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James Suckling

They Are Magnifico

Posted: Nov 26, 2007 10:09am ET
On November 16 I smoked the fabulous regional edition Cuban cigar for the U.K. market in London’s Davidoff shop, and what a smoke. The Por Larrañaga Magnifico is one hell of a cigar. It was specially produced this year for Hunters & Frankau, the U.K. agent for Cuban cigars. It measures 50-ring gauge by 6 3⁄4 inches long.

The cigar is a replica of the famous Por Larrañaga Magnum, although it is two millimeters shorter. The original magnum was one of the greatest cigars ever produced in my opinion, even though it ceased production in the 1970s. I have smoked old Magnums over the years including those from the 1950s and 1960s and I was always impressed with the cedary, floral and rich tobacco flavor of the cigars. And the large size assured a beautiful draw.

The Magnifico is very close in character. Here is my tasting note: This starts out very florar with cedar and tea character. Very Por Larrañaga. Medium bodied very fine and balanced. Grows in flavor. Mine has a very white ash for a Cuban. This is very creamy and refined as you smoke it down. Superb smoke. 94 points.

The Magnifico was essentially the brainchild of Simon Chase, the marketing director of Hunters & Frankau. He is one of the most knowledgeable blokes (guys) I know on Cuban cigars. And his dream was always to make the PL Magnum again. Unfortunately, he couldn’t call his regional cigar by the same
name because H. Upmann is already making Magnums, primarily the Magnum 46 but also the Magnum 50 Edicion Limitada 2005.

Check out my video Simon and Edward Sahakian, owner of Davidoff London. Both said the new smoke reminded them of the old Cuban Dom Perignons from Davidoff.

Simon said that he flew to Cuba late last winter to finalize the production of the cigar at the new H. Upmann factory. He landed in Havana with two original magnums and about 20,000 gold leaf bands for the smokes. “I was worried what would happen if they stopped me in Havana airport,” he said as we prepared to smoke the cigar together with Edward Sahakian, the owner of the Davidoff shop. (Simon doesn’t strike me as resembling a counterfeiter or cigar bootlegger! He shouldn’t have worried.)
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Behind the Scenes of the Big Smoke

Posted: Nov 13, 2007 9:10am ET
Last weekend’s Big Smoke was awesome. Just think about it: More than 6,000 people, mostly dudes, invading Vegas and smoking and partying for one unforgettable weekend. We should do it once a month!

What impresses me the most is the camaraderie of everyone who enjoys the leaf. It’s about hanging with your brothers under the pretext of enjoying a good cigar, but taking pleasure in everything Sin City has to offer and there are lots. Just remember the motto: “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.”

Anyway, one rocking place for cigar aficionados in Vegas was Casa Fuente in the Forum Shops in Ceasars. I went with some cigar makers like Jorge Padrón, Litto Gomez and Ernesto Perez-Carrillo following the seminars and lunch at the Venetian on Saturday and it was packed. We had a blast just puffing away and talking about cigars, life and everything else in between. And we had a lot of laughs as well. Check out my video.

It sort of reminded me of kicking back in bars in Havana and smoking...I mean doing research.

It’s a shame that smoking has been curtailed slightly in Vegas; whereby, you are mostly only allowed to smoke on the casino floors or outside. But thank
God we can still smoke in special places like Casa Fuente. See you there next year, or before…
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One Satisfying Smoke in Los Angeles

Posted: Nov 5, 2007 6:17pm ET
I have become a pretty good friend to a super hipster wine bar owner in Los Angeles called David Haskell of Bin 8945. His small place in West Hollywood is one of my favorite places to hang out and drink some good wine, eat delicious France meets West Coast food, and, yes, smoke cigars. He has a terrace on the street. So so much for the health facists in La La!

Anyway, I was hanging with David last week in Los Angeles and after an excellent dinner at Comme Ca, the new high-end bistro from David Myer of the top restaurant Sona, we ended up into the wee hours smoking cigars and talking about life.

Haskell smokes a cigar or two a day at his ripe old age of about 30 (not sure of his age exactly). It was the normal chatter between friends…wine, women, and song. But he was blown away by the cigar I gave him. Guess what it was?

My standby smoke. My reach-for-
-want-to-be-staisfied stick. None other than the Montecristo Petit Robusto. Check out David’s description of smoking it in the video.

He’s right on the money. I hadn’t thought about it. But it is like smoking a double corona or churchill half way down and “boom!” You get all the chocolate, tobacco and spice character that takes a good half an hour to reach with a longer smoke in just a few minutes after lighting the Petit Robusto.

