Posted: Nov 7, 2007 3:20pm ETA good friend of mine had a health scare about a year ago. A two or three a day cigar guy, his doc ordered him to cut back to one a week, along with a whole host of other dietary changes and medicinal regiments. He looks great, and says he’s even feeling better. So when he came over the house for dinner with his wife on Saturday and after dinner asked, "Can we have a cigar?" I was ready for him.
I took him over to my cabinet humidor, and pulled open the doors, and I could see him taking in the aroma of perfectly humidified cigars. “What do you want?” I said. He said he wanted something small, another sign of his changing habits. Well, I happen to have some of what I think are the best petit coronas ever made, the Fuente Fuente Opus X PerfecXion No. 5. The ones I have in the humidor are about 10 years old, from a batch the family gave to my wife. My friend said it looked perfect. I chose a Don Carlos Lancero.
We retired to my den, which also doubles as my wife’s office. That means I don’t usually smoke in there, even during the cooler months. But I turned on the cigar exhaust fan, and we sat back; he had a glass of single malt Scotch, and I had a fine aged Cognac. We sat for more than an hour and traded stories about our lives, getting to know each other a whole lot better. It was a perfect cigar moment.
I kept thinking that he would reach a point with the cigar and say, that’s enough, or let out a gasp because he had burned his knuckles. But he kept smoking that cigar until he could barely grasp it between his fingers, savoring every last puff, and showing a degree of appreciation for a cigar that only a man who is limited to one a week can exhibit.
Posted: Nov 1, 2007 11:44am ETOver the years as a Red Sox fan, I learned early on not to gloat. After all, there was that painful lesson in 1978 when I moved away from New York to Mexico and my parting shot to my Yankee fan roommate was something along the lines of “don’t worry, there’s always next year.”
This year, I was very silent. I always assumed the worst. Down 3 to 1 in the ALCS, I was sure the season was over, and at 3 to 2 and 3 to 3. So, a 4 to 3 win against Cleveland was great, but then I figured there was no way the Sox could stop the Rockies’ juggernaut. In both game 3 and game 4, I was absolutely certain that when the Rockies got within one run, they would just keep rolling on and get back into the Series.
At no time did I prematurely light up a victory cigar. That’s the lesson. Never, ever gloat.
But that’s over. Now I can gloat. I had my Red Sox bear prominently displayed on my desk; not for too long, just a tasteful two days before I returned it to its normal resting place atop a bookcase in my office. (I have to say, the uniform is turning a little gray.) I was grateful that my Yankee fan employees came in to pay homage and give congratulations. Well, most of them did. There are still a few holdouts. My good friend Jose Blanco, of La Aurora, even called up to congratulate me.
Finally, after I was absolutely, positively certain that Major League Baseball couldn’t take the trophy away, I lit up a celebratory cigar. I chose a cigar that Dave Savona blogged about last week, the special Padrón dubbed Reserva de la Familia No. 44. It is a cigar that the Padróns are making only for special dinners, and, according to Jorge Padron, will never be sold at retail. Let’s just say that Dave was right in his blog; if you can find a Padrón dinner in your local area, ask if the 44 is going to be featured, then get a ticket and go.
It was the perfect victory cigar. Wait ‘til next year. But that’s the last time I can say that; after all, the no gloating period has already officially started.
Posted: Oct 23, 2007 1:59pm ETI had a classic cigar last week. It’s so rare that one of the best encyclopedias of Cuban cigars, written by Min Ron Nee and Adriano Martinez, doesn’t even include it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our Jan/Feb issue will feature a pair of performers that you all know, and most of you probably love. You’ll have to buy the issue to learn who they are. But one of them came to the office for an interview, and lunch with Marvin. We sat around the lunch table sipping on a great Kistler Chardonnay, the perfect match for the fish on the plate. After lunch, Marvin asked if the actor wanted a cigar to puff on during the interview. There was a definite nod of the head yes, and then some back and forth about the choice of smoke.
The conversation continued in the humidor, and through an examination of several great boxes of pre-Castro cigars that finally led to the final choice: An H. Upmann Selección Suprema No. 22, otherwise affectionately known as “the Flying Pig.” It is a large ring gauge, stubbed end perfecto. I would guess the ring at about 54 to 56, and it isn’t that long, about five inches at most, giving it a very rounded, or should I say, rotund appearance.
Most cigars that are nearly 50 years old usually are just dominated by cedar flavors. Not the Flying Pig. It was a smooth, but deeply rich smoke, with lots of solid tobacco flavors. I won’t be scoring it blind for you, because that would give you a preview of Marvin’s contribution to the next Connoisseur’s Corner. Trust me when I say it was really good.
