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David Savona

Yankee Dreams

Posted: Aug 30, 2007 11:25am ET
Watching the New York Yankees eke out a second straight win against the Boston Red Sox last night brought a huge smile to my face. I’m a diehard Yankee fan, and have been since I was a kid. (As a young boy in the 1970s I remember going on a field trip to Boston, and yelling out the car window “Go Yankees.” I’m lucky to have survived.) For my money there’s no rivalry in the world that comes close to that between the Yanks and the Sox.

The Mets? I don’t like them, but I don’t hate them. The Eagles and Cowboys in NFL Football? As a Giants fan I can’t stand them, but it’s just not the same thing. When the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, it’s simply going to ruin my entire day if the Yankees lose.

Flash back a couple of years to the 2003 American League Championship Series. (Sidenote: remember when this was called the Pennant? It seemed much more noble back then.) Red Sox had transformed themselves from perennial also-rans into the dreaded pesky team that would not go away. It seemed that no lead was safe against these guys. The series was amazing: remember the game where Don Zimmer was hurled to the ground by Pedro Martinez? The brawl in the Red Sox bullpen?

The series was tied heading into the seventh game, to be played at Yankee Stadium. I set up shop alone in my basement smoking room. There were cold bottles of Heineken in the beer fridge and a wide selection of cigars. (I can’t remember what I was smoking, but it was good.)  Things looked grim for the Yankees, with Clemens sent packing early and the Red Sox up 4-0. I called Jorge Padrón on my cell phone, telling him it looked like I would have to buy a Florida Marlins hat as it looked like the Sox were going to the World Series for the first time since 1986.

Then it happened. Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in too long, the Yankees tied the game, and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who had looked utterly unhittable for the entire series, threw a meatball to Aaron Boone in the bottom of the 11th. Booney smacked it into the stands in left field.
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Fight For Your Cigar II

Posted: Aug 28, 2007 2:59pm ET
Not long ago I blogged that it was time for you to fight for your cigar. It's time to do more.

First, an update. The U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives have each proposed to greatly increase the funding of the State Children’s Health Initiative, known as SCHIP. Funding the increase would come from higher taxes on cigarettes and cigars. For cigar smokers, the proposal would hike the Federal Excise Tax on large cigars, which is currently capped at five cents a smoke. The latest plan would increase that cap to as much as $3.

The final decision is expected to be made when Congress reconvenes in September, and the cigar industry has waged a coordinated effort to try to keep that increase from happening. As Gordon Mott wrote in his recent blog, several meetings were held at the recent Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show to discuss how to best fight the increase.

In addition to the constant lobbying efforts by the Cigar Association of America plus the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America, others have made efforts to fight this tax. Rocky Patel recently posted a video on his website urging cigar smokers to fight. Drew Estate, Camacho Cigars and many other cigar companies met in Miami to discuss fighting the tax. Cigar accessory maker Xikar Inc. just created its first cigar brand, called Defiance, and five percent of the proceeds will go to fight for tobacco rights. Alejandro Martinez-Cuenca, the owner of Joya de Nicaragua and a politician in his native country, is working on a documentary that he plans to bring to Congress in September to show how the tax would impact Americans as well as the economies in cigar-producing countries such as Nicaragua. “Handmade cigar consumption is not only for the rich,” he says. Cigar retailers such as Jeff Borysiewicz of Corona Cigar Co. have been writing their congressmen, and a group of cigarmakers plans to travel to Washington in September to plead their case.
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The Draft Night Smoke

Posted: Aug 17, 2007 11:46am ET
Where did the summer go? A few weeks ago I was on vacation in Vermont, and last week I was in Houston at the RTDA. Both are in my rear-view mirror now. On top of that, I’m one week away from my fantasy football draft. Summer is just about over.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the start of football season, particularly fantasy football season. I wrote a story about fantasy football for Cigar Aficionado last year, and this year I’m resuming my so far unsuccessful quest to win the league I started several years ago.

Draft night is a big cigar night. I usually bring a couple of boxes for myself and the 11 other guys who manage teams in my neighborhood league. About half of the guys are regular cigar smokers, and the other half light up on a special occasion. Draft night is that type of occasion.

