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).
Posted: Jun 5, 2007 11:57am ETI read James Suckling’s blog today about the H. Upmann Magnum 46. Just by chance, this past weekend, I also smoked one that was given to me by a friend on the golf course. It is a luscious cigar. The reddish-brown “Colorado” wrapper was every bit as appealing as the cigar itself. Deep and rich, and filled with earthy, spicy flavors. Before I’d read James blog, I had thought to myself on the course that it was 92 point cigar, at least.
When I read Mr. Suckling’s blog, I figured that his had some box age on them, since the cigars had been purchased by Gerard Pere et Fils in Geneva from a stash he’d put down a year ago. It reminded me that my comment to my friend on Sunday was that while the cigar was great, I thought it could still benefit from a year or so of aging to smooth out. I suggested that it was probably new production. Since I know my friend’s supplier, I checked with them. In fact, the cigars are probably from about the same batch as the one Mr. Suckling smoked, either February or May 2006.
There have been some questions about the age-ability of cigars on the Cigaraficionado.com forums recently, and how one determines whether or not a cigar needs a bit of time. Not all cigars have the quality to age, so it is a valid question. And, since reading those threads on the website, I’ve been paying very close attention to how I make those distinctions.
The cigar I had this weekend, while wonderful, and filled with a ton of flavor, also started out with what felt like just a touch of harshness on the back of my palate, on the far back roof of my mouth. It just seemed to be a little “hot;” Not burning hot, but a bit out of balance. As the cigar burned down, and began to smooth out, that tinge of harshness vanished. I almost always associate that disappearance with a young cigar, and given everything else being positive–flavor, performance etc.–-an indication
Posted: May 30, 2007 10:53am ETYou find the most interesting things in the most interesting places. I was traveling in the Philippines in November, 1986, with my wife, who was spending two weeks in Manila on a business trip for an American bank. I was living in Paris, writing and freelancing, and the opportunity to take my first trip to Asia was irresistible. Although we stayed at one of the many modern business style hotels away from the waterfront in Manila, we still got a taste of what life is like there.
One evening, we went to the Manila Hotel for a fancy dinner in a very turn of the century style setting. The grand hotel had been around since the early 1900s, situated with views of Manila Bay, and was the unofficial headquarters for General Douglas MacArthur at the start of World War II. I had been told by local ex-pats that I had to try the “cigar service.” So, after a perfectly fine meal, I asked our waiter if I could have a cigar. He smiled and said yes, and within a few minutes, a young Filipino woman in a white sarong appeared trailed by a young man pushing a cart with a humidor, a bottle of Cognac and some cedar spills. She opened the humidor and asked what I would like. Frankly, I don’t have a splinter of a memory about which cigar I picked. You’ll understand.
She then asked if she could prepare the cigar for me. I said sure. She held the cigar lightly in her slim fingers with elegant manicured nails. She took a cutter and gently clipped off the end of the cigar. She then began—for lack of a better term—massaging the cigar, running her hands and fingers up and down its length…well, this is a public web site so I’m not going into any more details about what she did, or my reaction to it. Let’s just say I was having a hard time figuring out whether I was glad my wife was sitting next to me, or not so glad. She also dipped the cigar head in the Cognac, and finally lit it slowly with the cedar spill. I didn’t stop her from doing anything to that cigar.
Posted: May 24, 2007 2:05pm ETMy wife and I recently attended the Governor’s Ball at Sleepy Hollow Country Club, where I am fortunate enough to be a member. It’s an old, traditional country club with a golf course that was built in 1911, and a mansion/clubhouse constructed by one of the great industrialists in the early part of the 20th Century. Tuxedos and gowns are perfect in the grand old setting.
The ball is always a pleasant evening with good camaraderie and good food. The evening fetes the new members and the members who are celebrating their 25th anniversaries in the club. It’s a great way to meet new people that you don’t run across during a weekend round of golf, or on the driving range.
After dinner, I was standing in the foyer getting ready to leave, and a friend of mine walked up and said what I had been thinking for the last 30 minutes. “Isn’t it a shame we can’t have a cigar?” he said. I nodded in agreement and muttered something about it being just another sign of the times.
But I couldn’t help reflecting later on the idea that for nearly 100 years, that grand old mansion had been the scene of a lot of great cigar-smoking evenings. The club catered to both formal and informal gatherings in a setting tailor-made for sharing a smoke with a group of friends. Now, even though it is a private club, no smoking is allowed anywhere inside the building. Wait. It gets worse. There’s a large terrace, covered by an overhead awning that’s 20 feet high at its peak, and completely open to the outdoors. You can’t smoke under the awning, but sit just outside the physical outline of the awning, and you can light up. Crazy.
For now, we have to abide by the laws of the State of New York. But after that night, I couldn’t help but think again, when are going to be able to restore some sanity to the smoking in public debate?