At the end of the one hour, 45 minute interview, both me and the interview subject were still working on the cigar, each in danger of burning off our knuckles from the fabulous smoke. And, each time it went out, we were lighting it up to get the last bit of pleasure from it.
It’s not every day you get to try a classic cigar, and sometimes, like a vintage wine, the experience can be a disappointment. Not this time.
Posted: Oct 17, 2007 12:10pm ETHow many times have you started up a conversation with someone, only to discover that the other person is a cigar smoker?
It happened to me yesterday, in one of the more unlikely places you can imagine: a CT scan room.
I am undergoing a series of medical exams in honor of my 55th birthday, which is soon. I’ve been poked, and jabbed and examined in just about every way possible. (Which, by the way, I recommend all of you stop putting off…better safe than sorry.) One of the things my doctor suggested was a CT scan of my chest, because of what I do for a living, testing and rating cigars.
I was called into the CT room by the operator, and he began a series of questions by asking, “So, why are we here today?” I laughed and said with a grin, “because I’m the editor of Cigar Aficionado and my doctor thought it was a good idea to have a look at my lungs.” The operator turned, looked over his glasses and said, ‘You’re kidding.” I wasn’t, and we proceeded to talk about how many Big Smokes he had been to, and how before he moved, he attended gatherings at a cigar club in New Jersey, and how his father was from Pinar del Río in Cuba, and he grew up with the smell of cigars in his hair and on his clothes. The conversation ranged from where you can still smoke today in New York to his erroneous conclusion that we could no longer hold the Big Smoke in New York at the Marriott Marquis.
He then reminded me what he reminds every patient who goes in for a CT scan. The message was pretty simple; we are going to find something that you didn’t know was there and then it's up to you and your doctor about what to do. I said I knew that, but I thought it was important to get a baseline now.
I had the scan. No word from the radiologist yet, but nothing jumped out at the operator, my new friend, other than a few small predictable things that fell into the category of peripheral findings. But knowing he was a fellow traveler in the world of handrolled cigars, I felt a lot more comfortable knowing he was taking an extra long look at the original results. And, as we parted ways, I told him I’d be looking for him at the Big Smoke.
Posted: Oct 9, 2007 2:11pm ETI had one of those cigar moments that we all dream about on Saturday night. My friend had cooked a great meal, we were working our way through a couple of bottles of fine American wines, and the conversation swirled non-stop around the table. The dessert was served, and it was time for one of those fine, old English moments. The women in the group retired to the patio (it was still in the mid-70s at 10 o’clock), and the men stayed at the dinner table.
The humidor was passed, and my friend pointed to a cellophane-wrapped smoke, and said something along the lines of, “I think that one is really old.” The first one I chose was plugged, so he graciously let me light up a second. I began looking at the box, which he brought to me after I exclaimed how good the cigar was. The cigars were Ramon Allones No. 1s. The box was green, and the band was the modern version, so with those two clues, I was able (upon returning to the office) to date the cigar to no earlier than 1972. That date jibes more or less with the smoking habits of my friend’s father, who laid down quite a store of Cubans during the 1970s and 1980s. The cigar was in perfect condition, and in fact, having been in cello, it had not acquired that heavy overlay of cedar notes that many cigars stored in humidors get. I also was careful to note the history of that size, because there were some Ramon Allones sizes that were machine-made during that period; this was a handmade creation.
The cigar had a perfect balance, with a light toasty note, and some light nuttiness on the palate. As it burned down, it began to take on some depth and strength that hadn’t been there at the outset. The No. 1 is like the Montecristo No. 1, so it presents as a classic Lonsdale, six to six and half inches long with a 44 to 46 ring gauge. There wasn’t a hint of harshness in the smoke, and it burned and drew smoothly throughout the hour I smoked it.
My friend doesn’t have many more of those smokes, so I know I had a real treat. But I also was reminded about something very important: a well-made cigar with great tobacco that is properly cared for can last decades without losing its appeal. Yes, it does change in character, but sometimes I think a great old cigar remains closer to its original character than some great old bottles of wine. That’s another story too.
Posted: Oct 5, 2007 10:43am ETNew Yorkers are parochial. We know it. We don’t simply believe that our restaurants are as good as any in the world or in the United States, we know it. It is true that you can eat as well in the five boroughs as you can just about anywhere. But if you travel, and love good food, you also know that today you can be surprised by a great restaurant in almost any city, big or small, across the entire country. America’s food revolution is real.
