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David Savona

Smoking With John Starks

Posted: Oct 15, 2008 3:25pm ET
Few people have dunked over Michael Jordan. One man who did—and did it emphatically, in a big game situation—is John Starks.

If you watched New York Knicks basketball in the 1990s, you know John Starks very well. He was the dynamic, damn the torpedoes, full-speed ahead shooting guard for the Pat Riley era Knickerbockers, and he played with fire, passion and guts. Playing alongside Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley, Starks and the Knicks came thisclose to an NBA crown.

I remember the dunk. It was the 1993 playoffs. With under a minute left in the game, Starks had the ball along the right side of the court and was being guarded by B.J. Armstrong. He saw an opening and took off along the baseline for the basket, dribbling with his right hand, and soared over Horace Grant as Jordan came in to help defend. Starks switched the ball to his left hand, soaring incredibly high for a guy listed at 6’5” tall, dunking over the Bulls with authority. It’s one of the most exciting plays I’ve ever watched.

I knew Starks had a great basketball game, but I only found out he enjoyed cigars the other day when I spoke to his business associate, Gary Basciano. Starks loves his smokes so much that he’s coming out with his own cigar brand called Dominican Legends. He came by the Cigar Aficionado offices the other day so I could try one of the new smokes. Here we are chatting about them:



The smoke was very pleasant: Cameroon wrapper around a Dominican binder and a mix of Dominican and Nicaraguan filler. The cigars are made by Eddy Zarzuela, who owns E. Zarzuela Cigars in the Pisano Free Zone in Santiago.

I enjoyed the smoke. It had a substantial amount of flavor without being overpowering, and was extremely pleasant. A nice cigar. It will be on the market next month.
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Smoking a New Oliva

Posted: Oct 8, 2008 11:24am ET
Oliva Cigar Co. has been making cigars since 1995, but it really popped up on my radar screen three years ago when I noticed their value-priced cigars scoring well in Cigar Insider and Cigar Aficionado. The one that really caught my interest was a $4.50 robusto called the Oliva “O” Classic Olé. It was named our No. 9 Cigar of the Year in January 2006. You have to love a world-class cigar with a suggested retail price of less than $5.

Oliva has been doing very well lately, and last year the company took the No. 4 slot on our Top 25 with the release of the Oliva Serie V line. Last week, Oliva vice president Jose Oliva came by the Cigar Aficionado office to show me what he calls “the maduro interpretation” of the cigar, the new Oliva Serie V Maduro Especial. It’s made with a Connecticut broadleaf wrapper around Nicaraguan filler and binder, and it’s pretty damn tasty. I shot a little video of the cigar, about ten minutes into the smoke, and had Jose talk about it. Check it out.



Broadleaf takes me back to my roots. Back when I was in college, I smoked Muniemaker Breva 100s, machine-made cigars (100 percent tobacco machine mades, not the type made with a zillion flavorings, the ones that are wrapped with something that looks like brown paper) that were wrapped in dark, rugged broadleaf. So I tend to enjoy the sweet, rugged flavor broadleaf imparts to a cigar.

The Serie V Maduro is excellent. It has some cocoa, coffee bean and raisin flavors, with a lot of spice. I found it delicious. It burned beautifully and was exceptionally well made. I didn’t score it, but it would have done well.

The first Serie V maduros will ship next week. You can read a little more about the cigars in yesterday’s Cigar Insider.
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A New Way of Lighting

Posted: Sep 29, 2008 4:07pm ET
I thought I had witnessed just about every way you can light a cigar—matches, lighters, cedar spills, candles (bad), gas stovetops (effective in a pinch)—but I heard of a new twist on Saturday night.

My wife and I went to a casual dinner party not too far from home. The rain held off, so most of the men gathered in the nighttime air for cocktails and hors d’oveurs. I only knew a couple of the people at the party. I met a gentleman named Rob who works in sports management, who is quite the fan of Montecristo No. 2 cigars.

We spoke about cigars for a bit and Rob told me about a trip to a small chalet in Switzerland several years back. He ordered a post-dinner Monte 2.

The cigar sommelier brought out a humidor, selected the proper cigar, clipped it, and lit it with a cedar spill. Nothing unusual so far. But instead of blowing on the lit foot, the sommelier extended his arm, the cigar held in his hand, and began making ever-larger arcs with the smoldering figurado. After a few passes back and forth, he ceremoniously whipped the cigar in a circle, again and again, adding air to the foot.

He handed the cigar to Rob, who took a puff—the cigar was perfectly (and elaborately) lit.

