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Gordon Mott

Fast Fun II

Posted: Sep 19, 2007 11:19am ET
When 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.
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Fast Fun

Posted: Sep 11, 2007 9:04am ET
Porsche 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.
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Smokin’ in Saratoga Springs

Posted: Sep 4, 2007 2:34pm ET
The streets were jammed with strollers, enjoying the weather on an absolutely perfect Labor Day weekend in downtown Saratoga Springs, N.Y. My wife and I were out on Broadway, walking our Belgian Sheepdog, Chloe, and taking in the afternoon scene. We stopped into the Putnam Wine Market to see our friend William Roach (see July/August Cigar Aficionado, pg. 41) and then went to check out the expansion at the best bakery in North America, Mrs. London’s. As we ambled back toward the apartment, the breeze picked up and I got the unmistakable aroma of a cigar. I always scan the surroundings to see who’s smoking, but in this case, I couldn’t see anybody holding a stogie, but the scent of tobacco kept getting stronger.

On the corner of Broadway and Phila Street, just across from the stately Adelphi Hotel, I spied the Park Lane Tobacconist sign. And, inside the front door, there were people smoking, one with a pipe. I walked in. I could tell immediately that the shop had been built by people who understood the joys of a great cigar. The humidor was filled to the brim with outstanding smokes; all the most sought after brands were there. I picked up a couple of Tatuaje Tainos and went out to the counter. The dark wood shelves and the big overstuffed leather chairs gave the feel of a real gentleman’s club, but the windows looking on the Broadway gave the place a open feel too.

Park Lane was new this summer, which explains why I had never seen it. I go to Saratoga Springs frequently because my wife has family there. This summer was occupied with other things so we hadn’t visited in awhile. In the past, I’ve enjoyed the Saratoga Cigar and Pipe shop, which is an institution in the city, but it’s not within walking distance of downtown. Now, there’s a place to enjoy all the pleasures of one of America’s most quaint resort downtowns, and still have a cigar.

Check it out this fall. I’m sure you’ll agree.
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Dream Cigar Spot

Posted: Aug 31, 2007 11:04am ET
Have you ever found yourself in a spot where you realize that it is the perfect location to have a cigar…and you didn’t have one with you? It happened to me last Saturday. Now, I didn’t have a cigar because it was a lunch at a restaurant in New York State, which means No Smoking, No Way. And, the forecast was for 100 degree temperatures, so I wasn’t eager to sweat it out outside just to smoke. And I wasn’t that far from home, so I knew if the urge hit the party, we could always retire to my house.

But as I entered the property, my first thought was, ‘What a perfect place to enjoy a cigar!”

The place is called Monteverde at Oldstone Manor, a newly renovated restaurant and spa with rooms that overlook the Hudson River just north of the town of Peekskill. The establishment had a long, and undistinguished, history up until about a year ago when an investor bought the property. He is now in the process of transforming it into a world-class destination with a top-notch restaurant. The lunch was great. The vistas were spectacular.

And, the next day, I called my friend who is the general manager there, Glen Vogt. Glen was formerly at Windows on the World, and, is one of the restaurant world’s great people. I asked him, “So what are you going to do about your cigar program? “He laughed, and said, “yeah, did you see the gazebo area, wouldn’t that be perfect?”

So we have a date. I’m going to bring some of my favorite cigars. He’ll supply the adult beverage, and we’ll sit on the lawn overlooking the Hudson talking about how best to capitalize on Monteverde’s unique allure to cigar smokers.

I’ll let you know what happens.

Have you ever had that reaction to a place? And, what did you do about it?
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Your Industry     

Posted: Aug 29, 2007 12:13pm ET
One of the great features of the cigar industry is how small it is. Yes, there are two very large publicly owned companies (Altadis and Swedish Match) that are big players, but the majority of the rest of the companies are family or individually owned. Some of the latter aren’t that small any more, but it is an industry where everyone who does business in it knows just about everybody else. Even the big companies are run by people who have spent their entire lives working with cigars, so it’s not like they are just anonymous suits; they have friendships that go back decades.

Now, the staff of Cigar Aficionado has the same kind of relationships. At RTDA, where myself and other editors of Cigar Aficionado were in attendance in August, it was impossible to walk down an aisle of booths without stopping to say hello to someone. The industry’s size also makes things possible like the annual Ashton dinners, which are held in a fine restaurant usually near the convention site.

Over the course of three nights, if you are an Ashton retailer, or a friend of the company, you get invited to partake in a wonderful evening of camaraderie, and in an expression of thanks to the retailers who support the brand all year long. There are usually more than  200 people at each of the three nights.

