Habanos & Rioja Wine Make the Perfect Match














The Habanos Festival in Cuba comes around every year with new surprises. This time around, Habanos P.D.O. and Rioja (certified D.O.) have woven an alliance to be sealed during the Festival.

One of the underlined goals of this alliance is the chance to come up with the best pairing between two Habanos and two Rioja wines during a matching contest that will be attended by 450 professionals from some sixty nations.

The first stretch of this tasting-contest was held in Madrid with a jury of experts in gastronomy and sommeliers, all of them Habano smokers, who were in charge of making the first-round selection to round out a dozen wines from 36 cellars.

The selected wines are:

The best pairings in the mild-to-smooth taste with the H. Upmann Nº 2 (2012) Habano: Finca Valpiedra 2007, Ijalaba selección 2005, Lan 2005, Montereal 2001, Beronia 2008 and Fernández de Pierola 2004.

In the mild-to-strong taste niche, coupled with the Montecristo Nº 2 (2008) Habano: Dominio de Campo Viejo 2007, Tobelos 2009, Dios Ares 2008, Belezos 2007, Santalba E.L. 2008 and Alma de Tobia 2009.   

We’ll have to wait till Feb. 26, during the Habano Festival, to find out the two winning wines in this matching game between Habanos and Rioja wines.

“Neither the habano nor the wine are assessed, but the pairing between the two.” That could be read in the paper doled out among jurors who were handpicked from experts in gastronomy and sommeliers, and who eventually cast their votes on half a dozen wines from 37 different Rioja that could match with a mild-to-strong habano –the Montecristo No. 2- and the same amount of wines for the mild-to-smooth H. Upmann habano.

This is an original initiative proposed by Habanos S.A. that for the first time ever pairs a natural-fermented wine, like the Rioja D.O., with habanos.

There were some boldface names on the jury, like journalists Pepe Ribagorda and Sergio Sauca, rubbing elbows with Pablo Martin, chairman of the National Federation of Sommelier Associations; the chief of the Madrid Association, Javier Gila, and the head of the La Rioja Sommelier Association, Carlos Echapresto.

Other jury members in this first round of the contest were industry consultant Javier Erro, and the president of the La Rioja Administration, Emilio del Rio.

Following the first stage, two more phases will stretch out from Feb. 26 to March 2 in Havana in a bid to label the best Rioja wine for each of the two categories. This alliance is expected to spin off “an everlasting pairing,” according to Victor Pacual, chairman of the Rioja D.O., who attended the Madrid preliminary contest together with Habanos S.A. Strategic Marketing chief, Jose Maria Lopez Inchaurbe.

Mr. Pascual said that, among many similarities, these two products have solid values of their own. “Those who taste them, come back for more. These are two international brands that can match perfectly. This is going to be a slum-dunk.” Two products that, when combined, can deliver a pleasant tasting in which the scents and flavors of the Rioja wines are mixed with the billows of smoke coming from cigars hand-rolled with Cuban natural tobacco.

This is also a major alliance for the Rioja community that, according to Erro and Del Rio, understands the coziness between those wines and the habanos. A Rioja-based company, Altadis, generates hundreds of jobs and is one of the flagship enterprises within the La Rioja family.

Attendees to this preliminary phase slated for the 15th Habano Festival agree there are quite a number of similarities between Rioja wines and Cuban tobacco: both come from the soils, both are tasted with the mouth, the two are handmade and both have what it takes to be global, universal brands.

“This is the birth of a historic brotherhood,” said Lopez Inchaurbe. “I’m sure it’ll last for many years to come.”

This is the first time an alliance between Habanos S.A. and a Spanish product. In previous editions, similar pairings have been forged with malt whiskies, cognac, Cuban rums and Oporto wines.