The MPR is one satisfying cigar from Havana.
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A Pleasant Surprise in Milan

Posted: Oct 24, 2007 10:17am ET
I spent a few days in Milan this week with my kids during their half-term break from school in England. I went to the fashion city to take them to my friend’s rock concert, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush. By the way, their new album Snakes and Arrows is superb. It’s the real deal, maybe their best ever. I particularly like the tracks Amor and Sword, Far Cry, and Work’in Them Angles. Hearing them live was fantastic, and it was my children’s first rock concert. Very cool! Geddy and Alex get better with time, like fine old Cuban cigars…

The day after the concert I decided to check out Noli, the cigar shop near my hotel the Park Hyatt, which is in the center of Milan—and what a pleasant surprise. Noli has a great selection and all their cigars are perfectly kept in refrigerated lockers at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit and 70 to 75 percent humidity. There were some great things there, from Maduro Cohibas to this year’s limitadas from Hoyo and Romeo y Juileta. The Trinidads are still not in!

It didn’t matter. I was super excited to see the Por Larrañaga Petit Corona in Cabinets of 50 smokes. In fact, I had to have one that morning! Check out my video blog.

The small cigar is so refined and perfumed. It really is an all-day smoke. I particularly like smoking it in the morning. I fired one up with the owner of the store, Luca Noli, and it was a dream. The only problem was that there was no place to smoke! The laws suck in Italy now for smoking in public places.

I had to walk around the Duomo Square smoking in the drizzling rain. If only I was in the warm sun in Havana, I thought to myself. Anyway, it was a lovely fresh smoke showing lots of cedar, dried flowers and cappuccino character. I would give it 92 points. And it sells for 5 Euros each. So, it’s a good deal…
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Taboada and His Custom Smokes

Posted: Oct 11, 2007 4:37pm ET
A surprising amount is said and written about custom-made Cuban cigars. These are cigars that retired factory rollers produce in various cigar shops in Havana as well as abroad. Mostly recently I was at a La Casa del Habano in Tijuana, Mexico, and retired Rodolfo Taboada Campa was rolling in the small cigar shop. He was rolling cigars on a bench just inside the door. He was there giving a demonstration to the Casa customers of the art of cigar rolling and I assume that they could buy some of his cigars as well.

As I wrote in my last blog, he gave me a couple of slightly thinner than normal Belicosos with dark chocolaty wrappers that were packed with flavor and character. (Check out my video blog when I smoked it with CA Senior Editor Dave Savona.) They were some of the richest and strongest Cuban cigars that I had smoked in a long time. They were almost like drinking a triple espresso! Moreover, they drew wonderfully. The construction was perfect. I am not sure if he used a mold or not to shape the cigar.

“When I started rolling, we didn’t use molds,” he said, when we were speaking in Spanish at the shop. “They didn’t come into popularity until after the revolution. It is not as fast as rolling with molds but I think that cigars always draw better if you make them the old fashioned way.”

He was rolling some very large, almost mammoth-sized cigars that were sort of super Montecristo A shaped and he certainly didn’t have molds for those. Besides, the mold really only gives uniformity to the bunch of filling tobacco Taboada or any other roller rolls.

I also noticed he was using the old technique for bunching called en tubado or in tubes. It’s when each leaf used for the bunch is rolled into individual tubes and the compacted together before the binder leaf or leafs are applied. Most of the rollers in Cuba today, particularly younger ones, fold the bunch leafs like an accordion instead of working with tubes. They say it is as effective and is much quicker, which means they can make more cigars and a little more money.
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Cubana, Heaven and Cigars

Posted: Oct 2, 2007 8:16pm ET
Maybe I was being a little dramatic, but I honestly thought that the Bolivar Royal Corona could be the last cigar of my life. I am not a great fan of Cubana airlines but I needed to take the flight this weekend to make my connection to Los Angeles. So I had no choice.

I quietly smoked my cigar in the morning with a cortado coffee and contemplated my life, my children, my friends, and my job. At least I wouldn’t have to do any more blogs, I thought to myself sipping the rich coffee and smoking the cigar. And I would not have to worry about all the anti-smoking laws around the world. Alimony, school fees, pissed off girlfriends, feisty editors, bad tempered immigration officers…you name it.

Gone. No more hassles.