Robbie Levin is the owner of the Ashton brand, and of Holt’s in Philadelphia. He’s spent his entire life in the cigar business. And while it’s a huge expense to run these dinners every year (he won’t let on how much), he says it is truly is a way to say thanks to the retailers, who are the heart and soul of the cigar business. But he also showcases his salespeople; Chip Goldeen and Manny Ferrero are the evening’s MCs (Manny’s toasts are the stuff of legend), and there are always a lot of laughs. Manny also takes great pride in choosing the menus, and selecting the wines.
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Starry, Starry Night

Posted: Aug 26, 2007 11:07am ET
August 12th is always one of my favorite days of the year. It’s my daughter’s birthday. And, it is night for the annual Perseid meteor shower. Every year, I prepare her meal of choice: (fresh-made pesto on pasta, caprese salad with fresh mozzarella, and sweet corn from a farm stand.) And, after the birthday cake (this year, a Triple Mousse Majesty – all chocolate -- from the Black Dog Bakery in Martha’s Vineyard), we stay awake until the shower starts to pick up steam at about 1 a.m. Since it was her 18th this year, she invited some of her girlfriends to join her on the Vineyard, and we had a real party on a screened-in porch decorated with balloons and lanterns and a full spread on the tables. It was one of the last hurrahs before they all disappeared into their post-high school lives in college or gap years doing interesting things.


The girls headed to a nearby beach to view the celestial show, and my wife and I set up on the second floor veranda of our rental house, which has a huge sky panorama looking north and west. By the time all the festivities were over, and the kitchen cleaned up, it was 11 o’clock.

Let me just say in the all the years that I’ve been sky-watching, this August 12th was about the most perfect night I have ever experienced. The sky was dark except for the stars because of a new moon, and a cold front had moved through overnight Saturday which completely cleared the air. Even with the Northeast megalopolis sitting just to our West, the Milky Way was brilliant and the smallest orbiting satellite was visible sliding across the sky.

I haven’t always had a cigar on shooting star night, but this year, I yearned for a great smoke. I rummaged through my travel humidor, knowing what I was looking for—A Don Carlos Lancero. I lit it up, and poured myself another glass of a 2005 red Burgundy, and laid my head back on the lounger to gaze at the stars. My wife sipped on her own glass of wine, laying back on the deck on a single Aerobed. Given the cool but blessedly light ocean breezes off of the Vineyard Sound, we were bundled up against the midnight chill. The wind was light enough that the aroma of my cigar lingered on the deck.

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Starry, Starry Night

Posted: Aug 23, 2007 4:35pm ET
August 12th is always one of my favorite days of the year. It’s my daughter’s birthday. And, it is night for the annual Perseid meteor shower. Every year, I prepare her meal of choice: (fresh-made pesto on pasta, caprese salad with fresh mozzarella, and sweet corn from a farm stand.) And, after the birthday cake (this year, a Triple Mousse Majesty – all chocolate -- from the Black Dog Bakery in Martha’s Vineyard), we stay awake until the shower starts to pick up steam at about 1 a.m. Since it was her 18th this year, she invited some of her girlfriends to join her on the Vineyard, and we had a real party on a screened-in porch decorated with balloons and lanterns and a full spread on the tables. It was one of the last hurrahs before they all disappeared into their post-high school lives in college or gap years doing interesting things.

The girls headed to a nearby beach to view the celestial show, and my wife and I set up on the second floor veranda of our rental house, which has a huge sky panorama looking north and west. By the time all the festivities were over, and the kitchen cleaned up, it was 11 o’clock.

Let me just say in the all the years that I’ve been sky-watching, this August 12th was about the most perfect night I have ever experienced. The sky was dark except for the stars because of a new moon, and a cold front had moved through overnight Saturday which completely cleared the air. Even with the Northeast megalopolis sitting just to our West, the Milky Way was brilliant and the smallest orbiting satellite was visible sliding across the sky.

I haven’t always had a cigar on shooting star night, but this year, I yearned for a great smoke. I rummaged through my travel humidor, knowing what I was looking for—A Don Carlos Lancero. I lit it up, and poured myself another glass of a 2005 red Burgundy, and laid my head back on the lounger to gaze at the stars. My wife sipped on her own glass of wine, laying back on the deck on a single Aerobed. Given the cool but blessedly light ocean breezes off of the Vineyard Sound, we were bundled up against the midnight chill. The wind was light enough that the aroma of my cigar lingered on the deck.
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The Cigar Tax's Silver Lining

Posted: Aug 23, 2007 9:28am ET
Within a few weeks, cigar smokers of America will know whether or not they are going to get socked with a huge new tax on their favorite product. The subject was on everybody’s mind at the RTDA trade show in early August in Houston. Everywhere you turned, small groups of manufacturers were huddled together in serious conversation, trying to strategize about the best ways to tackle the problem, and get legislators in Washington to listen to their plight.

