Among the first things we did after I joined Pipes and tobaccos in 1996 was to start publishing a tobacco review column in the magazine. I tried writing the reviews myself at first but, because I didn't like the results, my attempts never made it into the publication. The reason I didn't like them was that they sucked. I'm terrible at reviews. As much as I tried to rehabilitate them with elegant vocabulary, metaphor, and personal commentary, they still amounted to little more than, "I like it. Tastes like smoke," or, conversely, "I don't like it. Tastes like smoke."
So this is not a review.
Reviews are hard. A hyper-awareness that I lack is required, and I tend to taste a stew of tobacco rather than its components. I'm biologically incapable of distinguishing individual notes of leather, or peat, or hay-like mustiness, and without those perceptions, a tobacco reviewer is absent crucially essential tools.
Asking me to write a review is like asking a dog if he wants the table scraps: I drool and scrabble around in excitement but can't accomplish much in the way of detailed cerebral analysis. (And in honesty, the way most dogs eat is eerily similar to the way I smoke. I am not predisposed to restraint.) However, no one asked me to write this tobacco examination. I volunteered.
If you're like me and prefer broad strokes of description rather than specific comparisons to various textiles, produce, or pelts, perhaps you'll find value in my personal experience with Savinelli 140th.
It's been a while since I found a tobacco that impresses me, but I've lately been consuming regular quantities of Savinelli 140th Anniversary blend. That's unusual. I have little idea how to describe the tobacco, but I'm hoping something relevant will spill out because the blend merits attention. If you're like me and prefer broad strokes of description rather than specific comparisons to various textiles, produce, or pelts, perhaps you'll find value in my personal experience with Savinelli 140th.
My daily smoke is a Va/Per named Beacon, made by McClelland, and Savinelli 140th is no Va/Per. I've managed to stock a couple of years' worth of Beacon, but when it's gone, I'm doomed. There is no more, and vintage tins are already unaffordable. I've yet to find a replacement, and Savinelli 140th is not a replacement, but it's something I also enjoy, so it will extend the life of my Beacon inventory. I've had horrific recurring nightmares in which my Beacon ran out and, in exasperation, I quit smoking, replacing my most beloved hobby with a deranged commitment to (prepare yourself) interpretive dance. That's intolerable. I would contrive the immolation of the planet in a global nuclear holocaust before surrendering to that potentiality. This tobacco is consequential, therefore, if only because it can significantly delay the end of the world.
I had no urge even to try Savinelli 140th until becoming intrigued after speaking with Jeremy Reeves, the head blender at Cornell & Diehl. If you've not met Jeremy, you may not know that he is the most pleasant human being ever born, and that the magnificence of his beard is surpassed only by his acute intellect. He spent three months developing the blend for Savinelli, with few guidelines other than it should be a departure from Savinelli's other tobacco offerings, be very high quality, and have a distinctly Italian character.
The majority of the blend is comprised of excellent Virginias, my favorite leaf. The key to its Italian aspect is dark-fired leaf from the Sansepolcro region, the same tobacco used in popular Italian cigars. I am typically unimpressed by pipe tobaccos containing cigar leaf, but this Italian version doesn't reflect the usual hardwood, smoky-barbecue characteristic of dark fired. Jeremy says there's more of a fine wine character than the earthy, chocolatey aspect of the usual dark fired. I'll take his word for it. If I concentrate, I can discern what he's talking about, but I'm not convinced it isn't a placebo effect. I just know I like it in this combination.
In addition, there's a whisper of black Cavendish, flavored with local honey and citrus, and I've never had an interest in that category. There's also the most delicate indication of a floral personality. That's a red flag for me, too. I mean no disrespect to the many who enjoy Lakeland tobaccos, but I am not a fan, and when I first tasted Savinelli 140th I was reminded of Lakelands and immediately presumed I would dislike the blend, but the subtlety of floral use here is like no Lakeland I've smoked. For me, it's use is counterintuitive, but there are many food recipes containing counterintuitive ingredients, and I guess it works the same way for tobaccos. Only in proper combination with other components does it commend itself.
Two different flavored vodkas are used to flavor the red Virginia alone, before it's added to the other Virginias, with the other flavorings added after it dries.
I'm paused now, rereading that last line in disbelief. Ouch. I can't believe these things are in a tobacco I like. It's hurting me to describe this blend. These are components that I have disdainfully avoided for years. What kind of magic trick is being perpetrated here? I feel like the victim of a three-card Monte sleight-of-hand prankster, except I'm winning.
I think Cornell & Diehl is reaching a point of maturity similar to that of fine Virginias that have aged just right.
Although Craig Tarler was a friend, I never really warmed to C&D tobaccos, except some in the G.L. Pease line (Cumberland: impressive). I've always been a McClelland Virginia enthusiast, and C&D Virginias left me bored. But since I now work for a company that is sister to C&D, more colleagues have been recommending C&D tobaccos, and I've retried blends that I probably would not have given a second chance. I've noticed a dramatic improvement in the last couple of years and been surprised at the evolution in quality of several blends (I've not smoked them all, obviously). I think Cornell & Diehl is reaching a point of maturity similar to that of fine Virginias that have aged just right.
In my opinion, the genius of Savinelli 140th is in its balance. Each component is present in a delicate proportion that complements and enhances the other ingredients. If even one aspect were disproportionate, the blend would be ruined. But it's exactly correct.
Here's where my lack of reviewing skills is discouraging: I can't justify my sudden enthusiasm for an aromatic. If you had told me a year ago that I'd be voluntarily smoking an aromatic, I'd have challenged you to a duel.
I know only that I will be smoking Savinelli 140th semi-regularly. I like it. Tastes like smoke. Tastes like really good smoke.