Anyway, I got to Jose Martí Airport, checked in and went to wait for my flight. I looked out the window and I saw the beast of a plane I would be flying. It was built in the 1980s in Mother Russia. It was none other than the AS Yakolev Yak-42 D.

Here is what I read in Wikipedia online about the flying machine:

“Shortly after the type's introduction into commercial service, a number of accidents caused by vibrations in the tail section of the aircraft forced a suspension of the type's operations. After the necessary modifications were made, the Yak-42 re-entered service in the Soviet Union circa 1985. The type was never exported as new, only after the political transition of the former Soviet Union, a few Yak-42s were leased out to carriers in Africa, Cuba, Pakistan and in former Yugoslavia.”

I drank a couple of Crystal beers in the airport for courage.

We boarded the flight and it was boiling inside. The air conditioning wasn’t working since the engines were still off. It smelled of warm and sweaty people with an undertone of damp carpet. I tried to look out the scratched window. My seat was broken as well. They closed the door, started the engines and the air conditioning came on. It was much cooler but a white smoke was coming from under my seat. It was condensation from the air system and it began to look like a rock concert I went to decades ago in LA stadium for the Doobie Brothers. Lots of dry ice smoke!
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Flattery and the Real Deal

Posted: Sep 28, 2007 7:06pm ET
I smoked a Cohiba Behike and an Edmundo Dantes Conde 109 the other night during a dinner at La Guarida, the best restaurant in Havana. The Behike didn’t have a band on it and the Dantes did.

Maybe you have forgotten about the Behike. But that is the mega-expensive limited edition smoke from Cohiba that came in Elle Blue humidors that were filled with 40 sticks. They sold for a minimum of about $18,000. They are already trading for about double that on the secondary market.

Only 100 humidors were made and each one was specially engraved with the owner’s name as well as each cigar was labeled with a numbered band.

The Edmundo Dantes Conde 109 is a limited-edition Churchill with a tapered head that was made for cigar maximo Max Gutmann, the agent for Cuban cigars in Mexico. It’s just hitting the market now.

Anyway, I am sure that both cigars I smoked at La Guarida were real. But the real of the real was the Edmundo Dantes Conde 109 because it had the real band. Does that make sense?

I was trying to explain that to my friends at dinner. “What if you had a Rolex Submariner and it was from the factory in Switzerland but it didn’t have the Rolex logo with the crown on the face,” I said as I was smoking the Behike. “Would it still be a Rolex? I don’t think so.”

I wouldn’t like to say where that Behike came from. But I have smoked a real one before. It came from the bench of the roller who made them at El Laguito, the Cohiba factory. And I received it the day the cigar was launched in 2006. Behike measures 52 ring gauge by 7 1/2 inches, or a hybrid of a Lanceros in length and Siglo VI in girth. And the cigar I had at La Guarida was the definitely it, with rich yet subtle aromas and flavors of ultra-clean tobacco, minerals and dried flowers. It reminded me of the great Esplendidos of the early 1990s from the El Laguito factory. But it didn’t have the band. I gave it 97 points the other night.
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The Biggest Humidor in the World

Posted: Sep 27, 2007 12:32pm ET
I visited the Partagas factory in full sunshine. My Cuban friends were telling me that they could feel autumn in the air. It made me laugh to myself—I have never been so sweaty on an autumn’s day.

It was pretty hot and sticky in the rolling room of the Partagas factory in downtown Havana. About 300 rollers were busy handcrafting a range of cigars. I saw mostly large ring gauge, small length cigars being rolled. In fact, I asked if anyone was making double coronas and they said no. Most of the cigars were Regional Editions for the Middle East and Cohiba Maduros. The one Regional Edition that looked pretty amazing was a Bolivar Sublimes, which I believe is going to be sold in Lebanon.

Wow. It’s all changed. I remember the first time I visited the Partagas factory way back in September 1991, and most of the cigars being rolled were coronas and petit coronas. I still can’t get over how the French’s favorite Cuban smoke now is the Partagas Serie D No. 4. So much for the boring Montecristro No. 4 that used to reign in Paris.

Long live the Robusto! Long live regional editions! Long live Cohiba Maduros!

Nothing has changed though with the quality of rolling at Partagas. It still looks very, very good. It’s a pleasure to stand in the rolling room and watch people do their work. It makes you understand why we enjoy a fine handmade cigar. It’s all so artisan. In this age of high speed Internet and ultra-high tech, there’s something very calming watching a roller do his or her work.