It sounds to me like the cigar version of sabering open a bottle of Champagne. (Or a way to get a little exercise before you smoke.) I’ve never heard of a cigar being lit this way. Has anyone ever tried it?
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Left Behind

Posted: Sep 16, 2008 11:42am ET
So I get the chance to play this great golf course the other day: Quaker Ridge in Scarsdale, New York. One of America’s greatest tracks, according to Golf Digest magazine. And to top it off, I was playing with Marvin Shanken and Gordon Mott, plus my coworker James Molesworth, a senior editor at the Wine Spectator.

I brought along a few baggies of cigars. I had a variety of smokes: Padilla La Perla 1932s, one of my favorite small cigars; Tatuaje RC 233s, big, bold monsters that are absolutely gorgeous; an Oliva Serie V Torpedo, a really nice, flavorful smoke, and a few random milder ones in case anyone wanted a break from the heavy stuff.

It was a stolen day, bright and sunny, if just a bit windy. It could easily have been a rainout, with the remnants of Hurricane Ike storming north and (thankfully) west of us. I get to the driving range and hit a few balls to work out the kinks in my game, then reach into my bag for a cutter and lighter.

No dice. I had packed enough cigars to supply an all-night poker game, but I didn’t have a lighter or a cutter. Not even a match. Whenever I leave the house, I usually grab a lighter and a cutter. When I’m heading to some cigar-smoking venue, I typically bring two lighters, just in case the first one runs out of juice. (You’d be surprised how often that happens.) But for whatever reason, on this day I left without grabbing anything.

And my backup lighter and cutter wasn’t where they were supposed to be, in the small, highest pocket on my golf bag. Nothing in there except for tees and ball markers. Try lighting a cigar with one of those.

Ugh.

Given what I do for a living, this is pretty inexcusable. Given that I recently filmed a video on the very subject of what cutter and lighter to bring to a golf course? Absolutely pathetic.
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Sharing a Smoke With Charlie Toraño

Posted: Sep 4, 2008 10:10am ET
Charlie Toraño came by the office today. Charlie is the president of Toraño Cigars, and his family is one of the leading families of cigars and tobacco. Back in the pre-embargo days, the Toraños grew tons of great wrapper tobacco in Cuba. After losing their farms to the Cuban Revolution, the Toraños were responsible for helping grow tobacco in the Dominican Republic and Honduras. They were true pioneers.

Today the Toraños make cigars in Honduras and Nicaragua, and Charlie brought along one of their newest, the Carlos Toraño Tribute 2008.

If you’ve enjoyed earlier versions of Tribute, you might have wondered where the heck they are—the last one went on sale in 2004. This is a limited-edition product the Toraños come out with on occasion, and they’ve waited four years to release this one.

They’ve stepped up the blend a bit with the ’08 version. It has a dark wrapper from the Mata Fina region of Brazil, a Nicaraguan binder leaf and a mix of Nicaraguan fillers from Estelí and Jalapa.

We lit them up after lunch, and the cigar gave me a very quick first impression of black pepper spice. It then warmed up nicely to grow more balanced, with the zippy pepper framed by an underlying sweetness. It has hard wood notes, a touch of raisin flavor and a heavy cedar component, probably from the six months of age the cigar has. It burned perfectly.

I caught a familiar flavor in the sweet note and asked Charlie if the binder was from the Pueblo Nuevo farm in Nicaragua. It is—this is a proprietary Toraño/C.A.O. farm that grows very nice tobacco with a good sweet component.

I shot a little video of the cigar and Charlie explaining what makes it special. Take a look:





The cigar goes on sale in October. Charlie is proud of it: “You get the best of the tobacco we have,” he said.
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The CRA Freedom Tour—Day Three

Posted: Aug 22, 2008 2:33pm ET
Chicago: It’s one of my favorite places in the entire world. Now that we no longer can do a Cigar Aficionado Big Smoke, I don’t travel here very often, so I was happy to get back to the Windy City.

After joining up with the rest of the team at the hotel lobby, those of us who weren’t too exhausted from the road headed out to Jack Schwartz and Iwan Reis, a pair of great Chicago retailers. We puffed away on cigars (naturally) and I joined Litto Gomez in a La Flor Dominicana 2000 Series No. 3, a great small smoke. Jack Schwartz is a small shop with a phenomenal selection, and a couple of smoking chairs plus a rail with chairs. Iwan Reis is a gargantuan shop, with a new smoking lounge that’s very spacious. Half the cigar industry was in there yesterday—Christian Eiroa, Nick Perdomo, Tim Ozgener, Litto Gomez, Jorge Padrón, Robert Levin, Peter Baenninger, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Jose Oliva, Rocky Patel, Jonathan Drew, and the CRA organizer Keith Park.