Posted: May 21, 2007 2:39pm ETI don’t often have time to enjoy an ‘A’ size cigar. Most are nine inches long by a 47 ring gauge, and smoking one is a commitment of well over an hour, even if you’re working hard at it. But that would defeat the purpose.
A few years ago, I was heading off on a golf expedition to La Costa in Carlsbad, California with a winemaker friend of mine from Northern California. We stayed at the La Costa Resort, and had rounds of golf scheduled over two days.
So, after dinner on day one, I said, “I brought an OpusX ‘A,’ knowing that he was a big fan of the ultra-premium label from the Arturo Fuente company. It didn’t take him more than a second to say sure, and we retired to the veranda overlooking the golf course, and the surrounding low hills of the La Costa area.
At the time, the ‘A’ had only been presented in charity auctions, and I had been lucky enough to receive a few directly from Carlos Fuente Jr. It was great gift, and I had been hoarding the cigars like a cache of Fort Knox gold. (I still have a handful to this day.)
We lit up the monster cigars. My first thought focused on the cigar’s smoothness and elegance. To my taste, OpusX cigars can sometimes be a bit strong, but this was absolutely without a hint of harshness. I can still remember that blend of earthiness with spice, as I thought to myself, this is one of the greatest cigars I have ever smoked.
It remains one of my top five cigars of all time. And I can’t wait for another perfect moment to light up one of those beautiful, long smokes.
Posted: May 14, 2007 12:11pm ETIn 1986, I was living in France, trying to earn a living as a freelance writer. Through some old contacts, I wrote a number of pieces for the New York Times Travel section. On a whim, I proposed a story for a column that always ran on the last page of the section, usually a personal reminiscence about some experience in some far-flung place. I suggested a piece about dining in France, and how a cigar was an integral part of the three-star restaurant firmament: it ran in October 1986 and was headlined, “Where a Cigar Becomes More than A Smoke.”
If I recall, I received all of $250 for the piece, which didn’t cover the personal expenses of the dining, or the cigars. But I was thrilled to get it published, and, given my growing fondness for a great cigar, I figured I was ahead of the game. The assignment also provided a good excuse to make friends with Marc Meneau at L’Esperance in Vezelay, France, at the time one of France’s great three-star restaurants on the edge of northern Burgundy. In our interview, he actually taught me some things about cigars, including the role that a milder cigar can play at certain times of the day.
But like any journalist, the piece was written and pretty much forgotten, relegated to my clip book as an example of what kind of writing and reporting I could do.
Little did I know that the article would change my life.
Four years later, to put it kindly, I was floundering a bit, trying to combine my professional expertise with some personal passion too. I had dabbled again in the news biz (Newsweek), a fledgling on-line company and a trade publication. Nothing worked very well. In a series of serendipitous events, however, I ended up at lunch during December 1989 with a search firm representative who I had been using to hire young journalists. In recounting my career in that brisk once-over kind of way, she said, “Wow, I have a job YOU might be interested in.”
Posted: May 7, 2007 10:17am ETFinally, the Northeast had a golf weekend to remember, the first of 2007 (if you don’t count January 6th when it was 70 degrees). Since I started playing golf in 1995, we have never had a later start to the spring season. This weekend was warm and pleasant, although it did cool off a bit on Sunday. But hey, 55 and sunny is better than snow, even if the wind was whipping up to a two-club level sometimes.
I also had my first golf course cigar late on Friday afternoon, a well-aged La Aurora 100 Años. It smoked great, and had enough flavor to stand up to the outdoors. I gave my playing partner, a guy who I joined up with on the first tee, a robusto from Montecristo, a non-Cuban cigar that was specially made for a golf tournament a few years back—it has a Habanos2000 wrapper and has aged beautifully. We both enjoyed every puff as the late afternoon sun set over the Hudson River on our club’s course. It didn’t hurt that I had my best round in over a year.
Sunday was the nippy day, and again, I had a few cigar cases in my bag. There was not one “predictable” cigar in there. I do play golf with a lot of Wall Street guys, and men who have the wherewithal to buy whatever cigar they want, and many are on a first name basis with some of the world’s great retailers of Cuban cigars. But I hate to be predictable. I’m more likely to stock those cigar cases with some aged A. Fuentes, an old Padrón, a new brand like Tatuaje, or a La Flor Dominicana or some other premium non-Cuban cigar. My ploy is simple. I want to surprise them with the quality and taste of cigars that some of them are not prone to try.
What do you smoke on the golf course? Are you looking to impress your partners with some well-known illegal smoke, or are you willing to dig deep into your humidor and surprise someone with a nicely aged cigar that you’ve been waiting to savor and that you can buy down the street at your friendly neighborhood tobacconist?