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David Savona

Remembering Alfons

Posted: Nov 30, 2007 11:55am ET
I opened one of the cabinet humidors in the office this morning, spied a box of cigars in a corner, and couldn’t help feeling a bit sad. It’s a box of Alfons Mayer cigars, and I’ve had them since 2005.

Alfons Mayer was an outstanding tobacco man, one of the world’s best, and for years he was the tobacco buyer for General Cigar Co. Think of this for a moment—he bought all of the tobacco for a company making tens of millions of cigars every year. He lived on a plane, visited virtually every country that grows usable cigar tobacco and was a walking encyclopedia of tobacco knowledge.

Alfons died just over a year ago, in October 2006.

It’s my job to get close to people in the cigar and tobacco industry, and I know most of the players very, very well. I count many of them as friends. I’ve interviewed many of those people dozens of times. With Alfons, it was different. He was incredibly media shy, and he turned down my frequent requests for an interview. I later found out that he had been turning down requests to be interviewed by Cigar Aficionado even before I joined the company in 1995.

Still, I would call Alfons every now and then, getting a little insight here and some insight there. And I would usually end with a request for him to sit down so I could really hear his story. The game went on for years, until one day he said ‘yes.’ He invited me to his house in New Jersey.

I arrived on a brutally cold winter day. Alfons welcomed me with a broad smile. The photographers were there, finishing his photo shoot, and he seemed to be enjoying himself. He had a cigar in his mouth, and, as always, his shirt pocket was filled to nearly bursting with cigars at the ready. (His favorite was Canaria d’Oro, a brand no longer made by General, wrapped in his favorite leaf of tobacco, San Andres from Mexico.) He gave me a cigar, an Alfons Mayer Breakfast, and I lit up and we began to talk.
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Smoking Big in Las Vegas

Posted: Nov 9, 2007 11:53am ET
I landed yesterday in Las Vegas for our Big Smoke, and I wasted no time getting started Vegas style. After a long flight, I was hungry and ready for a cigar, so I dumped my bags at the Venetian Hotel and went straight to the Forums Shops at Caesars’ Palace.

I grabbed a great lunch at Spago, washed down by an Italian red, then headed around the corner to Casa Fuente. It was as if a mini Big Smoke was going on there, with most of the tables full of revelers puffing away and taking in the scenery. I sat down, lit up a Montecristo Petit Edmundo and ordered a drink.

The Big Smoke. It feels good.

Later that night, we hosted a dinner for the cigarmakers who are taking part in the show. With the new smoking rules in Las Vegas, we had it outside, but it was a gorgeous night for outdoor smoking with mild temperatures and a clear sky. We ate at the patio of Bouchon in the Venetian, the Tomas Keller restaurant.

Most of the cigar industry was there, and there’s no way I can remember them all: The Fuentes (Carlos Sr. and Carlos Jr., and Wayne  Suarez, and others from the company); Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Sherwin Seltzer, Mike Giannini from General Cigar; Jorge Padrón; Rocky Patel; Chip Goldeen from Ashton; the Turrents from Mexico, makers of Te Amo; Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley; Gary Hyams and Jon Huber from CAO; Joe Chiusano of Cusano Cigars; Gene Arganese, founder of Arganese cigars; Ron Reinders of Dunhill; Charlie Toraño; Jose Blanco; George Rico of Gran Habano….it was a huge list, and there were many others.

We puffed before and after dinner—I smoked an Ashton VSG. It was only the start of a long weekend of smoking.

Tonight it’s the first Big Smoke evening, and tomorrow is when the seminars start. Time to take in some of this great Vegas weather and get ready for the long weekend.
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Sharing a Smoke with Jose Oliva

Posted: Nov 5, 2007 12:20pm ET
Jose Oliva was in town on Thursday, so I took a little drive after work to Club Perfecto in South Norwalk. Jose was hanging out with some of the members, smoking cigars and playing a little poker. (Don’t raid the place—they play for cigars, not money.)

Jose was in the middle of a cigar tour. His family’s Oliva Serie V line, which is their fullest-bodied brand, is a big deal to the company, and they decided that every retailer who is going to sell the cigar will have a presentation from a family member to describe their philosophy with the brand.