Case in point. I was a small city of about 26,000 people last month in Ohio about 50 miles south of Cleveland in the middle of a rural farming area. It didn’t take long perusing the yellow pages to figure out that after the Longhorn Steakhouse, which I had eaten at in April, there wasn’t much choice beyond the all too familiar chain eateries that you can find in any shopping strip from California to Maine. But there in the restaurants section was a listing for the South Market Bistro, which the address showed was in the heart of downtown, a classic center of a quaint small American town.
The hostess apologized when I called at 7 p.m. asking for table for three, saying that she didn’t have anything until 8:15. I didn’t tell her in New York they would have laughed at me asking for a table at that hour, especially on a Friday night. Perfect, I said, because it would give us enough time to wash off the 10-hour drive from New York. We walked in at 8:10, and she said the table was being set, which we could see happening. We were seated almost immediately, and handed menus including a wine list. The wines were modest and the list short, but I ordered a half-bottle of a 2005 red Burgundy—yes, you all know by now that’s my favorite—and we began to size up the menu. Trust me. The choices could have been off one of New York’s hottest "in" bistros.
The salad greens and heirloom tomatoes came from local gardens and tasted as if they had started the day in the ground. My pasta with vegetables and a fresh pesto was brilliant. My daughter’s stuffed chicken breast with vegetables and a dusting of white truffle oil was to die for. And my wife’s pork dish was succulent and perfectly prepared. The peach blueberry cobbler that my wife and I shared for dessert held up against the warm chocolate cake that my daughter had.
Posted: Oct 1, 2007 10:28am ET“Take whatever you’d like to smoke.” The words were like magic. The invitation, from my friend who has an extraordinary collection of cigars, is not uncommon, but I never take it for granted. It’s a treat. And I know it.
Well, it turned out that as the invitation was spoken, I spied a box of one of my favorite cigars staring me right in the face: Romeo y Julieta Churchills. Their origin was from that small island nation 90 miles from Key West, so I knew immediately that’s what I wanted to smoke.
But I had more than a little trepidation. All the great benchmark Cuban cigars fell onto hard times when that country ramped up production during the global cigar boom of the mid to late 1990s. The RyJ Churchill was harder hit than most. Frankly, it’s been years since I had one that reminded of the great ones from the early 1990s. At their best, RyJ Churchills are packed with flavors of the earth and cocoa beans, and they are almost always perfectly smooth and well-balanced. I grew more trepidatious when I noticed that the box I was staring at had cigars packed in tubes, which also threw another negative element into the mix: many times, the tubo cigars just aren’t as pretty as regular boxes, because the cigar wrappers aren’t visible until you open the tube.
I lifted up some boxes. The first one was from 2001. I held my breath as I turned over the second one: 1991! I got excited. I knew these cigars were from the heyday of Cuban cigar production. I took one tube out and put the box back.
As I opened it, I did note that the wrapper wasn’t beautiful. The veins were a little thicker than I like, and the wrapper was quite dark. But the oils were intact, and the construction looked perfect.
You’ll read about this cigar in the next Connoisseur’s Corner in the Nov/Dec issue of Cigar Aficionado. I’ll give you a hint. I smoked it for nearly two hours and I wasn’t disappointed, even after lighting it a couple of times because it went out during our conversation, and during forays to check on some stuff online.
Posted: Sep 20, 2007 4:39pm ETIt was 11:30 p.m. last Saturday night. I was sitting on a low, stone wall that surrounds an ancient fireplace in the backyard of my house in Westchester County, New York. I had a half-smoked Tatuaje Taino in one hand, a glass of 1977 Taylor Fladgate Port in the other, and the sweet aromas of my fellow cigar smokers (including my wife puffing away on an OpusX PerfeXcion No. 5) mingling with the aromas from the fireplace.
Yes, the caption on that photo would be: The Good Life.
The occasion was another gathering of a small gourmet club that my wife and I joined about a year ago. Once every three or four months, the dinner takes place at the home of one of the six couples in the group. The host chooses the menu, or theme for the night, and each couple cooks a dish assigned by the host. We’ve done Thai, Indian, Southern, among others. My wife and I chose French, but with a twist; it would be a night of regional cuisine from the Burgundy region, one of my favorite areas of France.
