This past May, Brahm Callahan of Grill 23 & Bar in Boston was one of the scholarly seven who passed the Master Sommelier exam, and at just 31 years of age, too. In addition to overseeing the steakhouse's 1,700 bottle list, Callahan plus staff recently rolled out a cigar takeaway service in conjunction with nearby tobacco shop L.J. Peretti. So while guests can't exactly smoke inside the restaurant, they can order a cigar that a server will present tableside, prepped and ready to be puffed upon exit.
Callahan actually grew up working in shade tobacco, picking and hanging leaves through most of his teenage years. And as a newly crowned M.S., he's more than adept at pairing the two. Below, Callahan suggests wines which best pair with cigars.
Q: What kind of wine best complements cigars? Can I drink anything?
Callahan: There are plenty of options with a cigar, though reds tend to be best.
The Rocky Patel Decade Torpedo is one of my absolute favorite cigars, with notes of coffee, nuts, earth and leather. My favorite pairing with this cigar is a bottle of Rioja. The La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial 2005 ($24) is especially delicious. With notes of coconut, sawdust, dried cherries and smoked meat, it has just enough earthy notes to play with the Patel, while also standing in contrast and not getting run over by the cigar.
There are plenty of options with a cigar, though reds tend to be best.
For a lighter bodied cigar, such as the Davidoff Classic No. 2 (which has sweeter notes and peppery spice), a Riesling goes perfect with it—I love the Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Spatlese 2013 ($30). The Loosen is extremely aromatic with notes of jasmine, peach blossom, and ripe stone fruits like apricot and peach, and really plays on the sweeter notes of this cigar. While there is some sweetness to this wine as well, it has ripping acid that will help cleanse the palate and make each draw on the cigar brighter.
I love Amarone with cigars because it has acid, tannin, lots of alcohol and tons of bold flavors that can stand up to a cigar. It’s definitely an aggressive wine, so it needs an aggressive cigar to really make it shine. A cigar like Padron Imperial is a seriously bold smoke. All the tobacco is sun-grown with a maduro wrapper, so there is some sweetness. It goes great with an Amarone—my go-to is the Tomasso Bussola, TB 2007 ($100). The process is what makes Amarone special: the grapes are dried for months on mats in barns just outside of Lake Garda in Italy, concentrating the flavors and resulting in more sugar, but also lots of alcohol, which helps to volatilize the aromatics. Amarone is floral (dried roses, violets), savory (smoke, char), earthy (tobacco, leaves), while still having sweet fruit (ripe, lush cherries; plums, blackberries).
... stay away from wines that don’t have enough personality, body or intensity to stand up to a cigar. ..
With something like Arturo Fuente Anejo Extra Viejo 55 T, it’s a Connecticut River Valley wrapper (maduro though, so it’s sweeter) with Dominican fill. It’s a round, velvety smoke, so it goes great with a Napa Cabernet. I love Continuum, Napa 2010 ($170). The pairing here is really based on the soft, silky mouthfeel of the cigar with the lush, ripe sweet tannins and the feel of a great Napa Cab. The sweetness of the wrapper will play off the spiciness of the Continuum. Continuum is located on Pritchard Hill, which is almost all volcanic soils—resulting in a fair amount of exotic spice and lift. On top of that, this cigar is aged in Cognac barrels, so there is a sweet wood note that plays really well with the silky wood tannins of the French oak used at Continuum.
As to what doesn’t work with cigars, I would stay away from wines that don’t have enough personality, body or intensity to stand up to a cigar— so Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, etc. and lighter reds like Gamay or New World Pinot.