That’s a great way to help promote a cigar, but the Olivas got a big boost soon after the release—a 94 point rating in Cigar Insider and Cigar Aficionado for the Oliva Serie V Torpedo. It’s a lip-smacking smoke that is full of flavor yet balanced. And it’s only about $7, so it’s relatively affordable.

I brought along my new Flip Video camera that we’re using here (hey, I can’t let James and Marvin have all the fun) and I interviewed Jose about the new line. Check it out.










Jose will be out in Vegas this week (along with most of the premium cigar industry) at our Big Smoke, but it won’t be long before he’s back out there talking about the Serie V. And with that 94 rating, he’ll have no shortage of people interested in the Serie V.
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A Smoke With Carlos Fuente Jr.

Posted: Oct 28, 2007 2:07pm ET
On Friday night I dropped in on a local cigar shop and lounge, Club Perfecto in South Norwalk, Connecticut. Carlos Fuente Jr. was dropping by, so I wanted to say hello.

I got there before Carlos, who was stuck in traffic. It was a rainy Friday night, and the ride from New York City was taking twice as long as usual. Co-owner Brian Shapiro handed me an Arturo Fuente Short Story, and I lit up and started talking to some of the regulars.

Club Perfecto put on quite the evening, with a great baggie of cigars made by the Fuentes. In addition to the Short Story, which is simply one of the world’s finest small cigars, in my opinion, there was a Fuente Fuente OpusX, an Añejo and a few other nice cigars.

Carlos arrived and the room lit up. In this industry, he’s a rock star, and he signed cigar boxes and other things for the members. These guys clearly love his cigars, and with the track record the Fuentes have it’s hard to blame them.

Carlito and I caught up, talked a bit about our families and said a few things about the upcoming Las Vegas Big Smoke. (I can’t believe it’s just a few weeks away. Where did this year go?) Carlito is speaking on a panel I’m moderating with my colleague James Suckling. It’s going to be a great panel.

By the time the Short Story was really, really short (as in beard burning territory) I said my goodbyes— The party was just getting into full swing, but I had to get home.
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Smoking a New Padrón

Posted: Oct 18, 2007 11:45am ET
Got a call from Jorge Padrón the other day. He was coming to New York City for a dinner at the Grand Havana Room, and he asked me to come along. He told me he was passing out the Padrón Reserva de la Famila No. 44.

The what?

It’s my job to keep abreast of what cigars are on the market, and I’m a big fan of Padróns, so I thought I had smoked them all, but this was one I hadn’t even heard of before. A new Padrón plus dinner at Grand Havana? How could I say no?



So last night I showed up at the Grand Havana Room and met with the manager, Randall Denman. He handed me the first of the evening’s three cigars, a Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Exclusivo Maduro. Jorge was running late: he and several other cigarmakers had been in Washington, D.C. that day, lobbying against higher tobacco taxes.

Randall Denman, Jorge Padrón and executive chef Alberto Gomez.


I took a seat at the bar, ordered a Bombay Saffire Martini, and fired up the corona gorda, taking a look around the room. Grand Havana New York is one of my favorite places in the world to smoke. There’s a bar, a long line of comfy chairs facing the windows (the club is on the 39th floor, and the views are outstanding), a series of couches facing a large television screen, and the big dining room, where the dinner was being held.

The very best part? You can smoke everywhere.

Jorge arrived and we all sat down to dinner. There was a big crowd, and the Grand Havana members were clearly eager to smoke some great cigars. The dinner was superb: we began with big grilled prawns in a spicy rub over polenta, then moved to filet mignons. The courses were complemented by Caymus Condundrum 2005 (the white wine) and Phillipe Melka Parallel 2004 (the red). But I was here for that special cigar.
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A Taxing Situation

Posted: Oct 15, 2007 3:21pm ET
I’m back in the office after a few days in Charleston, South Carolina, at the annual Cigar Association of America meeting. This is a gathering where some of the nation’s biggest cigar makers discuss the issues of the day, and this year no issue loomed larger than SCHIP.

SCHIP stands for State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and it’s been the hot topic in the cigar industry since the summer. Some members of Congress wish to expand the program by $35 billion, and the funds for that expansion would come from higher tobacco taxes, including an increase in the federal excise tax on large cigars. The rate change, going from 20.7 percent of the manufacturers’ selling price to 52.988 percent, is the minor issue: the big problem is the limit on that tax. Currently it’s capped at 5 cents. This bill would have it rise to $3.

