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James Suckling

Back in the Cigar Capital

Posted: Sep 24, 2007 11:51am ET
I am on my second cortado this morning as I write this blog from Havana. And it’s sooo good. The small and thick sweet espresso with hot milk is like thick, warm milk chocolate. I would smoke a cigar with it right now but I have some meetings with people from Habanos S.A., the global marketing and distribution company for Cuban cigars, and they have a number of cigars they want me to try. I think they want me to smoke the new limitadas as well as the culebras. But I am not sure. I will report back later.

I did smoke a couple of cigars yesterday after I arrived from London on my direct flight with Virgin Atlantic. I went over to a friend’s house and fired up a Punch Punch. It was from March 2000. What a drag. It was bitter and bland. At least it drew well. But it reminded me how dull, even rotten, cigars from this period were. I smoked it for about 10 minutes and threw it in the street before I went to the ballet, Carmen, with some friends at the National Theater in Old Havana.

I like the fact that you see more cigar butts than cigarette butts in this dusty city by the sea. I seldom see smashed cigar butts in my home state--the People’s Republic of California. I went for a run this morning down the Malecon and I jumped over numerous smashed cigar butts--so much for a smoke free state. I cringe with the thought of all the health fascists in America that don’t even believe in the personal liberties of people enough to even allow people to smoke outside anymore. But that’s another column.

I did have a fabulous cigar already. It was a Rey del Mundo Grandes de España, which is no longer made. The long and refined smoke from 1996 delivered wonderfully fresh aromas and flavors. It showed tea, tobacco, citrus and nutty character. It was so clean and beautiful. I gave it 93 points. I smoked it with a mojito before dinner at El Templete, the terraced restaurant on the Malecon near Plaza de San Francisco. It’s one of my favorite restaurants at the moment in Havana and serves excellent fresh fish.
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The Snake is Back from Cuba

Posted: Sep 10, 2007 9:42am ET

I can't wait to get my hands on the new Partagas Culebras. The hand-made cigars are arriving from Cuba in the market in the next few weeks. And they are completely hand-made. In the past, they were made with short filler tobacco and partially machine made. But the Cubans have upgraded them. Check out the photo below.

I haven't smoked a culebra in a long, long time, but I still remember the one of the first times I did. It was with Eric de Rothschild at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in the mid-1980s. Rothschild, who oversees the first growth Bordeaux, was a keen cigar smoker at the time and had stocks of cigars aging in London at Robert Lewis Cigar Merchants.

"James, I like my cigars with a minimum of seven years of box age," he told me. I was not about to complain. In fact, the culebras was a mild and delicious smoke.

I have to admit that it was sort of weird smoking the twisted cigar. As you know, a culebras, which means snakes in Spanish, are actually three twisted cigars wrapped together. The new Partagas are each 5 3/4 inches long with a 39 ring gauge. You have to take it apart and then smoke one of the three. I once saw some idiot smoking all three together. He seriously didn't know you have to take them apart! Traditionally, cigar rollers in Cuba were allowed one culebra per day to take home when they finished their work. I think it went out of fashion a short while after the revolution. Shame.

Anyway, we can all enjoy a good Cuban culebra in a few weeks. Maybe the tradition will start up again?

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New Limitada 2007s from Hong Kong

Posted: Aug 24, 2007 1:16pm ET

I picked up some of the new Edición Limitada 2007s last week while I was in Hong Kong celebrating a good friend’s 50th birthday – God forbid the day comes. I was in Central and I noticed the Davidoff shop in the corner of a big retail complex, so I popped in the door. Cool… Romeo y Julieta Esucdos (50 by 51/2 inches) and the Hoyo de Monterrey Regalos (46 by 4 1/3 inches). They were $35 each. Not cheap. They still didn’t have the third limitada: Trinidad Ingenious (42 by 6 ½ inches).

My friend plopped down the cash and they put a couple of each in paper sleeves. I put mine in my computer case for the long ride home to Italy on British Airways via London. By the way, if you fly through British airports at the moment, security is a bitch. They only let you have one carry on bag, which include brief cases! Thank God I knew about it on this trip so everything was in a small Tumi roller bag.

The beautiful smokes made the trip just fine and I put them in my humidor for a short rest. One thing that I noticed about the two cigars is that their wrappers were not very maduro. In fact, they didn’t look very Colorado, or dark chocolaty brown. They were darker than normal, however. I remember a few years back that Habanos said that Edición Limitadas were not necessarily dark wrappers but specially selected tobacco with addition aging.

