicious recommendation, my experience, and the price tag.

I don’t really care much about the appearance of cigars at this point. I don’t put much consideration into how a cigar looks. While there’s perhaps some aesthetic considerations for some smokers, for me (unless there’s some subconscious things going on), I don’t much care. This is something that’s always baffled me about many cigar reviews I’ve read – that their final verdicts often weight things like appearance as heavily as construction and flavor. That seems like a rubbish approach to me. In any case, this cigar looks great. It’s a somewhat dark cigar, and at 6×52, it’s very attractive-looking, and insofar as these things heighten my anticipation, my excitement is not suppressed.

Unlit, the aroma is intoxicating. Since I’m not experienced enough to attempt to give notes on the aroma, I’ll just say that the tobacco doesn’t smell cheap. The cigar is definitely soft; there is a great deal of give when it’s tested. I nip the cap, and test the draw. It’s a little tight, but that seems to be the case for the CAO products I’ve tried. Nothing unexpected.

Upon lighting, I get the familiar billows of smoke, but despite turning it over the flame, I need two matches to get an even burn. The first puffs aren’t giving me anything distinct – it actually seems a little light on flavor – but I can definitely taste the burn at the back and on the roof of my mouth. This might be a function of construction, though, as after about five minutes, the burn is uneven, and it’s actually burning fairly quickly.

I tend to hold the cigar in the front of my mouth as I’m typing, sometimes holding it with my top teeth and my lower lip, and sometimes holding it in my teeth, both top and bottom. The give in the cigar is really pronounced. I almost want to hold the cigar in my fingers rather than in my teeth (using both upper and lower lip is uncomfortable, and it’s difficult to breathe, type, and smoke at the same time).

The unevenness seems to correct itself at about ten minutes, and the burn is less apparent, but the flavor isn’t picking up. It’s still fairly one-dimensional. It seems relatively medium-bodied, but this isn’t a flavor that I’m very excited about. The tobacco definitely isn’t cheap, but there really isn’t much complexity to it either. On the plus side, the ash is solid and isn’t looking like it wants to fall off in my lap. I’ve got a good inch of ash – this cigar is definitely not toothy, though, and I’m sure I’ll have to ash in a moment. It’s still a bit uneven.

After twenty minutes, I’m close to about half through the stick. I’m definitely starting to feel the cigar intensify. I wouldn’t say I’m aggressively smoking this, either. This is certainly not going to knock an experienced smoker over, but for someone accustomed to smoking a lighter cigar, or someone who smokes very rarely, this would be a bit of a risk. The cigar is still a little uneven, but nothing that requires my attention. The flavor is definitely pleasant, a little rich, but again, not complex. The ash is again hanging on for quite a long time; I’m only going ash a second time and the stick is half gone. Time to remove the ring.

In my experience, it’s a good idea to wait to remove the ring until the smoke is half-over (or later), because the gum that is used to affix the ring can sometimes adhere to the cigar, and removing it can damage the wrapper, which in turn can cause the draw to be disrupted, requiring repair or an otherwise distracting maintenance. Waiting until the cigar heats up can soften the adhesive, and removing the ring later will reduce the likelihood of damage. Even in the unlikely event of a wrapper’s compromise, the first half of the experience has been spared the disruption. In this case, the ring is easy to remove, and it comes off without incident.

At this point, the flavor is becoming more intense and is entirely pleasant. There are faint notes of pepper, and a medium tobacco experience (I lack the words in the youth of my cigar writing!), but there isn’t a great deal more going on, even as I near the three-quarters mark.

In the final quarter, the smoke is everywhere and it’s quite hot. I have to puff and then remove the stub from my mouth to avoid blinding myself. I really want to take it down, but I have to chuck it with about an inch remaining.

I’ve read that scared money can’t win at Poker. So it seems that scared money doesn’t result in a good smoke. If you’re on a tight budget (as so many are these days), La Traviata Radiante won’t break the bank. While it’s not as good a cigar as the other CAO products, it’s also less expensive. For a twice-a-week smoker like I am, this is a tidy smoke that isn’t disappointing, and doesn’t make me feel like I’ve wasted my occasional indulgence on something subpar. My impression is that the cigar is priced appropriately. I think it’s quite a good cigar for just over four dollars, but I’ll still be on the lookout for something else at this price point, and for my money, I’d be happy to spend another dollar to go up to an Arturo Fuente Flor Fina 8-5-8 or something else in that price range. Nevertheless, if you’re like me, you can buy this La Traviata Radiante with confidence that while it won’t blow you away, you’ll be satisfied with the experience.

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