I was given a Bolivar Royal Corona at the factory when we left the rolling room and entered the color sorting area. I wasn’t sure whether I should eat it or smoke it. It looked so good with its darkish wrapper. And it smelled rich and decadent – what I sometimes call the Partagas stink. (The factory controls the production of Bolivar.) The cigar smoked like a dream. It was rich and super flavorful with lots of tobacco, earth and even hints of cheese on the palate. 92 points. No wonder we at Cigar Aficionado awarded it Cigar of the Year last year.
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Just Smoking in the Rain, What a Wonderful Day in Havana

Posted: Sep 26, 2007 4:30pm ET
Yesterday it absolutely poured in Havana. I honestly thought that the city was going to sink underwater. I was having lunch with some friends from Habanos S.A., the global marketing and distribution company for Cuban cigars, and the restaurant that were in, La Cocina de Lilliam, was under about five inches of water in about 30 minutes.
It was lucky that Juan Giron, the head of marketing for Habanos, had brought some smokes to pass the time. We were like men in a lifeboat for about three hours and the rain pelted down. He brought a Partagas Culebras to smoke. There was also Jose Antonio Candia, who also works in marketing with Habanos, so it was the perfect smoke since when you take it apart it turns in to three tangled skinny smokes.
I must be in a slightly strange mood but I found it sort of sexy taking apart the Culebra to smoke. There are two fine silk red ribbons on each end that you need to unravel to take the cigar apart. It reminded me of undoing a few other things before enjoying something very pleasurable...
Anyway, the smoke was surprisingly powerful. I thought it was a little too strong for such a small diameter smoke, but when I spoke to a friend at Partagas, she said that they have very little seco in the thin cigar to balance the ligero. So it’s strong. “That’s the taste of Partagas,” she said with a smile. I can’t complain. I would buy the cigars again just to undo those red ribbons! 90 points. I saw it sold for about $68 Convertible Cuban Pesos in the Partagas cigar shop, or about $82 for three individual cedar boxes in a paper box. So that means nine cigars for $82.
We actually finished those Culebras before the lunch of grilled fish and black beans and rice was finished. So we fired up some Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos, which are one of this year’s three Edición Limitadas. This is a focused and rich smoke with a slightly reserved character to it on the palate. It’s funny but I have been smoking the Hoyo and the other limitada Romeo y Julieta Escudos for a couple of days, and I find them the complete opposite of what I smoked from Hong Kong a few weeks back.
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Early Morning Meeting in Havana

Posted: Sep 25, 2007 11:43am ET
I just fired up an Edmundo from an aluminum tube that I received from Manuel Garcia, commercial vice president for Habanos S.A., the global marketing and distribution company for Cuban cigars. We had an early meeting this morning at 8:15 am. I mentioned that I had a meeting to a Cuban friend this morning and she looked in a state of shock. "That doesn’t sound like Cuba," she said. Oh well. Garcia was busy this week with all the presidents of Habanos’ key distributors around the world. So, it was the only time he could fit me in to talk a little bit about sales around the world. He said that both sales volume and value were up, although the later was more. They don’t like to give out exact figures, but I suspect exports are about 125 million to 135 million cigars in a year and total revenues are between $250 million and $300 million.

Garcia, who has been working with Habanos and its predecessor Cubatabaco since 1989, said that their volume for the first eight months was up a couple of points and value up close to 10 percent. He looked pleased.

“Despite all the anti-smoking laws around the world, we are slowly gaining market share,” he said. Most of the growth is coming from such areas as Latin America, the Middle East and the Far East. Europe is stable overall, and such markets as Spain and Italy are bouncing back after a slight decline due to the introduction of draconian anti-smoking laws over the last two or three years.

I don’t know if it’s my palate this morning but the Edmundo seems a little lighter than usual. But I have been smoking more petit Edmundos of recent, and the shorter version of the Edmundo has much more punch to it than the original. I must say that I like the tube of Edmundo and Petit Edmundo, which were recently introduced. Tubes are really useful. You can throw one in your pocket or brief case and you’re sorted for day for a quick smoke when you have the chance.

Yesterday, I spent some time in the office of Juan Giron, the Spanish head of marketing for Habanos, and he said that they were going to increase the number of cigars available in tubes as well as redesign the old packaging of popular ones. For example, they have already redone the “tubos” for Montecristo as well as Romeo y Julieta. Plus you have Cohiba Siglo II and VI in tubes among others. I saw some cool looking tubes for H. Upmann in Juan’s office. One was for the Churchill-size Monarchs, which is a cigar I have
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