I remember a conversation with Hilda Baró, who is the head of the Partagas factory back in 2002, and she said during a visit to her factory that some people have been confused with the Edición Limitada program because many have been calling them maduro cigars. “This is not true,” she said. “These cigars are not maduro. They are simply made with aged wrappers which have been coming from the upper parts of the plant, particularly the top ones or coronas.”

Because wrapper leafs come from the top of the plant, they are richer and slightly thicker, which gives them a slightly darker color brown after processing. In fact, for many years, numerous tobacco growers in the Vuelta Abajo didn’t even bother picking their coronas because they took too much time to cure and process. In any case, the cigar people I spoke to in Havana a few weeks ago about the limitadas called the limitada wrappers colorado oscuro or oscuro, but not maduro.
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A Double at the Bar

Posted: Aug 14, 2007 6:49am ET
I smoked a 1996 Partagas Lusitania from a cedar cabinet box of 50 last night in a small hipster wine bar in Hong Kong called Bar Aedes. This is a place a lot of the wine and restaurant trade hang in, and they don’t mind smoking. So cool…

Anyway, the Lusi was one of the best double coronas I have had in a long, long time. Wine and cigar merchant Thomas Bohrer brought them to the bar. The cigar was very flavorful, yet refined, with cedar, dried flower and nutty character. I gave it 93 points last night.

I hadn’t smoked a double corona for ages and neither had Thomas. I just don’t seem to find the time to smoke one anymore. And I have to admit that they are a bit ostentatious. I have even had people get aggressive when I have smoked one. I guess it’s something like “my cigar is bigger than your cigar.”

Luckily, there was none of that last night. And we just enjoyed what was a great cigar, with a few glasses of wine.
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A Matter of Taste

Posted: Aug 2, 2007 1:00pm ET
Taste preferences are a funny thing, even with cigars. Last week, I had two instances when some buddy’s ideas about a cigar were completely the opposite of mine. And I am usually in sync with these guys.

The first time was when I was smoking a Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Monarca sitting outside Punta Ala harbor in Tuscany on my friend’s boat. I thought the elegant yet rich smoke showed wonderful balance and perfumes with loads of flavor. He said that the Monarca had no flavor. I was ready to throw him overboard! I tried to explain to him in Italian that power is not necessarily flavor. I guess he is too used to his Partagas Serie D No. 4s.

The second time was smoking a Cohiba Siglo VI with a cigar merchant friend from Hong Kong after a dinner al fresco with some friends at my house. I thought the cigar showed wonderful richness yet was full of finesse with cedar, cappuccino and tobacco character. It burned wonderfully. In fact, I think it is one of the best cigars the Cubans have made in the last 10 years. It’s consistently a 95-point smoke for me. Yet my friend said “it lacked body and flavor.”

Perhaps smoking the cigars outside had some effect on the differences in opinions? It’s harder to focus your attention on a smoke outside, and surely some of the smoke and flavor dissipates more quickly compared to smoking inside.

Anyway, some prefer blondes, others brunettes…. what can I say?
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Perfume to Politics

Posted: Jul 23, 2007 4:51pm ET
I was at a big dinner on the Tuscan coast in honor of the American Ambassador for Italy over the weekend. About 40 or us were fêting the friendly and very professional diplomat, and by the end of the meal as we sat outside next to an illuminated pool, a few of us lit up some cigars. At my table of about 10 people, a friend and I were smoking Ramon Allones Specially Selected, the rich and wonderful Cuban robusto. Other tables had some Cohiba Robustos glowing.

Anyway, I overheard my friend speaking to the host of the party, a beautiful leggy brunette. He was commenting on how he could smell her perfume across the table. I think he was being a bit derogatory about it. He’s a wine producer and he gets rather pissed off when pungent women are in his presence and he is trying to enjoy his wine.

If I am seriously tasting wine, I see his point. But at a chic dinner, or just about any other time for that matter, a beautiful woman with beautiful perfume only enhances the whole experience.

I heard her say to my buddy, "What can you smell with that cigar going?"

“I promise you that I can smell your perfume,” he said. “And I prefer the smell of my cigar to what it is.”

I thought that the whole thing was getting a little out of hand. So I interjected, "I have a cigar as well. Let me see what perfume you are
wearing," as I raised my nose and gave a sniff across the table. "You smell like roses!"

"You’re right," she said with a big smile. "It’s Absolute Rose from Annick Goutal."