I typically fire up a monster on draft night. Last year it was a Tatuaje RC 233, a tapered cigar that’s more than 9 inches long and 55 ring gauge, and very strong. It lasted me most of the draft. This year I’m going to try either a Fuente Fuente OpusX “A”, or a Cohiba Siglo VI Tubo a friend recently gave me. Heck, maybe I’ll smoke both of them. I’m in no rush.

Has any one else out there been bitten by the fantasy football bug?
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RTDA Blog: The Wrapup

Posted: Aug 9, 2007 4:22pm ET
I’m back in the office with a full notebook, bags and bags of new cigars and a slightly groggy head. RTDA is over.

Despite the lower attendance than at the 2006 show in Las Vegas (where the show shall return in 2007, by the way) most of the cigar folks I spoke with were fairly pleased with the amount of business they wrote. I was happy with most of the cigars I smoked, although I have a lot of cigars on my desk still to try.

I spent Tuesday night at dinner with Rocky Patel at Vic and Anthony’s Steakhouse, the second time I ate there during the show. I personally took care of two bone-in ribeyes on this trip. Vic and Anthony’s allows smoking in parts of the restaurant, at least for now. (A Houston smoking ban is looming, but it’s being fought.) For our upstairs room, smoking was prohibited, but the room had a huge balcony where we spent time between courses puffing on Rocky’s latest, the Rocky Patel Decade and the Indian Tabac 10th Anniversary. (I joked with Rocky that in true cigar industry form, his 10th anniversary cigar is actually one-year late: this is his 11th year in the business.) I preferred the Indian Tabac 10th Anniversary, which had a little more spice and a cleaner finish. It was a tasty smoke to end another long day. The cigar will come in four sizes, robusto, toro, torpedo and londsale, and will retail for $6.25 to $7.50 a cigar.

After the meal, we wandered over to the lobby at the Hilton Americas. I think the entire cigar industry was packed into that bar. I was with some of the CA team, including editors Michael Moretti and Greg Mottola. I had a little Johnny Walker Black while talking to Alan Rubin, who makes Alec Bradley cigars. (He named the brand after his two boys, Alec and Bradley. That’s a class move.) Soon we were joined by Jorge Padrón, Litto Gomez and then Rocky.
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RTDA Blog: Day Three

Posted: Aug 7, 2007 8:12pm ET
My voice went out sometime around 8 last night, the victim of lots of cigars and maybe a little too much talking. Occupational hazard. I’ll be fine.

The voice aside, last night was a good one, with a great dinner hosted by Ashton Cigars at the Petroleum Club overlooking the city.  I ate blackened snapper while drinking Caymus Conundrum and smoking Ashton Heritage Puro Sol Belicosos. It was great food and great service, which seems to be a standard at any Ashton event.

Since we’re on food, I have to mention today’s lunch, which really didn’t feature great service at all. I ate with Matt Arcella from the Las Vegas Davidoff shops at the restaurant in the lobby of the Hilton America. The waiter was an interesting sort, brutally honest at times (Question: “How’s the grilled shrimp?” His answer: “I’ve never had it.”) and a bit unpolished in the art of fine service. He waited, somewhat patiently, for me to move and hold my appetizer plate before putting down my entrée. What a guy.

I stopped at the Camacho booth today, and they have a strong array of new cigars, including an attractive Camacho Ten Year Anniversary. The company has been around longer than 10 years, but Christian Eiroa says they’re celebrating 10 years of growing “the authentic Corojo leaf.” It’s a good looking cigar, with a Colorado sheen, and it’s box pressed. Christian said it would be creamy. Look for it in October, if all goes well.

Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley cigars showed me his baggies of test smokes. “I haven’t smoked a banded cigar in months,” he said. He’s working on lots of new stuff, and he handed me samples of several new blends. He has added a size to his Maxx line, a small smoke called Nano. It’s four inches by 46 ring, a size I love, and it breaks the Maxx trend of $5 cigars with a $4 suggested retail price. He also has a big box pressed Maxx called The Vice that’s $8.50, and measures 6 1/2 by 62.

The Dunhill Signed Range now comes in these attractive burgundy tubes. I like the Dunhill blend—it’s medium bodied and savory, with a pleasant character that makes for a nice morning smoke.
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RTDA Blog: Day Two

Posted: Aug 6, 2007 6:55pm ET
It’s still a rather thin crowd here at the RTDA show. "It’s under populated," said one industry veteran, starting out at the aisles. It seems as if Houston in the heart of summer just hasn’t pulled in the crowds the same way that Las Vegas did a year ago. But I have heard people say that the retailers who have made it here are buying, so no one is crying the blues just yet.

