Q & A with Javier Gila, Chairman of the Madrid Sommelier Association and juror of the Habano-Rioja alliance


The matching of Habanos with wines packs a fresher and gladder wallop, says sommelier Javier Gila, chairman of the Madrid Sommelier Association and juror of the Habanos-Rioja alliance.

What do you make of this alliance between the Habano and Rioja denominations of origin?

I think it’s been a new kind of tasting because we’re not assessing the Habano or the Rioja wine, but rather trying to build a harmony, an alliance between the two. That’s why it’s important to watch things through the analysis of the scent, the aftertaste, to make sure that the wines do not have so much acidity or astringency, so they could match with the aromas and power of the Habanos.

Many people believe this pairing carries a lot of subjectivity because it depends on every individual’s preferences.

Well, it’s important to know the Habano, the Rioja wines because right on the table we’ve seen Habanos with longstanding scents, while others have more fleeting aromas.

I personally believe that long-aged wines match better with Habanos, wines that don’t carry fruity, wood, cacao, dry fruit or toasted coffee notes, but rather the plain fruity note you can find in less-aged wines.

Nevertheless, in order to make better or more accurate judgments during the pairings, you need to be a sniffing hound, just to put it this way.

It’s true this is just a matter of practice, but down here we’ve seen seasoned tasters. There’s no room for rookies here. You’ve got to be a connoisseur; you’ve got to know what a Rioja and a Habano are actually like.

What Habano so you prefer?

I really like shorter, easy-to-smoke Habanos. I’m actually used to puffin on Habanos during the after-meal talks at the table, following a dinner with distilled beverages or sweet wines. But now that I see that Habanos can be served alongside with wines, this is a whole new experience to me and I want to take it in.

It’s true that a Habano can deliver a long night, yet I prefer shorter Habanos as far as I’m concerned.

Just like wines, Habanos have tasting rules of their own, don’t they?

Of course Habanos have their lighting ritual and they take time. You’ve got to pamper them just to make them reach their full character.

Just like wine, the Habano has its own way to go. At the onset, for instance, it kind of chokes, but the jitters fade out as it burns and it reaches its second third. The same happens with the airing of wines, which it’s so important to make them express themselves.

Both of them take time. You just can’t come in and assess a wine or a Habano in a couple of shakes. You need to give them time.

What do you think the future holds for this Habano-Rioja pairing?

Despite the fact now many people view this as a curiosity, something new, I think it’s their best interest to get paired, I mean Habanos and wines. Not only Rioja wines, but others from other parts of the world, with other alcoholic levels, as it’s already happened with Oporto from Portugal, which have also matched with Habanos.

The tasting of Habanos and wine is something fresher and gladder, more joyful because it’s two brisk and harmonious products we’re talking about. That’s why the pairing between the two of them is an extremely pleasant moment.