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David Savona

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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A Crazy Smoking Policy

Posted: Jul 16, 2007 11:43am ET
I shot a leisurely 18 holes the other day with my brother-in-law. We took a cart, which makes it much easier to smoke cigars. The course was playing a bit slow, so I fired up a Punch Double Corona on the fifth tee box. It lasted until about the 13th or 14th hole, when I lit a La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Lancero.

The cigars seemed to help my game, and I finished with a par. We had some time to kill and I still had half a smoke left, so we ambled up to the deck of the course’s restaurant, called Quatro Pazzi, Italian for "four crazies."

A waitress came over and we ordered a pair of Sam Adams beers. I asked for an ashtray.

“You can’t smoke here,” he said, “because there are people eating.”

Now I’m the last guy who wants to spoil someone’s meal by blowing smoke in their face, but I was sitting outside, with nothing above my head except an umbrella. And this is a huge restaurant. There are two large dining rooms inside, plus a porch that seats more than 100 people.

“Where’s the smoking section?” I asked.

I was told I could smoke a step off the patio, on the walkway leading to the restaurant. Which meant I couldn’t smoke at all.

Instead of food, we stuck to the beer and made an early exit. And that’s the last one I’m going to buy at that restaurant, unless they welcome my cigar.
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Burnt Ends  

Posted: Jul 8, 2007 3:00pm ET
Yesterday I lit a thin cigar while sitting on my front steps with my little boy. We got up, took a walk through the neighborhood, and enjoyed the time together. I puffed as he explored. He looked at the rabbit that lives next door and threw a handful of stones in a sewer grate.

My wife came home after awhile, and my boy ran to her. It was about then that the smell of my cigar—a well-aged Fuente Fuente OpusX Petit Lancero—changed dramatically. I looked down and noticed that I had smoked so much of the cigar that I had begun to burn the band. That’s the sign of a really great smoke.

I smiled, removed the scorched band, and went on smoking. This one was a beard burner.
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Independence Day Is Cigar Day  

Posted: Jul 3, 2007 12:02pm ET
Tomorrow is July 4, and I’m looking forward to it as always. My wife and young boy will be celebrating with friends at a cookout, and I can guarantee you that the day and night will include a bunch of great cigars.

Independence Day brings back fond memories of cookouts at friend’s houses, hot summer nights that always ended in the dead-end street where we took our spots to watch as the adults put down empty Michelob bottles and stuck in the wooden ends of bottle rockets, torching the fuses with lit cigarettes. We’d sit back and watch, ooh and ah at the homemade fireworks show, and chug a few too many sodas as our parents had a few too many beers. All the while the sweet smell of burning tobacco and spent fireworks seasoned the air, and every now and then we’d watch as someone walked out into the makeshift theater and laid out a new firework. When that person would run for the hills at full speed we knew it was going to be something big, and we held our ears accordingly.

So for those of you celebrating the Fourth, enjoy the day off with a few grand libations, char some meat on the grill and smoke a great cigar while you enjoy the fireworks. Happy Independence Day.

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The Morning Cigar

Posted: Jun 27, 2007 10:20am ET
Most workday mornings I walk from the train station to the office. Usually my goal is to time my stride so I make the lights, but today I felt like a cigar.

I stopped for a moment, took out my cigar case and removed a corona-sized Dominican cigar given to me by a friend. I cut it, then lit it with my Extend torch (always be prepared, right?) and started walking down Lexington Avenue.

The morning cigar is often my favorite smoke of the day. The palate is fresh, and things typically taste different early in the morning. The cigar tasted stronger than it usually does, especially at first, and it had just a touch of harshness that I seldom remember. (I'm not going to name the cigar, as I would never rate a cigar this way: being outside and walking is hardly scientific, and there’s no way to fully concentrate on the smoke.) But about four blocks into the walk, it had settled down into the hearty, woody flavor I typically associate with this cigar.

It was a completely different walk. Instead of feeling rushed, I felt relaxed. Instead of watching the lights, I was watching my fellow commuters, looking at the shop signs, and noticing a few details I otherwise would have missed.

No one gave me the evil eye for smoking, and it’s a sad comment on today’s world that I would even consider that as a possibility. (There was one raised eyebrow outside Grand Central Station when I removed my oversized Donatus guillotine cutter from my pocket, but that thing draws a stare in cigar bars, so I suppose that was to be expected.) I tried to avoid blowing smoke in anyone’s face, and no one seemed to object to my cigar.

I didn’t have time to smoke all of it, but I smoked enough to put a smile on my face. And I arrived at my office at just about the same time I normally would had I not been puffing away.

All in all, it was a good way to start the day.
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Smoking in an Undisclosed Location

Posted: Jun 22, 2007 12:12am ET
I feel a little like vice president Cheney: The other night I sat in an undisclosed location in New York City. But I wasn’t there hiding from terrorists, I was ducking the smoke police.

At this undisclosed location, I fired up two great cigars. And the reason this place will remain undisclosed is because my act of smoking was quite illegal.

I’m not going to say where it was, who I was with or even what type of place I was in. Suffice to say that we smoked in a spot where we weren’t allowed to smoke.

This is what it’s come to in New York, a city that has long prided itself on never sleeping and offering something for everyone, no matter what their taste: smokers must often resort to breaking the law if they want to indulge. A place where you’re not allowed to smoke? In today’s New York, that’s just about everywhere.

The first cigar I smoked was a Tatuaje RC 184 that was rolled two and a half years ago. It’s a 7 1/2 inch long, 57 ring figurado made entirely from Nicaraguan tobacco, and it’s heaven, a simply stunning smoke. The second was a special Davidoff rolled for the Columbus Circle store, and it too was delicious.

It was a great night, but it’s an absolute shame that it can no longer be done legally. The days of smoking indoors in New York City, for the most part, are in the past.

Unless you break the law.
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