Posted: Aug 23, 2007 4:35pm ETAugust 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.
Posted: Aug 23, 2007 9:28am ETWithin 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.
Posted: Aug 21, 2007 12:32pm ETWhew. 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.
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?
Posted: Jul 24, 2007 4:37pm ETDinner was raucous, a gathering of friends on a terrace overlooking the 18th green at Sleepy Hollow Country Club. We were all enjoying a great buffet dinner. A beautiful California Chardonnay from Grgich Hills and an excellent Merlot from Franciscan graced the table, and the bottles needed to be replaced more than once. From a couple of nearby tables, I could smell the sweet aroma of cigars. At least four or five people had lit up after dinner, and I knew it was going to be one of those nights for me too.
But I suddenly realized that the bag room was closed for the night, and my cigars for the day were in my golf bag. I ran up to the pro shop, and luckily, two assistant pros were still inside. They had stayed late (it was already after 9 o’clock on a Sunday night) to work on a big outing that was scheduled for the next day. I banged politely on the door, and sheepishly asked if one of them could let me into the storage room to get my cigars. They both smiled, and in short order, I had my cigars and headed back to the terrace.
The sunset was turning the sky into a vivid palette of pinks and purples, laced with some low dark clouds sitting over the Hudson River. A fireworks display from a community fair in a nearby village had a strobe-like effect on horizon. The air was still warm, and there was just a hint of a breeze. I offered the cigars to my friends.
We quickly lit up, and we all sat there past 10:30 smoking, laughing and enjoying the last wisps of the fading sun out over the Hudson. Even though I was smoking a lancero, I kept at it until the cigar was ready to burn my knuckles.
Have any of you had a special night this summer when your cigar transformed the evening into something special?
Posted: Jul 13, 2007 3:12pm ETAndre Schwarz is worried. He’s sitting at the table with me, my wife and daughter in the dining room of his award-winning restaurant and hotel and talking about what’s heading toward him at The Post Hotel. If you’ve been to Lake Louise, Alberta in Canada, then you can’t miss the hotel; it sits just to right of the main intersection at the Samson Mall, just off the exit of the Trans-Canada highway. Its red metal roofs beckon travelers, and with their steep smooth slopes remind everyone that while the place is beautiful in the summer, there’s a ton of snow in the wintertime that creates world class skiing.
That’s why Andre and his brother George came to Lake Louise back in the 70s. They were skiers, and once they arrived from Switzerland, they basically never left. It’s a long story, but they took over what amounted to an aging motel, and transformed it into the Relais et Chateau property that it is today—in other words, it is among the best hotels in the world. The brothers also bought into the idea that great food and wine attract a great crowd, and they have devoted a lot of their investments, and personal passions, to the dining room and the wine cellar. The wine list has received the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award, and it is filled with gems. At the recommendation of the sommelier, my family and I drank a 1998 Clos Vougeot, from the Domaine Gros Frere; it was fabulous. The kitchen focuses on classis dishes with some modern touches, and it excels. For us, those elements of the good life also happen to make The Post a perfect bookend to the week we spent mountain climbing in early July at a nearby mountain valley lodge in Lake O’Hara.
So why was Andre worried? He has one of the nicest cigar-smoking lounges anywhere in North America. It’s just off the main dining room with nice leather chairs, wood paneling and a full range of great spirits, from Cognacs and single malt Scotches to fine Rums. Here are some highlights from his cigar list. The prices are all in Canadian dollars, which once upon a time actually meant somewhere between a 20 and 30 percent discount for Americans; alas, the Canadian dollar is trading at about 95 cents on the U.S. dollar today. But he has Bolivar Royal Coronas at $23, Cohiba Esplendidos, $48, Montecristo No. 1s, $28, El Rey del Mundo Choix Supreme, $23 and San Cristobal de la Habana el Morros, $34. If you need any help deciding on a choice, he lists the Cigar Aficionado ratings of the cigars that we’ve tasted.
Posted: Jul 10, 2007 10:29am ETThe sweet strains of Beatles songs echoed across the green-blue, glacier waters of the lake. High above, the setting sun struck the tops of Mt. Lefroy, Mt. Victoria and Mt. Huber, the light turning their snow covered peaks a faint orange.
Tig and Tony, two baby boomer-aged Canadians, playing guitar, singing golden oldies and drinking Scotch, were holding forth on the balcony of their rustic cabin overlooking Lake O’Hara in the high Canadian Rockies. We and our wives were singing along, all of us in shirt sleeves, which at 6,500 feet in backcountry during the first week of July is pretty rare. I lit up a Don Carlos Lanceros, and leaned back against the cabin wall, letting the smoke drift through the pines and off into the woods. One word kept popping into my head: bliss.
My wife and I have visited Lake O’Hara a number of times; she was on her fifth visit and it was my fourth time. We enticed our 17-year-old daughter along this year as a pre-college celebration trip, and an agreement to spend a day rock-climbing with a guide. Others better versed in the world of mountain valleys simply call it one of the most beautiful Alpine settings anywhere in the world. We go there partly to get away—no phones, no TV, day-old newspapers and access to the area limited by Parks Canada—and partly to explore the half dozen valleys and plateaus that are accessible from the main lodge on the lake, and sit below some of the most beautiful mountain peaks in the Rockies.
We hit the jackpot on the weather. The Canadian Rockies recorded record snowfalls in the winter of 2006/2007, and many trails at the higher elevations were still snow covered last week when we arrived, and some of the high mountain lakes were still frozen. We spent the first three days exploring our favorite trails, “punching” through deep snow in several instances, but finding that the snowmelt was well underway. We were comfortable with our higher climbs, but we did push our daughter out beyond her comfort level several times, once on a steeply angled scree slope (one step up usually means a step sliding back on small loose rocks) and once on a expansive field of slate chunks leading up to a ridge looming as a barrier above our heads. There were long walks through mountain forests, and then climbs to plateaus where the vistas back toward Lake O’Hara and the mountains surrounding it were breathtaking.