The bill passed Congress, but President Bush vetoed the legislation on October 3. So we’re out of the woods, right? Not quite. On Thursday, October 18, Congress will make a push to overturn the veto. They have the votes in the Senate, but not the House, so some are lobbying to sway the minds of their fellow politicians.

Most of America’s mass-market cigar producers were at the CAA show, with a few premium cigarmakers. SCHIP is weighing heavily on their minds. “We’ll be drinking on Thursday,” said one young cigar executive. “Good stuff if the veto holds, cheap stuff if it doesn’t.”

This is a big week for cigar smokers. If the veto is overturned, the tax rate would change on January 1st. Your cigars would become considerably more expensive.

How expensive? Here’s an unscientific calculation: The suggested retail price (SRP) of most cigars is twice the wholesale price, which is the price many (but not all) manufacturers sell at. So taking that assumption, let’s look at a few cigars from the Corona Gorda section of the October Cigar Aficionado:
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The Best Cigars of the Year

Posted: Oct 4, 2007 3:15pm ET
I’m a happy man. My humidor is full of great cigars and I have to smoke them all.

I test cigars all the time here at Cigar Aficionado, but with each test I have no idea if the cigars I’m testing are going to be great, good, bad or absolutely awful. But this test is different.

This is the test for our Top Cigars of the Year, a ranking we publish every January. We assemble the best-scoring cigars from a year’s worth of Cigar Aficionado magazines and Cigar Insider newsletters, remove duplicates (we only choose the best of each brand) and then begin testing them again. Our tasting coordinator, Greg Mottola, gets the cigars, chooses and order and a code, removes the cigar bands and replaces them with file labels marked TT1, TT2, etc. He then passes them out to the tasting panel, in batches. Every cigar is a winner already, but now it’s time to see which are truly the best.

Last year I likened the tasting process to a tournament of champions. The ultimate winner was a phenomenal smoke, a Bolivar Royal Corona from Cuba. In a very close second place was the Coronado by La Flor Double Corona from the Dominican Republic.

This is the best test smoking I do all year. There aren’t any dogs here. The question is, just how good are the best of this batch?

So far I’ve had some great smokes, but I don’t know what they are. I haven’t received the whole batch: Greg is keeping some in reserve, and we’ll be adding more if and when cigars in upcoming Cigar Insiders score high enough to justify their inclusion in the Top 25 test.

So I have a lot of smoking to do in the next few weeks. But don’t feel so sorry for me.

[Note: this blog was originally posted last week, but due to a software switchover it was deleted—along with several comments that had been made—and needed to be reposted. We apologize for the inconvenience.]
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Hanging With The Padróns  

Posted: Sep 18, 2007 4:19pm ET
To me, one of the most telling things about the new Padrón headquarters in Miami is the offices. There are three large ones: the biggest for chairman José Orlando Padrón, and ones for brothers Jorge and Orlando. While I’ve spent plenty of time in José Orlando’s office, the brothers’ seem rarely occupied. Most of the time when I’m visiting—and I tend to drop by whenever I’m in Miami—all three tend to gather in the biggest part of the factory, the area where cigars are packed and orders are filled.

I think the family remembers its earlier days at its smaller headquarters, where space was at a premium and each person worked within arm’s length of one another. It’s a family business through and through.

I had dinner with the Padróns one night in Miami the other week, and spent part of an afternoon in their headquarters. During my visit I smoked another Padrón Serie 1926 80 Years. It’s a great cigar, full of complex flavor and beautifully made. I think the construction is even better today than it was when I first smoked it in November at the Big Smoke in Las Vegas. It’s their first perfecto, and only one roller makes the size.

I peppered Jorge with questions about when the cigar was coming out—everyone wants to know, and the Padróns aren’t known for rushing things along, especially when it’s something special. He assured me it was going to be on sale by Thanksgiving, but also said that there simply wouldn’t be that many of them.

They’ll come in two versions, maduro and natural, and the maduro version (the one I smoked) will be on sale first.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, and now here’s another reason to look forward to the day.
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Sitting Down with La Gloria’s Ernesto Perez-Carrillo

Posted: Sep 7, 2007 8:35am ET
Being in Little Havana just isn’t complete without a visit to Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, the maker of La Gloria Cubana cigars. I stopped by El Credito Cigars, his cigar factory and shop on Calle Ocho, near the corner of 11th Avenue, earlier this week for some lunch and a chat about cigars.

