“It’s like dancing…You don’t know where the music’s going but you follow because you’re in love…and this is what happened with the Fuente Fuente Opus X.”- Carlos Fuente Jr
Almost like a tired refrain from some political campaign; we hear over and over again cigars being compared to the Fuente Fuente Opus X. Is this vaunted blend truly worthy of such seemingly unqualified praise? Does the Opus X really represent a revolution in the philosophy and production of cigars? Are you, as a cigar enthusiast, missing something big if you’re not smoking Opus? Quite simply, the answer to all of these questions is an unequivocal YES!
Accounts from our hallowed cigar lore relate that Carlos Fuente Jr, or Carlito as he is perhaps better known, was once inadvertently insulted by a well known cigar industry magnate. To paraphrase, Carlito was told that he merely assembled cigars, and that by implication, he was not a true cigar maker or grower of tobacco. Anyone who has heard Carlito speak on the subject must recognize the truly indomitable spirit he possesses. This idea that Tabacalera A. Fuente was somehow not producing important and innovative products would not stand for Carlito. As such, he undertook a project which was widely believed to be a suicide mission in cigar-making circles; to produce- from seed to cigar- a Dominican puro.
Until the early nineties, when Carlito undertook his “Project X”, the common wisdom was that due to various characteristics of terrior and vicissitudes of climate; wrapper leaf could not be grown in the Dominican Republic. As we cigar aficionados well know, it takes a special plant to grow leaves suitable for the wrapper of a fine cigar. The leaf must be very large, finely veined, without blemishes, and strong enough to be wrapped around the filler and binder of the cigar without tearing or cracking. Carlito was determined to grow the first Dominican wrapper leaf and finally put an end to all of the nay-saying that surrounded his project. In 1995, the Fuente Fuente Opus X hit the market and caused quite a few well known cigarmen to eat their words. The first Dominican puro had arrived and much in the same way that Muhammad Ali forever changed the way we thought about boxing; no conversation about cigars could now ignore the Opus X.
But the Opus X is more than just a visually stunning and amazingly delicious rosado wrapper. It is an achievement of cigar blending unparalleled at the time, and possibly never again to be equaled. The expert blending of five different tobaccos was in and of itself a pioneering feat. The fact that the types and proportions of tobacco used seemed to guarantee an uneven burn was another cause for speculation; but once again, the proof was in the proverbial pudding. The Opus X, in it’s entirety, is a masterpiece of the art of the cigar. It is a rich, sophisticated, visceral smoking experience that can forever change one’s perspective on cigars. The smoke is a veritable journey of flavor and aroma from spicey to smooth, creamy to tannic, and everywhere in between. It is the very definition of complexity.
For those who have yet to experience this cigar, perhaps a brief expository narrative would not be out of order. Those of us who are familiar with Opus will enjoy a trip down memory lane.
The first thing that strikes you is the silky rosado wrapper. Its soft cedary color almost shimmers with the rich, delicate oils of the leaf. A careful clip of the cap reveals an easy draw carrying with it alluring vegetal notes and a hint of sweetness. As the foot of the Opus is put to flame, an aroma rises into the air that is unmistakeably unique. It’s a sort of buttery curry-like scent that is not usually present in other Dominican cigars, and is only paralleled by those celebrated smokes from south of Miami. The first pull on the Opus brings an eye-opening blast of spice, bristling on the palate with peppery flavor. This spiciness is part of the identity of the Fuente Fuente Opus X, as it lasts well into the second third of the smoke. As the cigar progresses, development in complexity continues and accelerates at a tantalizing rate. At this point it becomes clear that the shear amount of flavors that present themselves is almost unprecedented by any cigar “foreign” or “domestic”. To pick out individual notes of flavor and aroma is now as effortless as recognizing familiar shapes in clouds. As the cigar winds down to the nub, the flavor remains consistently excellent with virtually no degradation or harshness. Your fingers having long since been burnt, the nub being impaled on the end of a toothpick for continued smoking; the Opus X finally gives up the ghost seconds away from singeing your mustache. You have just smoked one of the finest cigars ever to exist on this earth.
So how is it, that such a unique cigar is so routinely compared and contrasted with so many other vitolas of a more run-of-the-mill pedigree? When is this comparison appropriate, when is it not? It could be said with a straight face that Lexus is the “Cadillac” of Toyotas but one could never be taken seriously to say that the Sonata is the so-called “Cadillac” of Hyundais- even though the analogy is logically sound. What this means is that there are certain criteria one must adhere to in making a comparison to Opus. Firstly, the cigar in question must exist in the same world as the Opus X. We’re talking about high quality, full-flavored, very strong smokes here. For this reason I, myself, have made the Opus comparison concerning the Oliva Serie V and the Tatuaje Cabinet (“brown label”) series. These cigars are of an exceedingly sumptuous make. The classic ligero spiciness must be present. The rosado wrapper of the Serie V is truly reminiscent of that of the Opus and its spicy character is unmistakable. The shear power of the Tatuaje Cabinet series provides a very similar, if less subtle, gut-check as the Fuente in question. These are the qualities we look for when making this often-times overblown comparison. That being said, it is entirely inappropriate to use the Opus comparison simply for marketing expediency or for lack of better descriptive terminology in praising a great cigar that might not bear any resemblance to the Opus X. How many times have we seen “Ready to give up your Opus?” as the header of a cigar vendor’s advert? First of all, no, I’m not ready to give up my Opus and secondly, your Flor de Whatever bundled stogies have no business sharing the same page as any mention of Carlito’s masterwork. This is truly one example of a cigar that in every way lives up to its hype.
In short, the Fuente Fuente Opus X is the true cigar-lovers’ cigar. Our world of premium smokes is a different one in the era of the Opus than it ever had been before. New territory had been charted and while others have sought to fall into the footsteps of Carlito’s dream, other makes of Dominican puro have all but fallen by the wayside. For many, the CAO Vision -with all of the pomp and circumstance that surrounded its release- turned out to be little more than a disappointment; while the efforts of Litto Gomez produced some truly excellent cigars. The Opus X is one great example of how risks taken by those who are willing to lose everything can yield fabulous results. And that, my friends, is why Opus matters.