Last night I had dinner with Gordon Mott and the CAO/Henri Wintermann’s team at a great Houston steakhouse called Vic and Anthony’s. I ordered a Texas-sized ribeye, medium-rare, and it was as big as some phone books. My kinda steak.

This morning, right after breakfast and a little stint in the gym (hey, you have to work out the cholesterol somehow, right?) I lit up a new Paul Garmirian Soiree cigar to start off the day. Garmirian told me it was a near carbon copy of his popular 15th Anniversary blend, only with a touch less piloto Cubano in the filler blend. I found it a good morning smoke, with a dry flavor that faded after a half-inch or so. It was floral and oaky, with a bit of a white wine character. It’s been on the market since July, in three sizes, all around $10 or so per cigar.

Philip Wynne, owner of Felipe Gregorio, has a slew of new smokes. The most dramatic involves what he’s done with his Felipe Power line. He’s come up with a range of wild looking smokes with mixed wrappers (one has some candela, some natural), a flipped perfecto (imagine the nipple that you would normally find on the foot at the head of the cigar) and various other designs. I smoked a cigar he calls the Pelo de Oro Fletcha, for arrow, a slim figurado that narrows right to the tip, rather than to the shoulder, and I really enjoyed the sweet, medium-bodied flavor.

I knew this was going to be a day of many, many cigars, and soon I was talking to Pepin Garcia and his son, Jaime. These are the guys who make Tatuaje and Padilla cigars, along with a growing number of their own brands. I smoked their latest, called El Centurion. "Like old Cohibas," Pepin said. "Aromatic." I got the aroma, but what I really liked was the chocolaty flavor and the balance of the smoke. Good stuff.
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RTDA Blog: Day One

Posted: Aug 5, 2007 6:19pm ET
I was taking my first walk around the show floor here at the 75th Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show in Houston, and there it was: a full bar. I’ve seen a lot of things in the 13 RTDAs I’ve attended—a girl wearing an outfit made of less material than it takes to cover one of my feet; someone dressed in orange paint, like an Oompa Loompa—but never a rail where one could order a Tanqueray or a Maker’s Mark. Only in Texas. Too bad Bettridge isn’t here.

I decided to skip the drink and do some work, which meant firing up cigars. My first stop was the La Aurora/Miami Cigar booth, where I traded Yankees stories with Jose Blanco and slapped backs with Guillermo Leon. I lit up one of thier new cigars on display, the La Aurora Barrel Aged cigar. They even had one of the old rum barrels on display full of tobacco to give people an idea of what the fermenting tobacco smelled like when it spends time in one of these casks. The barrel smelled great, and the cigar was good too, with a good note of caramel, solid, heavy coffee bean notes and just a wisp of licorice on the palate. It was medium bodied. I think it should smoke better with a little more age, as the cigar didn’t burn perfectly, but that could have been the stiff breeze from the A/C vent over my head.

I was mid-way through the cigar when I got my first RTDA scoop: there is no more RTDA. Gary Pesh, the owner of Old Virginia Tobacco shops and the second vice president of the trade association, told me that the board had dropped the name in favor of a new moniker, IPCPR, for International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers. It’s a mouthful, but Pesh said it gets rid of the words “tobacco” and “dealer,” neither of which have the best connotations nowadays. It’s going to take some time for me to stop saying RTDA.

After talking to Gary, I wandered over to the CAO booth for a stiff espresso and my first taste of CAO America. First off, it’s a very good looking cigar, made with one Connecticut-shade and one Connecticut broadleaf wrapper. You see more broadleaf, making a pinstripe pattern. It’s a mild to medium bodied smoke, with a nice creaminess (no doubt from the shade) and a little bit of structure (from the broadleaf.) It’s toasty, and it burned very well. Tonight I’m dining with the Ozgeners, so I’m sure I’ll hear more about the cigar then.
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Heading to Houston

Posted: Aug 3, 2007 1:36pm ET
This weekend I’m flying to Houston to hang out with most of the U.S. cigar industry at the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show. It’s the time every year when cigarmakers show off their new creations, and our team of Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider editors will be there to smoke away and try to figure out what’s worth your attention.

