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David Savona

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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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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