Lunchtime at a winery in Constantia, near Cape Town, I am offered a weighty wine list. I narrow the choice down to a red wine with ‘Bordeaux characteristics’. I study the tasting notes. I pause at ‘a hint of cigar box’.
I admit that I don’t really get tasting notes. Once, at a tasting to which I had been invited, I was unable to detect the pencil shavings which I was assured distinguished the contents of my glass. The day following, I bought a pencil (I can never find one at home), plus a sharpener and went to work. Sniffing the coils of shaved wood I could smell nothing resembling a grape. I believe in doing one’s own research. The ‘wine expert’ had clearly been a fraud.
‘Cigar box’, however, is in a wholly different league. Was the box of wood or cardboard? With or without contents? And how could a wine taster possibly be a cigar smoker? She or he wouldn’t have a nose capable of telling sauternes from vinegar.
My intimates from the race terraces of the Hong Kong Jockey Club would never be taken in by such nonsense. I should make clear that ‘intimates’ in this context refers only to the shared inhalation of smoke. Prior acquaintance is not required. For many the progress of a favoured horse in any race can only be appreciated through the haze of a cigar – sizes varying from big, to very big, to enormously large. And I am certain they never sit around discussing the Bordeaux notes in their smokes.
At a time of declining global cigar sales, promotional campaigns for cigar makers at Hong Kong racecourses present untapped possibilities. One can imagine the Cohiba Robusta 1650 metres handicap, with a trophy in the shape of an ashtray for the owner, with humidors for the trainer and successful jockey. But I digress.
Back in Constantia I order the Bordeaux-like wine. I swirl, I sniff, I savour, I swallow. And the ‘cigar box’? Clearly made of the finest Spanish cedar. How could anybody fail to know?