I’ve already tried a few of the things that will be on display. Probably the most anticipated cigar of the show is the Padrón 80th Anniversary (at least that’s what I’m calling it right now), which is an amazing perfecto that is simply loaded with rich flavor. It was first smoked at the Big Smoke Las Vegas in November, but the Padróns have been tweaking the blend for the past eight months or so. I smoked another version in Nicaragua in January with the Padróns and my colleague James Suckling, and it tasted even better. I can’t wait to try a few next week.

The Oliva Serie V tasted like a winner to me when I first smoked it in New York with Jose Oliva a few months ago, so I’m eager to see how that one has come along, and I really like the San Cristobal being made for Ashton by Pepin Garcia. (That’s not surprising: I like just about everything Pepin makes.)

I’ve written about, but haven’t smoked, the CAO America, so I’m looking forward to giving that a try. And I’m sure Ernesto Perez-Carrillo has something great up his sleeve, as well as Litto Gomez.

Every year I make the mistake of bringing cigars with me to the RTDA show. (I hate to run out.) I remember one year being searched by security at the gate when I was going back. I thought the guy was going to have a heart attack when he saw how many cigars were in my carry-on bag. Must have been about 200 or so. He must have thought I had a problem.
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A Preview of Ashton's New San Cristobal

Posted: Jul 25, 2007 4:44pm ET
Today Sathya Levin and Manny Ferrero of Ashton Cigars came by the office for a few smokes and some lunch. They were giving me a first taste of their latest, the San Cristobal brand. These are going to hit the market next month, after a preview in two weeks at the RTDA show.

I smoked the San Cristobal Supermo first, a 6 by 50 toro with a very dark wrapper. It’s entirely Nicaraguan, made by Pepin Garcia at his factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. It’s quite a dark wrapper for one of Pepin’s smokes, and Manny told me it was a leaf grown in the Estelí region, from the upper primings.

I enjoyed the smoke quite a bit. It was very sweet, much sweeter than most of Pepin’s cigars, and had a good amount of dark chocolate flavor and a black cherry quality as well. It burned like a champ. Sathya said this batch had been rolled around April. I’d consider it medium to full bodied.

We had lunch across the street at I Trulli (try the veal Milanese, it might be the best in the city) to talk about tobacco and the cigar market. Manny was clearly taken by the tobacco Pepin is using in his cigars. “Dave, you could make a salad out of this stuff,” he raved, hands flying. After  we finished, we fired up my espresso machine in the office and tried a smaller size, the Clasico, which measures 5 by 50. This was considerably spicier than the bigger cigar, with a good red pepper zing and a hearty blast of leather. It didn’t burn quite as well as the first, and had a looser draw. I’d call it a solid full body.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to eat a salad made of Pepin’s tobacco leaves, but I’m a fan of the cigars. The samples of San Cristobal are pretty impressive, and I bet they’ll make some noise at the upcoming RTDA.
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Fight For Your Cigar

Posted: Jul 18, 2007 3:23pm ET
It’s time to pick up the phone and to fight for your right to have a cigar at a price you can afford. News broke this week—in Cigar Insider, on this website and throughout the cigar world—that the U.S. Senate is considering a bill that would significantly increase the price of the cigars you enjoy. The legislation would add $35 billion to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the politicians who created this bill want those funds to come from tobacco users. And the burden that would be heaped on cigar smokers, especially those who smoke premium cigars, is completely out of hand.

Many people have erroneously described this tax as a $10 tax on cigars. What it calls for is increasing the current federal tax on cigars from 20.7 percent of the manufacturer’s selling price (more on that later) to 53.3 percent. That increase is bad enough, but what gives this increase such teeth is the fact that the current tax is capped at around 5 cents a cigar, while the new plan calls for a cap of $10 per cigar. Which essentially means there will be no cap.

The manufacturers selling price, depending on the company doing the selling and other factors, is roughly one half the suggested retail price of a cigar. This tax is added first, so this tax will exacerbate any local sales taxes and state tobacco taxes you pay on your cigars.

One cigarmaker told me this would double cigar prices. Another said it would be higher than that. On top of this consumer burden is a floor tax, where those holding stocks of cigars would be forced to pay a one-time tax to cover the gap between old and new tax, or 32.6 percent. Imagine you're a cigar distributor, and you have 100,000 cigars, worth an average of $5 each. You’ll have to write a check to the government for $163,000. Now imagine having 1 million cigars in inventory. That’s $1.6 million, gone in one night.
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