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).
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?