Being in Chicago means I need to stop in the Italian Village, a homey, old school red-sauce Italian near the financial district. I ordered pasta arribirata with meatballs. The sauce was great, and the meatballs were absolutely perfect.

The last time I went to Italian Village I smoked right at my seat, but that’s all gone now. My brother called me in the middle of lunch. When I told him who I was with, he asked if I was smoking a cigar. I told him we couldn’t smoke in Chicago restaurants anymore. “That’s why you’re on the tour, right?” he said.

That’s precisely why we’re on the tour, and that late afternoon we rallied 500 cigar smokers to the CRA cause. Half the group went to Up Down Cigars, run by the wonderful Diana Silvius-Gits. I went with the other half to 8 to 8 Cigars.

The crowd was inspired at 8 to 8, and the store was packed with cigar smokers. (It was also packed with great cigars—8 to 8 has a wonderful selection of smokes.) Everyone was having a great time, mingling with the cigarmakers, getting autographs and having some food. I shot a little video of the crowd inside—take a look.
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The CRA Freedom Tour - Day Two

Posted: Aug 21, 2008 2:50pm ET
Wednesday morning in New York City’s LaGuardia Airport had the elements of a mini Big Smoke, minus the cigars. Sitting in a lounge, waiting on a delayed flight to Milwaukee were Jorge Padrón, Jonathan Drew, Litto Gomez, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Robert Levin, Peter Banninger, Charlie Toraño and Eric Newman, along with myself. We were chatting about Tuesday’s dinner that kicked off the Cigar Rights of America tour, and eager to take off on the second leg of the show. We were also eager to fire up cigars, but we couldn’t. Talk about punishment—each guy in the group was carrying dozens of cigars, but we couldn’t light up…yet!

When the plane touched down in Milwaukee, half of us went straight for the Starbucks counter in the airport. Almost every cigar guy I know is a coffee guy as well, and half this group needs espresso like an old car needs motor oil. Refreshed, we headed to our hotel.

We lit up right outside the hotel. Jorge Padrón handed me a tidy Padrón Serie 1926 No. 6, and I was ready to go. The game plan was to get a quick bite then head to Western Lakes golf course for the CRA event where a group of Milwaukee-area cigar smokers were about to have the cigar night of their lives.

So why Milwaukee? The immediate area is home to a group of very motivated cigar retailers who joined together to create a group called C-SAW (the Cigar Store Alliance of Wisconsin). They fought tooth-and-nail to squash a Draconian cigar tax that would have made premium cigars extremely expensive.

The C-SAW group did a great job of getting out the word on CRA, and about 225 people joined us at the golf course. They puffed cigars and tucked into a few hearty brats. How could you come to Milwaukee and not have a bratwurst? It was my first visit to the city, so I made sure I had one.

I know everyone in this group very well, but spending time on the road is causing us to bond even more. We’re a bit like a band hitting the road, minus some serious musical talent. (Actually, we do have a very capable drummer—Ernesto Perez-Carrillo hits the skins very well.) This morning, we piled into a van for the ride to Chicago, cracking jokes along the way, but we’ve lost one member—Charlie Toraño had to fly to Central America to check out his factories. Duty calls.
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The CRA Tour - Getting Started

Posted: Aug 20, 2008 3:46pm ET
Last night I joined about 300 people who lit up smokes in the name of fighting for their right to enjoy a fine cigar. We stood atop the Hudson Terrace rooftop lounge on the West Side of Manhattan, getting the Cigar Rights of America Freedom Tour started in style. With an open bar and plenty of fine cigars, the cigar industry got things going in fine fashion.

“It’s humbling to see the amount of people here who are passionate about their right to smoke cigars,” said Michael Herklots, general manager of the Davidoff shops in Manhattan, while holding a smoldering cigar in his hand. His and other shops in New York City and Philadelphia sold tickets to the show.

The lions of the cigar industry were the stars of the night—Carlos Fuente Jr. spoke about the passion of making cigars, and the right for consumers to enjoy them in peace. “Long live the cigar—and long live our freedom!” he said.

Christian Eiroa, maker of Camacho Cigars and the one credited by his fellow comrades with thinking up the idea for the tour, asked the crowd: “When was the last time you smoked a cigar in a bar? There’s a very important aspect for us being here.”