The menu consisted of Gougeres, those yummy little puffs laced with Gruyere cheese; Beef Bourguignon; Chicken Breasts in a Tarragon-Pommery mustard sauce; a Galette Lyonnnais (potatoes and onions and “lots of butter”); a Salade Frisee Aux Lardons (bacon and croutons); a cheese course with two Burgundian cheeses, Langres and a triple cream Delice de Bourgogne; and a Tarte aux Pommes (apple tart) followed by a warm chocolate soufflé, the latter not exactly exclusively Burgundian, but that point, who cared. Every chef hit a home run.
I also took the occasion to dig into my cellar for the red wines, a 2002 Nuits St. Georges aux St. Julien and a 2003 Corton Renardes, and found two white wines from the same communes to match against them, a 2005 Corton Charlemagne, and a rare white Nuit St. Georges Les Perrieres form Henri Gouges. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be very difficult. The 2003 Corton Renardes was showing the best, but both of the whites were also spectacular. But, of course, you’d have to choose any of those over the absolutely perfect 1977 Taylor Port.
Posted: Sep 19, 2007 11:19am ETWhen it rains it pours. Or when you drive fast, you get used to it. This past weekend, I had another Audi, an S4, the little brother to the faster, more explosive RS4.
At first glance, there’s not much difference. There are 18-inch rims instead of 19 inch. And, the exhausts have a little different look too…four pipes instead of two. Even inside, there’s not much difference—each car has a six-speed manual transmission and the full array of Audi electronics. The seats seemed a little plusher in the S4, not quite as sport car hard as the RS4.
The differences lie under the hood. The RS 4 turns out over 420 horsepower, in a special FSI V8. The S4, a mere 340 horsepower, out of the essentially the same 4.2 liter V8. Believe it or not, the rumble of the exhaust is almost identical when you are sitting at a stop light waiting to put it into gear.
Now, this may be heresy to the true sports car lover, but in the end, I preferred the less powerful car, the S4. It is heresy because if you’re into cars, faster and more powerful has to be better. But for me, the perfect car has to have a balance, a harmony between the power and the handling and overall feel of the car. In the RS4, I couldn’t escape the feeling (it was real I later realized) that you always had to keep a tight tether on the car or it would be out of control before you knew it. It’s the kind of car that if you’re not careful when you punch the accelerator to pass a car in front, you better be turning the wheel or you’ll end up with your engine in the car’s trunk. The S4 was just easier to manage on a day to day basis, especially when it involves an urban commute; it’s still got plenty of power, and there’s no doubt that you can pretty much point it and make it do what you want it to do. But while it won’t always outrun those little Porches like the RS4, you can still stay close.
If I lived in Montana, or a Nevada, or someplace where there were more open roads than traffic-filled highways, I might opt for the RS4. But in the big city like New York, the S4 is more than enough car, and ultimately, just a little bit more comfortable because you’re not always fighting to hold it back. And, it’s a shade less than $18,000 cheaper, which can’t be ignored.
Posted: Sep 11, 2007 9:04am ETPorsche Killer II. That image kept jumping into the teenage boy part of my brain every time I punched the accelerator of the Audi RS4 I had for the weekend. I could see the faces in my rear-view mirror, some of them having stayed on the bumper to get a glimpse of exactly what was riding on those 19-inch tires, but by the time they got close enough, I wasn’t close anymore.
The facts: a 420-horsepower V8 in an Audi A4 body. A six-speed manual transmission with a tight, but very precise clutch and gates on the gearbox. Quattro, or for those who don’t know the Audi lingo, all-wheel drive. Combine all those things and a touch of the teenager in your blood, and you can push 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds. But the Audi honchos also describe the engine as having an instantaneous response, which I can attest is true…0 to 60 is nothing in this baby. You can’t believe how quick 60 to 90 happens. In effect, it’s one of those mysterious cars where what you think, happens, when you hit the gas. The car was a beautiful deep Indigo blue (called Mugello Blue Pearl) and had all the interior amenities one would come to expect in a $66,000 car. That’s right. Nearly $30,000 less than a standard Porsche. Oh, and I hasten to mention that if you’re hankering after the new Audi R8, which car lovers have dubbed the real Porsche Killer I, the RS 4 has the same engine and it’s nearly $50,000 less.
One reason that I’ve always loved Audis is that at the pinnacle of their performance series, they are sports cars built for speed but they are also easy to ride in automobiles that you can fit your family into, or as I did this past weekend, the bulk purchases from 30 minutes of shopping at Costco.
Now, I don’t have an RS version in my garage normally, but thanks to the wonders of a “press fleet,” I was lucky enough to have this beast for the weekend. No speeding tickets because I didn’t exceed the speed limit, at least not when I could see a speed limit sign. It is a car that you should lust after.