It’s been quite some time since I sat down to write one of these reviews, so naturally I turned to a blend that is an old favorite—Cornell & Diehl’s Sunday Picnic. Sunday Picnic, from C&D’s Simply Elegant series, was one of the first labels I really fell in love with when transitioning from whatever was offered in bulk at the tobacconist to discovering the world of “luxury” blends, and one that is well-represented in my cellar. While I wasn’t really aware of it then, it’s a blend that would come to exemplify my favored taste in tobaccos for the pipe—sweet Virginia body, counterpoint of Perique, and a dash of Oriental for spice and complexity. I tend to refer to these as “VaPerO” blends, although as an acronym that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. With tasting notes going back to 2010, I can readily quantify and qualify the variety of flavors and experiences I’ve had with this particular mixture. Spoiler alert ahead for those of you who are building your cellars: age certainly does work its magic on this blend, deepening the composition considerably after a single year and perhaps peaking after four or five, leveling out to a fine plateau. Let’s hope that age is so kind to me, in fact.
Presentation points are earned first for the tin art, retaining the central figures of the classic Robb Pritchard artwork, now enlarged and further highlighted on the field of, naturally, Turkish blue. The fragrance in young tins tends very Virginia-forward, with brighter citrusy character and the familiar chocolate-covered raisin notes of Perique. Developing incrementally with age is a rounder, complex umami bouquet, evincing shades of truffle, black tea, lavender, waxed leather, pomander balls, sandalwood. The fresh flakes are dense and uniform, with a pleasing striation of color—light blond to leathery brown in young tins, rich supple reds to black in older ones. A bit moist straight from the tin, I generally prepare by taking out three flakes or so—enough for a couple group 3-ish pipes—allow for some air-dry time, and then roll gently in my hands to the desired consistency for loading, in this case fairly well shredded, as opposed to a more fold-and-stuff preparation.
From the char, this tobacco always manages to take a light easily. The Izmir in the aged blend plays its characteristic role most noticeably in the top half of the bowl, with its particular nutty and slightly astringent tone readily recognizable—think Earl Grey, weathered oak, cedar campfire. The Perique too first announces its peppery-sweet character here in fine concert with the rest, offering a tingle in the nose and retrohale up front, quickly mellowing to tease out the umami in concert with the Virginia. Somewhat decreased with significant age are the young tin’s more prominent bready notes and high lemony tinge, those flavors having been tempered down to supporting roles with time.
As mentioned, just a year in the cellar builds remarkable character in the blend. Enjoying this particular tin from my stash, dated June 11 2007 (from the first production run, or thereabouts) with a hefty fourteen-and-a-half years on it is, well, a not-so-guilty pleasure indeed. While the top of the bowl is mildly sharp with nutty, dusty overtones from the Turkish component—pecan shells, fine cigarettes—it quickly exhibits an exceptional kernel of sweetness in every puff, with the best comparison that comes to mind being a lychee wrapped in a campfire. Young tins of course highlight more of the lemony-peppery synthesis of the Virginia and Perique up front, somewhat pushing aside the Izmir until an equilibrium is achieved. Puffing is easy and light, with just the slightest draw able to keep the ember going. For my money, it makes a great accompaniment to pursuits such as curling up with a hefty book, hunkering down over a chess board with a friend, or a walk in the park to enjoy the autumn foliage; that is to say it does not demand much attention while smoking, nor is it so uninteresting as to be easily relegated to thoughtless background noise.
The flavor composition reaches a crescendo mid-bowl, and manages to hold tempo through to the heel. While it may start off a bit sharp, the drier, more piquant notes begin to recede a bit and fall in step with the sweeter, richer Virginia-Perique structure once it’s warmed and a good cadence is established. Reaching into the mid-bowl, it becomes a colorful, complex harmony of flavors that speak well of the blender’s art—it’s not by accident that the Cornell & Diehl brand earned the reputation that it still enjoys. Individual notes are easily discernible, with none drowning out or overpowering each other; it’s a truly cohesive blending. With a tin this well-aged the sweetness is rich and pronounced, yet for all that not in a flavored aromatic sense by any measure—this is the supple sweetness of premium leaf.
I prefer this particular flake in a pipe on the smaller side of medium—the ’65 Dunhill bulldog and K. Anastasopoulos freehand pictured both have chambers roughly ¾” wide and 1¼” deep, with straight sides. To note, the Dunhill sports an inner tube which can be finicky with too much moisture; with this blend it’s never a problem. Too large or tall a bowl, for me at least, seems to muddle the flavor profile, while too wide a taper ignores the top end and over-concentrates the bottom. In these group 3 sizes, it’s a perfect 40- to 60-minute smoke which in my estimation is best enjoyed with a coffee or wine that’s decidedly on the sweet side—think a large flat white in the cooler weather, or a nice Port, sparkling moscato, or ice wine in the warmer months. With its mild-to-medium strength profile it perfectly satisfies the nicotine craving, and makes both an exemplary morning coffee smoke and an after-dinner digestif. As for the room note and sidestream smoke, it’s fairly mild and conventional. Owing largely to the Izmir, it’s in the range of fine cigarettes—perhaps too smoky for some, and not overtly aromatic, and clings readily to clothes and beard. With little of the sweetness translating to the room note, comments from non-smokers are less nuanced.
The other blends in the Simply Elegant series are equally charming: were I to rate them in order of my preference, Manhattan Afternoon would be a close second with its more-honey-less-spice approach, followed by After Hours with its dash of rum, rounded out by Opening Night, Red Carpet, and Interlude; all of them delightful and nuanced variations on the superb theme. The question of whether or not to cellar should be self-evident by now; I’m certainly very glad I did.
Special thanks to Jeremy Reeves at Cornell & Diehl for his assistance.
All photos by E. Roberts