Small Reviews of Small Cigars 5: Partagas Black Label Prontos (4.2x36)
They don’t just have construction issues. They have a whole damn subscription!
W/B/F: Connecticut Medio Tempo Broadleaf/Dominican/Dominican and Nicaraguan
Construction: Hand-made premium. Standard Parejo.
Related Cigars: Part of Partagas’s extensive Black Label line.
Pricing and Packaging: Tins of 6. MSRP - $20.39 ($3.40 ea)
Number Sampled and Review Conditions: See below.
About a month ago, I picked up a tin of Partagas Black Label Prontos (4.2x36) at the behest of the Salesdude at a particularly large B&M in Paramus, NJ. I told him I was more interested in the non-Cuban Heritage brands, but he insisted I’d love them. He had been on point with his other suggestions, so I gave them a shot. A couple of days later, I popped open the tin and pulled one out.
The Black Label Prontos has a beautiful near-black medio tiempo Connecticut broadleaf wrapper with an appealing sheen and a classy-looking black-and-gold label. The aroma was light but enticing, and I had to think the Salesdude had been on to something.
I clipped the cap and took a pre-light draw…or rather, I tried to take a pre-light draw. It was completely plugged. I cut it deeper, to no avail. I started feeling up and down the stick, and found that there was a big hard knot in the middle that seemed to span the entire width of the cigar. Disappointed, I put it aside, picked up something else, and forgot about it.
A few days ago, I tried again. I was sitting in the parking lot of the Bed, Bath, & Beyond in Jersey City and feeling pretty good, having just purchased a last-minute Christmas gift of an Aerobed which would hopefully end a years-long intra-family Mexican standoff over inflatable mattresses. I pulled a Partagas Black Label Pronto out of my little travel tupper, clipped it, and took a pre-light draw. Nothing. Cut it deeper and tried again. Nothing. Plugged. Again.
Luckily, I had thrown in a second one. This time, I was able to get a draw going, but just barely. When I felt up and down the stick, I found lumps and bumps and squishy spots, but nothing like a solid knot. I tend towards optimism and I didn’t think Salesdude would knowingly steer me towards something unsmokeable, so I cut it deeper. That helped a little, so I lit it up and went on my way.
The draw was still excessively tight. I huffed on the cigar all the way down Marin Boulevard, thinking about golf ball/hose analogies. I was nearly a third in and about to give up when the draw started to open up a bit. I turned on to 14th Street, and suddenly, the most wonderful flavor started emerging.
By the time I merged onto Rte 139 towards the Pulaski Skyway, the flavors were in full force. They were complex, deep and alluring, like espresso paired with the darkest of dark chocolates. I noticed wood notes, the slightest undertone of fruity sweetness, and a healthy kick of pepper on the retro.
“Oh yeeeah,” I said to myself. “So THIS is what Salesdude was talkin’ about!”
I braked through the usual traffic jams and cruised across the Pulaski Skyway, thoroughly enjoying the smoke, but somewhat troubled by the situation. 2 of the 3 sticks I’d tried were unsmokeable. The third had seemed nearly so, but once I had gotten it going, it was great. I resolved to see how the remainder were before making a decision as to how to proceed with this review.
Shortly after getting off the Skyway, and just at the halfway point of the cigar, the most remarkable thing happened. The flavor just up and disappeared. Poof! It was gone! The draw opened way up at the same time, too. It was like the tobacco saw we were coming up on Newark Airport and decided to pick up all its flavor and run away. I know that Newark is nobody’s favorite airport, it really isn’t all THAT bad, so it had to be something in the cigar itself.
So I drove past the airport puffing on a tube of near-flavorless tobacco and wondering what had happened and why the still-intact wrapper and binder weren’t maintaining at least some sort of flavor presence.
I passed the airport and exited on to Route 22. I guess the tobacco took that as a sign that we wouldn’t be stopping there, and decided it would be safe to venture back, at least a little bit. About 10 minutes after it had disappeared, a wispy thread of the previous flavor came through, and while it got a bit stronger over the rest of the smoke, it never got anywhere near the intensity of what it had been earlier.
This wasn’t “development.” It was some kind of disorder.