Litto Gomez, the hat-wearing maker of La Flor Dominicana cigars, said “Are we going to let the anti-smoking people continue to kick our asses?” The crowd shouted “No.” Gomez promised: “The CRA is going to put up a big fight.”

The CRA was formed by Keith Park, owner of God of Fire cigars and Prometheus, and Jeff Borysiewicz, owner of Corona Cigar Co. Backed by most of the best-known premium cigarmakers in the world, the CRA is a consumer organization hoping to fight for the rights of cigar smokers across the United States.

“Our biggest enemy is complacency,” said Jorge Padrón, maker of Padrón Cigars.

It was a beautiful night, with just a hint of the coming fall in the clear air, and each manufacturer auctioned off rare boxes of their cigars to the happy crowd. “This was every retailer and every manufacturer working together,” said Herklots, giving a nod in particular to Cigar Inn of New York City, which sold 65 tickets to the event. “Everybody put business aside and brought passion to the table.”
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Some Musings From Manolo

Posted: Aug 19, 2008 11:45am ET
Yesterday Manuel Quesada, known to all in the cigar industry as Manolo, came by the office with his daughter Raquel. They’re in town from Santiago, Dominican Republic, for tonight’s opening gala of the Cigar Rights of America Freedom Tour.

We spent a little time smoking their phenomenal new Fonseca Cubano Viso Fuerte. Forget everything you know about Fonseca cigars. This one is different. It’s high-octane and deliciously rich, with a hint of raisiny sweetness. That extra sweet taste comes from a little bit of Connecticut broadleaf filler that Manolo has in there. Lovely stuff.

Manolo said the new cigar is off to a robust start, but he wasn’t terribly pleased that he was short of supply due to the high demand for the smoke and difficulty of obtaining the wrapper from Nicaragua. (Every silver lining has a cloud somewhere, right?) If you see one of these cigars around, give them a try.

Right before we had lunch, we started talking about aging cigar tobacco, and I remembered an old conversation I had with Manolo in the Dominican Republic many years ago. Back then, I thought aging cigar tobacco simply meant that you left bales of fermented tobacco in a room, alone, unwatched. Not so. Even while the tobacco is aging, it needs work—the bales need to be moved around to balance temperatures, the tobacco needs to be fumigated (every three months, says Manolo) left tobacco beetles have a field day with the precious leaves…you get the idea.

I thought it was worth mentioning here: even a seemingly easy part of making cigars—letting tobacco age—isn’t that simple. It’s just another thing that needs to be done properly to ensure that your cigars taste and perform the way you expect, each and every time.

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Going on Tour

Posted: Aug 8, 2008 11:44am ET
Back in my college days I was the lead singer in a rock band. My hair was a lot longer, I was a lot thinner, and I certainly was a lot braver because I howled my brains out in front of packed houses all the time. (OK, the houses weren’t really packed, but let’s say I sang in front of dozens of people here and there. You get the point.) We won the Battle of the Bands, but we never made it to the big time and never had a tour.

In two weeks I’m going to live the dream and go on tour—only this time it’s a cigar tour rather than a rock tour. The Cigar Rights of America is drumming up support for cigar smokers’ rights, and to get the organization started some of the most familiar faces in the cigar world are heading on the road for a series of smoker nights. And I’m going with them.

Carlos Fuente Sr. and Jr., Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Avo Uvezian, Jorge Padrón, Rocky Patel, Litto Gomez, Robert Levin, Tim Ozgener, Manuel Quesada, Charlie Toraño, Jose Oliva, Jonathan Drew, Pete Johnson, Keith Park, Nick Perdomo, Christian Eiroa, Eric Newman, Peter Banninger and Paolo Garzaroli have signed up for the tour. It starts on August 19 in New York City, then on August 20 the team splits up, with half the group (including myself) going to Milwaukee, the other half going to Minneapolis. We’ll all be in Chicago on August 21, split into two groups for a pair of events, and then we’ll fly en masse to Orlando on the 22nd for the final stop on the tour.

Each stop will have plenty of great smokes and a place where you can actually smoke them. Some of the tour events include dinner and all have music. Visit the CRA website for detailed information.

If you can, you really should try to make it to one (or some) of these smoker nights. Not only will you get a chance to meet some of the best cigarmakers in the world, you’ll be supporting the right to enjoy your cigars in the future. Attending any event funds the CRA and gives you membership in the fledgling organization.
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