Posted: Jun 25, 2007 11:00am ETI wanted a cigar Saturday night. It was one of those evenings that at the end of the summer, people in the Hudson Valley will say, “Do you remember that Saturday evening in mid-June?” It was perfect. Mid-70s. Low humidity. A crystalline blue sky. My wife and I had just finished a dinner of grilled lamb chops, roasted spicy yam frites and steamed asparagus on our terrace. I hadn’t smoked in 10 days because of a knock-you-down- to-your-knees respiratory virus that was accompanied by successive nights of a hacking cough. But I was fully recovered and I wasn’t going to waste the fading dusk hours after sunset without having a smoke on the back patio.
I went to my humidor, and stood there in front of it, pausing to consider what kind of cigar I wanted. I looked in a couple of bins where I have a mix of vintage cigars—like I said, I was ready to go all out. There was a lonsdale, with a Cuban-style cap, and it had a medium, reddish-brown, or colorado color and a silky wrapper. I wracked my brain trying to remember who had given me the cigar; it was a singleton, and without the band I didn’t have a clue what it was or for that matter, with any certainty, where it was from. But I thought it looked good so I grabbed it.
The smoke from the unknown cigar quickly filled the back patio. I was struck by the cigar’s smooth texture, and its full body, as well as its perfect draw and burn. There was a core of spiciness and a rich coffee bean note that lingered on my palate. I realized that it was probably one of the best cigars that I’ve smoked in the last 12 months. My wife exclaimed that the aroma was wonderful, and since she was downwind, that was a good thing because she was sitting amid the swirling clouds of smoke. Since I didn’t actually know what the cigar was, it could still be rated as a blind tasting, but it would be unfair to give too much credence to the final score—the subjective pleasure of an evening like Saturday might have turned a cheap bundle cigar into a 95 pointer. But nonetheless, the cigar was a classic, a 95-point plus smoke.
Posted: Jun 18, 2007 9:58am ETI don’t want this blog to always be about cigars. And since I’ve been battling a nasty little respiratory flu bug the last 10 days, I don’t have a lot of current smoking anecdotes, although a friend of mine came over last night and I gave him one of my La Aurora Cien Años…the aroma was delicious and I was envious that he was smoking it and not me.
This past weekend, I requested one of the new model Audi TT roadsters, which was available in that wonderful world of “press fleet” cars that are available for journalists to try out and write about. The sleek little bubble of a car now has a 3.2 liter engine option, coupled with a six-speed manual transmission. That’s the same engine that Audi’s bigger sedan, the A6, has under the hood. The engine/transmission combo has turned the little roadster into one of the hottest two-seaters on the road.
I drove it out of Manhattan last Friday afternoon, which is a day during the summer when the rush hour exodus begins about 1:30 in the afternoon. I didn’t get started until past 2:30, so the first 45 minutes in the car were spent creeping up the West Side Highway, a distance of about six miles. That may sound like highway hell, but in fact, it has taken me twice as long to go that distance on some summer Fridays. I felt like I was ahead of the game.
The first time I had any road room in front of me, I punched the accelerator and felt the car jump out from under me. As I went into the first curve on the Henry Hudson Parkway just north of the George Washington Bridge, I thought about touching the brakes, but the car was hugging to the road like glue and I just stayed on the gas. It was a revelation how solid this car felt throughout the curve. As I pulled into a toll booth (I’d forgotten my E-Z pass at home that day), I rolled down the window, and the toll taker, all notoriously cranky in the New York area, smiled and said, “Man, that is one bright red car.” Well, OK, so it wasn’t exactly staid and invisible.
Posted: Jun 13, 2007 11:37am ETI will start this blog by making a full disclosure. In writing about this subject, I’m violating my own standards set years ago when we first started doing tons of picture pages in the magazine. Every June, I would get a stack of pictures from graduating high school students, holding up cigars in their caps and gowns, or blazers and chinos. You could presume many were 18 at their high school ceremonies, so in many states, they weren’t violating the law. But we just didn’t feel it was appropriate to print those pictures, given all the criticism the tobacco industry takes for marketing to kids.
My resolve vanished last Saturday morning, the day of my daughter’s high school graduation. As were making some final preparations around the house for the avalanche of family and friends about to descend on us, my daughter sidled up to me and sweetly asked, “Dad, would you pick out a cigar for me today?” OK, I admit it, as the executive editor of Cigar Aficionado, it was music to my ears. Now, as it turns out in the aftermath, I have discovered that at many high schools, especially private schools on the East Coast, the post-graduation ceremony tradition of lighting a cigar is very widespread. I should have known given all those pictures and, in fact, it seems like a pretty harmless way of saying to the various school authorities that they have no more claim on your behavior.
I asked her a few open-ended questions about what size or shape she wanted, but immediately realized that if she actually had an answer for me, I probably wasn’t going to be entirely happy with the fact that she had an answer. So I interrupted and told her that I had just the cigar for her. Years ago, the Fuente family sent my wife a box of her favorite cigar, the Fuente Fuente OpusX Perfecxion No. 5, which I have always believed is one of the greatest petit coronas ever made. Now, they have more than 10 years box age on them, and thanks to the Fuentes, the ones I have come with a cellophane that touts them as my wife’s private stock with her name. I figured her mother’s private stock would be prefect for my daughter’s first cigar (to my knowledge).