The table went quite for a second and then the conversation changed from perfume to politics.
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Just Last Night

Posted: Jul 17, 2007 11:46am ET
I smoked a La Gloria Cubana Medaille D’Or No. 2 last night. It was the first of a box I had laying around in my cellar for the last 10 years. And it was the bomb. It was packed with decadent, almost cheesy aromas and flavors. Some might even describe it as raw meat. Anyway, it was rich and wonderful with lots of tobacco character as well that verged on cappuccino, and it finished the night off with a bang. The only thing better was the 1950 Croft I drank with it to celebrate someone’s birth year at my dinner party. I gave the La Gloria 95 points. The Port was 90 points.

The cigar actually was put in the box in 1993, which I think was a great time for Cuban cigars. Export production was very small at the time, may be as little as 30 million sticks. And the cigars, like the La Gloria, that were coming out of the Partagas factory at the time were stupendous.

I haven’t smoked any new production La Glorias in a while. But it makes me think that I should…
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The Beauty of Differences

Posted: Jul 12, 2007 11:14am ET
I smoked a Juan Lopez Obus torpedo last night at a friend’s house in Tuscany following dinner. It was just the right thing after a few pieces of grilled Florentine steak and 1999 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso Riserva and 1995 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle. Both were in magnum. The small torpedo, or “campana,” was surprisingly mellow and refined with creamy, cedar character and medium finish. It drew wonderfully and delivered very pleasant flavors. 90 points.

The cigar, which measures 52 ring gauge by 5 ½ inches long, was introduced last year in France as one of the year’s regional edition smokes. Each year the Cubans specially make a number of cigars for selected markets and the Obus was for the French market last year. They came in both 25 and 10 cigar cabinet cedar boxes.

Interestingly, Josh Meerapfel, the Belgian cigar man who grows wrapper tobacco in Cameroon, was hanging for a few days with me with his wife. And he was at the dinner smoking away on a Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Robusto next to me. So I took a drag off it.

It was strong and more flavorful than the Lopez. But I wouldn’t say it was better. It was just different. It was like comparing the Brunello and the Hermitage. Both were excellent wines but very different.
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Maduro Cohibas in Rainy London

Posted: Jul 6, 2007 4:27pm ET

“F.. them,” said one of the cigar merchants at the outdoor cigar fest in the middle of the West End of London last night. ‘This will show them that they can’t stop us.”

He looked defiant and sure of himself. May be it was the mojito talking or the buzz of the Cohiba Maduro 5 he was smoking? But he was pissed off. And I don’t blame him. It seems strange not to be able to smoke in London, where many consider to be the world’s cigar Mecca. Since July 1, smoking has been prohibited in all public places, even in private public places like gentlemen’s clubs and country clubs.

It’s not going to be the same to stop in at my club in London, the Savile, and not smoke in the library or bar reading the paper with a glass of wine or Champagne. What am I going to have with my glass of vintage Port? London won’t be London any more.

But the tented cocktail party in a small park near Trafagar Square last night for about 500 people was more than a wake or protest to the loss of personal liberties like smoking in the UK. Hunters & Frankau, the UK agent for Cuban cigars, organized the event to celebrate the arrival of the new maduro Cohiba: Secretos (40 ring gauge by 4 3/8 inches) Magicos (52 ring by 4 ½ inches) and Genios (52 ring by 5 ½ inches). I smoked a Secretos during the two-hour event with a mojito talking to various cigar merchants and smokers.

It had the same spicy, coffee almost roasted dried meat character and the strength and richness of Cohiba that I remember when I smoked the cigar earlier this year in Havana. But perhaps it was a little less punchy. 91 points. Granted, this could have been due to the abysmal weather. It’s the first time I have ever had cold feet in July! What did Mark Twain say about the coldest winter he spent was a summer in San Francisco? Well, yesterday was one of the coldest and wettest days of the year for me! What would the great smoker say about wet and cold London in the summer like yesterday?
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A Good Robusto

Posted: Jun 28, 2007 9:16am ET
I smoked a couple of Ramon Allones Specially Selected over the last week with some friends from Hong Kong. One is Alex Wong, who I believe is the greatest cigar collector in the world. He actually keeps the collection with his dad George.

Anyway, we smoked a RASS from my cellar, which was current production. It was boxed in July 2006. And we also smoked some from his collection, which were from 1996.

I found his robusto stronger and slightly bitter compared to mine, which had plenty of earthy, spicy, coffee and chocolate character. Mine was clearly a better smoke. It was balanced and flavorful without being harsh. 91 points. Try to get some if you get the chance.

The 1996 bothered me because of that bitter character. Alex thought that "it needed more age to come around," but I was not convinced. It was just too harsh and aggressive in the end. I was happy I had my cigars instead of his!

It’s good to see current production Cubans finally outdoing what I believe was a Golden Age for Cuban cigars, from 1988 to 1996.
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