Over dinner, I looked up some reviews of the Partagas Black Label Prontos. Like most cigars in this price range, there were few reviews available for the Prontos other than retail customer reviews. I don’t put much faith in those, but there was a clear pattern. Over and over, I saw complaints about tight draws
, poor quality control, and a reduction in quality over the past few years
. On sites that had customer reviews more than a few years old, most of the good reviews are from 2012 or before.
The obvious conclusion is that I didn’t just get a bad batch. Construction problems appear to be endemic to this cigar.
I took out my remaining two. (They come 6 to a tin, but I’d already sent one to Dran. Sorry, buddy) Their construction problems were blatantly obvious upon cursory examination. See second photo. Hoping for the best, I clipped them both. Both were plugged.
This morning, I whipped out my trusty spray bottle of distilled water and got to work dissecting one of the cadavers.
I shredded the outer wrapper getting it off – it was very well-secured. Interestingly, there was a secondary strip of wrapper under the main wrapper at the head portion. See third photo. I don’t know how common that is, but I can’t see how it would contribute to the draw problems. The binder had no noticeable issues other than some particularly heavy wrinkly veins. So far so good.
I then pulled apart the filler, which you can see in the fourth photo. Most of it is legit long-filler with some shorter pieces. It looked pretty scrappy and the bunching seemed careless, but I don’t expect the innards of cigars in this size and price range to be particularly lovely. If it smokes well, it’s all good, at least IMHO.
Unfortunately, the filler also contained several gnarled knots of tobacco that folded and twisted back into themselves. See the fifth picture. The pictures really don't do them justice due to my old iPhone camera and lack of photography skills, but hopefully you get the idea.
There is no way that any air could have passed through any of them. Note that the knots pictured were not broken off of another piece of leaf. They were each a discrete, individual component of the filler, as if they were deliberately included – or deliberately not noticed and pulled out. I’ve dissected a number of cigars at varying levels of quality at this point and I haven’t seen anything like these knotted lumps.
As handmade artisanal products, we expect a certain percentage of premium cigars to have construction flaws. However there is no excuse for a 100% failure rate across 5 examples. This speaks to a multi-level failure of quality control and apparent issues with the production standards being used for Partagas Black Label Prontos. Whether these sorts of problems extend to the other premium small cigars made by the General Cigar Company remains to be seen.
Don’t buy these.
Would I buy these again? No
Would I smoke these again? Only if they were free and the construction seemed okay and I had something else at hand to switch to when things went awry.
Personal ranking: Unsmokeable.
If the Partagas Black Label Prontos were a high-school kid from the movies, they would be: Lisa (Angelina Jolie) from Girl, Interrupted. Wikipedia describes the character as “charismatic, manipulative, rebellious, and abusive.” In order for the analogy to really work, however, she would also have to be prone to periods of withdrawal and catatonia.
If the Partagas Black Label Prontos were a pair of shoes, they would be: None. You’d be barefoot, but walking on the beach at Bar Harbor on the North Shore of Long Island. There are some nice patches of sand, yeah, but to get there, you have to navigate a hellscape of rocks, broken seashells, and dead horseshoe crabs.
 Some history, which the vast majority of you already know about: Partagas was established in 1845 in Havana Cuba. The company along with many others were seized as part of the Cuban Revolution and is now run by Habanos, S.A. The non-Cuban Partagas brand was launched in 1978 in cooperation with the General Cigar Company. So now there are two Partagas’s, one Cuban and one not. The same is true of quite a few popular Cuban brands, including Montecristo, Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Punch, and a whole host of others. Most of these non-Cuban “Cuban Heritage” brands are owned by two conglomerates, General Cigar and Altadis. Naturally, this series of reviews will not include any Cuban cigars.
 I’m trying to sample at least one of each variety ROTT for comparison purpose – I’ll get into the details of why in another review.
 I wasn’t involved, and in all fairness, my extended family gets along well, and rarely gets up in arms over anything, let alone something as stupid as the original and true ownership of a queen-size Aerobed. But hey, nobody’s perfect.
 For some reason, I can't seem to link directly to Famous Smoke's page for the Prontos reviews, or even the Prontos themselves. Sorry about that.