The good news, from my point of view anyway, is that for the first time, individual manufacturers and retailers were seizing the initiative to work on a common problem. The Cigar Association of America has always done a stellar job of lobbying and protecting the industry’s interest, but again, from my point of view, the organization often had to pressure their individual members to join in the fight of the moment.

There’s no reluctance anymore. You heard words like disaster, catastrophe, killer, all lumped together in conversation about the new tax. And the realization that this could be a huge hit on the industry really did get everyone motivated.

There seems to be a drive for the cigar industry to remain unified in this fight. And that’s got to be good for the entire industry, and for all cigar smokers today. If your retailer has been pushing you to write your congressman, now is the time to do it. Many of you have probably even seen some local  events where your congressman  will be in attendance; they are on recess right now. Seek them out. They need to hear face to face that cigar smokers should not be asked to shoulder an unfair proportion of this new tax. The more our voices are heard, the better the final result with be for us.

Now is the time.
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Back in the Saddle

Posted: Aug 21, 2007 12:32pm ET
Whew.  I’m back at work after an extended break, which included four days in the middle of my vacation getting to and from and attending  the RTDA convention. There were also 10 days on Martha’s Vineyard, and three days getting my daughter off to college in Ohio. I’ll need another three weeks to recover from the latter event. Giving you my calendar for the last three weeks is a preamble to letting you know that I have bunch of blogs coming about cigars I smoked, people I saw, thoughts I have about the cigar industry and a few anecdotes about cigars in general. I’m going to start with one of those stories.

My favorite cigar moment of the last month was on Martha’s Vineyard, and it wasn’t even a cigar that I was smoking. A good friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous to protect his privacy, owns one of the greatest pieces of real estate in the United States. He had been a long-time cigar smoker, but he had quit for a few years. He had told me last year that he had started smoking the occasional cigar, but I figured it was for celebratory events. 

My family and I were invited to share the man’s beach on our first weekend in Martha’s Vineyard, but he warned me that he was going to be busy with a meeting so just head on down to the beach. I was sitting there on a one of the most beautiful stretches of beach on the island when I caught the unmistakable aroma of a fine, handrolled cigar. I stood up and started looking around and there was no one on the beach for more than half a mile in either direction. I turned around and scanned the top of the cliffs that tower about 50 feet above the beach. There, sitting in a three-seat glider, was my friend puffing away on a cigar with the intermittent cloud of smoke coming out over the Cliffside. His gaze was fixed on the view out over the ocean, lost in a private moment of reverie.

I gave him a few more minutes of privacy, then I climbed up the wooden stairs to his perch, and spoke briefly with him. He waxed poetically about his cigar, which I had commented on, and he admitted that he had started smoking again. I didn’t ask how frequently,  but he had another one lit when we finally left the beach a couple of hours later.
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My Greatest Cigars

Posted: Jul 27, 2007 11:41am ET

My recent vacation in the Canadian Rockies reminded me of another of the greatest cigars I have ever smoked.

It was in 2000, and I was at Lake O'Hara for the first time. My wife and I stayed in the main lodge building, which has about a dozen rooms and communal baths on a second floor that looks out on the main floor where there is a fireplace, a sitting area and the dining room. On the outside of the building there are a couple of porches, one of them right at the entrance.

I had traveled there with a 1492, one of the greatest cigars ever produced in Cuba to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the island's discovery by Christopher Columbus. It was a small corona sized cigar, and it was only sold in humidors that contained 50 cigars. My boss, Marvin R. Shanken, had given me one from one of the humidors that he purchased.

The weather wasn't great that year with a lot of cold weather, and there were thick patches of snow still on the hiking trails and covering the surrounding mountains. Finally, near the end of the five days of hiking, I bundled up in my fleece and a windbreaker and, after dinner, moved out to the porch. I lit up the 1492 and was immediately struck by what a powerful, yet well balanced smoke I had in my hands. It was filled with the pungent, earthy flavors that used to always mark a great Cuban cigar. That's about all I remember about the cigar. I smoked more than half of it, but then the chill began to win out, and I went back inside the lodge building to sit by the fire.

But I will always remember that 1492.

Does anyone else have memories of their greatest cigars?

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