Wendy Van Diver
July 26, 2012 | Wine & Food Pairings, Wine Country Travel | Wendy Van Diver

Close, but No Syrah: Pairing Wine with Cigars

I had another first this week. I attended my first wine and cigar pairing party. I wondered how it was going to work when I stepped into the smoke-clouded Cigar Emporium on Santa Barbara’s Upper State Street. The small shop, lined with leather sofas and chairs was filled with gentlemen puffing on stogies and shelves stocked with cigars and smoking paraphernalia.

I walked straight up to Sunnie Maxwell, the person who created the event. She was easy to spot because she was the only other woman in the place. Sunnie is starting a wine country tour company in Santa Barbara County. Her two-convertible fleet will whisk wine tourists away to Santa Ynez Valley to sample wines, and in some cases, cigars. One of Sunnie’s tour ideas is to offer a wine and cigar pairing tour at a winery or restaurant in Santa Ynez Valley.

I don’t smoke cigars, but I like the smell. This crowded and clouded room teemed with potential wine and cigar tasters. In fact, Sunnie was pouring wines from Oreana Winery to accompany the cigars the guests were smoking. Oreana’s 2010 Chardonnay, 2009 Pinot Noir, and 2008 Tilly’s Super Tuscan Blend stood proudly amidst boxes and boxes of cigars. All lovely wines, but somehow, they didn’t seem quite like the right pairing for a stogie.

I asked one guest to describe the flavor of his cigar. “Leather, cherries, earth, dried tea,” he said. “Sort of like a Syrah,” I mused.

Sunnie heard me and opened a bottle of Oreana’s 2009 Syrah. I picked up a cigar and pressed my nose against the skin, much in the same manner as I stick my nose in the wine glass. I inhaled. I smelled leather, earth, cherries, and dried tea. I stuck my nose into my glass and inhaled again: leather, earth, cherries, and dried tea.

Bingo! Cigars pair well with Syrah. I tested this pairing on several other guests and they agreed. What I find to be even more interesting is that a fine cigar is made and harvested with the same care and consideration as a fine wine. Ingredients for the filler, the binder, and the wrapper are carefully selected and handled by a master blender.

I left the party with smoke in my hair, a film of a cigar being made, and a new appreciation of cigars, especially when there’s a nice bottle of Syrah around.



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