Ernesto is a great guy, and I’ve known him since I started at Cigar Aficionado 12 years ago. His cigar factory was the first one I ever visited, and I have a fond memory of this amazing baggie of unbanded lonsdales he gave me the first time I went to his factory, and how flavorful (and powerful) they were.

We had a lunch of traditional Cuban fare at La Caretta, a few blocks north of his factory, we each tossed back a sweet Cuban coffee, then we headed back to El Credito to smoke and talk.

Ernesto walked into the small aging room at El Credito and reached for a box of La Glorias. Inside were a few unbanded torpedos. He handed one to me. It had that classic torpedo shape that El Credito is known for—back in the day, there was a time that only smokes rolled by one of Ernesto’s rollers, or those who worked for Rolando Reyes Sr., had that classic Cuban-style pyramid shape outside of Cuba. I lit it up, and was hit by that strong, familiar flavor of a La Gloria Cubana.

“I like cigars that are complex,” Ernesto said, describing the house style of his cigars. He wants smokes with taste, with flavor, that make a cigar smoker sit back and say yeah, there’s great stuff in here. The pyramid was excellent, and had that complex taste.

We chatted awhile and walked around the small factory, which has about ten to dozen rollers. Only a few La Glorias are rolled here now, with the vast majority made in the Dominican Republic. We shot some video, which you’ll see it soon in Cigar Cinema, and made our way to the cigar shop adjacent to the rolling room, where you can buy all types of La Glorias and other El Credito cigars.

As I took yet another cup of Cuban coffee (the cigar industry is fueled by caffeine) I hear Ernesto talking about one of the cigars on the shelf.
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Dropping in on Pepin in Miami

Posted: Sep 5, 2007 10:58am ET
I spent yesterday in Little Havana with Jose “Pepin” Garcia in his factory, El Rey de los Habanos. You know the place: the tiny operation in Miami that creates amazing cigars. He has only about a dozen rollers, and they work slowly and carefully making beautiful smokes, among them Tatuajes (the brown label versions are made here) some Padillas (such as the 1932 Perla, a sublime small smoke) and some Don Pepins.

I’ve seen some incredible cigar rollers in my travels, but Pepin has to be the best. He started rolling cigars in Cuba when he was 12 years old, and he’s been doing it non-stop (aside from a two-year break to serve in the military) ever since. He can make just about anything out of tobacco leaves—I’ve seen cigars shaped like ladders and rocket ships—and he specializes in those extremely difficult large figurados called diademas or Salamones. Imagine a torpedo head and supple curves as you get toward the foot, which has a big bulb then a small nipple. It takes a lot of cuts to make that work, and Pepin makes it look simple. He trained rollers in Cuba, and now he trains them in Miami and in his new factory in Nicaragua.

He always seems to smile as he rolls. He really enjoys what he’s doing.

El Rey de los Habanos is a real family business. Pepin works alongside his son Jaime, his daughter Janny, and several other members of the family. Some of the rollers come from Báez, the same town in Cuba from where the Garcias hail—and all the workers in the office area next door are cousins or other family members. It’s a small, intimate operation.

Pete Johnson, owner of the Tatuaje brand, was there as well. He comes often from California, spending time with Pepin to sample tobaccos and get close to his great cigars. Ernesto Padilla, owner of Padilla cigars, dropped by as well, nicking a cigar here and there. “I have a technique,” he says with a smile, putting another cigar in his mouth.

I arrived at the factory just after lunch, having flown in that morning from New York, and I started with a Don Pepin Garcia Cuban Classic Maduro, which everyone calls Black Label. The maduro wrapper is Nicaraguan leaf, as Nicaraguan tobacco is now Pepin’s favorite type of tobacco. Most of his cigars are Nicaraguan puros. The second I smoked was a San Cristobal Guajiro, a new brand made by Pepin for Ashton. I finished with a standard Cuban Classic after dinner. Each cigar was lovely, with good amounts of power but no bite, and plenty of complexity. Each displayed great tobacco that was artfully constructed.
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