Looking for that 4-leaf-clover
The late summer weather has been a glorious oven to bask in, for those of us who enjoy the heat. It’s led me to spend quite a bit of time in concerted pursuit of quality lollygagging in the local park to enjoy my tobaccos, for one thing. Having focused so much on old tobaccos lately, it seemed like a good time to switch up the menu with a recent production tin of Davidoff Flake Medallions. An afternoon found me puffing idly in a field of grass, killing time without injuring eternity, pondering what makes this pursuit of flavors such an always-new endeavor.
As any good chef knows, you eat with your eyes first. Presentation begins before we even get to the tobacco, whether we admit it to ourselves or not—the name, tin art, and reputation of a blend all begin to shape opinion well before the flame touches the leaf. Davidoff’s offerings, while not extensive, represent a solid range of tobaccos for the pipe smoker, in the vein of the erstwhile luxury brands Dunhill and Nat Sherman. Perhaps more well known for their cigar bands, their quality and consistency positions them as a well-regarded marque in pipes, pipe tobaccos, and cigarettes as well. That said, the presentation here begins with the tin, a regal label in crimson with gold filigree lettering—simple, straightforward, and très classy. Opening the tin releases a fresh bouquet of rich sweet dried plum, dry grassy summer hay, moist fig, and hints of sweet chocolate, with light leathery and woody undertones. After some time airing out to settle, the earthy and woody range of aromas dominate, though still with the hints of sweetness around the edges. The coins themselves are gorgeous and uniform, with the brindle of lemon-yellow to dark mahogany leaf surrounding the core of ebony Cavendish. So far, everything about the presentation speaks of care and craftsmanship in the process; whether it’s called curly cut, spun cut, roll cut, or rope, this particular style of tobacco is also one of the most expensive and time consuming to produce, and Flake Medallions certainly represents well here on all points.
While there are a few other fairly well-known takes on the coin cut presentation, we’ll steer clear of direct comparisons here. My preferred preparation is to rub out a couple coins rather than folding and stuffing, though I will admit to occasionally enjoying placing the Cavendish centers strategically in the middle and top third of the bowl. From the light to the heel, the blend smokes cool, smooth, and steady, with few relights and not a hint of bite, even from this fresh tin. The balance of the tobaccos here is exquisite. The Virginia base is solid and well-tamed, Perique is restrained to a supporting role as a condimental spice, and the Cavendish balances the two, rounding it all out and adding depth and sweetness to the structure. This is definitely on the (mildly) spicy and savory end of the VaPer spectrum, with just a bit of tang at the top of the bowl which, upon reaching the heel, has transformed into a well-measured umami, with a great mouthfeel and excellent aftertaste.
To confirm my initial impressions, I spent some time in the kitchen matching up the aromas to the flavors represented. The primary aromas and flavors of fig are spot on, and decidedly on the side of black Mission figs; the tempered sweetness here is more honey than the Mediterranean varieties (which tend more toward a floral or fruity bent), while still structured around a very earthy vegetal profile. Whichever preparation was used, bowl after bowl found a varying cadence that also drew out the familiar raisin / plum / date / prune notes, drying hay, toasted bread, brewer’s yeast, fresh cut oak, and turned earth in the secondary and tertiary aromas. The sidestream smoke, which was commented on from a passerby as being “rustic”, is generally mild and lightly touches all of the aromas well, making it a not unpleasant experience for the bystander. Also evidenced bowl after bowl was the satisfying flat-cola aftertaste it leaves, like a memory of sweetness.
Overall the blend is superb, and I could kick myself for not having dozens of tins already socked away in the cellar.Again, there are more than a few representative entries in this style of blend, and for my money Davidoff Flake Medallions certainly deserves its own particular niche within the field. What strikes me most about the blend is the balance that it achieves, which sets the flavor slightly apart from any of its direct competitors. Mild on the nicotine, mild to medium on the side smoke, and remarkable consistency and refinement in the smoking itself. With a reasonable price point it’s worthy of the all-day smoke category, while the presentation makes for a classy choice when out on the town or for special occasions. It has certainly found a place in my cellaring list.
Speaking of coin cut tobaccos, special occasions, and summertime…. I picked up my tin of Flake Medallions on the way to the most recent New York Pipe Club meeting. I’d been missing in action from the club for a few years; work became a bit all-consuming to the detriment of social activities for a while, followed by a couple years of relocation far afield. Enjoying this blend at the meeting got me thinking about what to bring to our upcoming annual picnic at the end of the month; it had to be something that was as refined, classy, and memorable.
Unfortunately I didn’t have any well-aged tins of Flake Medallions to bring, so I went with the next-best thing: a cutter-top tin of Escudo from the 1950s. In the interest of full disclosure, I was a little disappointed at first. The tin had lost its integrity sometime in the last five years and as many moves, to my eternal regret. Fortunately it was at least kept with other tobaccos in sealed plastic bins, so the damage was mitigated and it had not completely desiccated nor become rife with rust; I’d guess that the seal had failed sometime in the last year or two, judging by the condition. The tops of the first few bowls were a little metallic-tinged and lackluster, but the backbone of the Grande Dame of coin cuts was still very much there. Once it hit mid-bowl, however, my feelings changed—a little moisture being introduced opened up the full panoply of flavors, and lo! how it sang. A transcendental piping experience was had by us all that day.
To compare ‘this’ to ‘that’ is clearly a losing proposition in this case. A 75-ish-year-old tin of the best of the genre is the proverbial apples to oranges conundrum. So I’m not going to. I’m going to gently rehydrate what’s left of that Escudo for our club president Lou Carbone, who unfortunately couldn’t make it out to the picnic due to the demands of working life, bring it to the next pipe club meeting, and hope that it reminds us all why we spend so much time and dedication to finding those four-leaf-clovers along the way.
(Special thank you to Charlie, Marie, and Dolores for hosting the NYPC picnic again this year.)