Jorge Armenteros, President of Tobacconist University and owner of A Little Taste of Cuba, recently asked me to review a few cigars; the first of which is the Paul Garmirian (P.G.) - Gourmet Series, Symphony 20. The P.G. - Symphony 20 is a limited edition which was made in the Dominican Republic by Henky Kelner and Chief Blender Eladio Diaz to commemorate the Paul Garmirian line's 20th anniversary. It is released in a 6 x 52 Toro vitolla they call the "Connoisseur" in boxes of 20 each for about $340 a box / $17 per cigar and was only distributed to P.G.'s top sellers. The Symphony 20 is made with an Equadorian "cloud grown" hybrid Cuban seed capa, a Dominican grown Havana seed capote, and four tripas. The first is a Dominican Piloto Cubano region I, the second is a Dominican Piloto Cubano region II, the third is a Dominican experimental, and the fourth is a Honduran Havana seed. If the reader is curious, Piloto Cubano is a varietal family which is grown through out the Dominican Republic and Central America known for its flavor characteristics and used primarily for tripas. The Dominican experimental leaf is something which Henky Kelner claims has been aging in his warehouse for some time and can not be replicated. The Honduran Havana seed is a dark, air-cured tobacco seed varietal.
The Symphony 20 had a light oily sheen with a sleek feel, some veins and was about colorado oscuro in color. It had an excellent squeeze and there were no visible flaws on the capa. The pre-light aroma was sweet, perhaps molasses-like, with some light, woody undertones and a more pronounced sweetness from the foot. I made a straight cut with scissors and immediately recognized a well capped head. The pre-light draw was very smooth and the taste was excellent; sweet but not candy-like, more akin to a robust molasses, followed shortly by some spice on the tip of the tongue and back of the throat. It lit very easily with a soft-flame lighter and with the first puff, spice covered nearly the first 1/3 of the tongue and immediately started working toward the half-way point and back of the throat. Not strong or overpowering spice mind you, just enough to dominate the flavor profile. It produced plenty of blue smoke from the foot and white smoke on exhale, which was a little too spicy for retro-exhalation at first and took several easy tries to break it in following which the spice would roll through the sinuses and then build.
By about 1/2" in a pleasant spicy tingle had dropped anchor in the center of the tongue. The ash was nearly white by the ember but turned a sort of dark grey the further toward the end it got, split into a "V" and then spread open which made me suspicious of possible tunneling. It also broke off a little past 1" and felt very soft to the touch but I couldn't see any obvious signs on the foot of the tunneling I was wondering about so I continued on. Around the half-way point it needed a touch-up, but since I was smoking outside, I sort of attributed it to a breeze that was blowing. Also around half-way I started feeling a little bit of strength, following which the spice laid down and several minutes later a very relaxing sensation moved over me. The flavor profile of the second half, while mild and a bit elusive, seemed to be predominantly of a slight woodiness. It required a re-light shortly before the 2/3 mark and the ash still had the "V" split mentioned earlier. At this time I observed a discoloration on the band which I recognized as being caused by heat which confirmed tunneling, albeit deeper than I had suspected so I cut a chunk out and started again. Even with the fresh cut and re-light the tunneling continued and multiple re-lights were required through to the end with hints of char present in the taste as well. The second one I smoked for this review had the same flavor profiles and characteristics of the first and smoked fine until about the final 1/3 when it started tunneling also.
Make no mistake about it, aside from the problems mentioned above, the P.G. - Symphony 20 is a high-end premium cigar which I would smoke again. The pre-light experience was fantastic and the smoke was enjoyable. Let me say this about the tunneling problem, I discussed this with one of the most respected and knowledgeable Tobacconists in the business who has literally smoked hundreds of Symphony 20s and he told me he has never had a single problem. Like anything man-made, though they may be few and far between, there are bound to be eventual flaws with even the finest products. Considering that both P.G. - 20s I smoked had the same problem and came from the same batch, it is not unreasonable to speculate that they were a fluke which may have been the result of an individual roller's mistake. Remember, the Symphony 20 is a limited edition so try it for yourself and you be the judge.