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James Suckling

A Boring Partagas

Posted: Jun 14, 2007 11:57am ET

A buddy of mine from Hong Kong, Thomas Boherer, stayed a few days in Tuscany at my house about a month ago and he was nice enough to leave a few cigars in my humidor. I am not completely sure of their age. But it seemed a current production smoke. They were big, burly ones too – a Partagas Salomones.

This is not the legendary Salomones, or perfecto/figuerado, that was made in 1996 in 100 humidors of 50 smokes. It was something made now or a few years ago.

In any case, I fired one up while I was watching a movie with my son the other night at home. I was looking forward to the spicy, earthy and rich character of a great Partagas. Unfortunately, the cigar didn’t deliver. It was rather mild with creamy, tobacco and tea character. It was even slightly weedy, or straw-like. It was a good smoke but nothing special. 86 points.

It’s funny, but big boring smokes can be real disappointments. I guess it’s because they are so big and beautiful that you expect more out of them than a small one. Anyway, I smoked it for about a half and hour and just put it down and let it go out. Why smoke a boring cigar?
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The Terroir of Cuban Cigars

Posted: Jun 4, 2007 11:06am ET
I smoked a H. Upmann Magnum 46 over the weekend with a winemaker friend in Tuscany who also spends a lot of time in Geneva. The cigar was fantastic and it came from a large stash of 46s currently on sale at Gerard Pere et Fils in Geneva, which remains one of the great cigar shops in the world. Apparently, owner Vahe Gerard stocked up on the smokes about a year ago because he was impressed with their quality.

The man did well. In fact, I can still taste the Magnum 46's spicy, earthy, rich flavors and full and satisfying texture as I write this blog. The cigar has almost a decadent, meaty character to it.

“Smell this,” said my friend late in the evening on Saturday, holding his unlit 46 to his nose. “You don’t find that in cigars from other parts of the world. It’s that earthy, rich character that only Cubans deliver. What’s that all about?”

I explained to him as we lit up our smokes that it was all about the same things as great wine…soil, climate, fermentations, aging, processing, and manufacturing. The French have a word for it—terroir—in regards to wine. My understanding of the term is that the greatness of a wine is a question of the interplay of soil, climate and man. We might use a word in English like ecosystem. I am not sure what it would be in Spanish – ecosistema?

In any case, in my opinion great wine and great cigars are a question of terroir. It’s when that amazing combination of soil, climate and the work of man translates through tobacco and grapes, which ultimately become a great cigar or a great bottle of wine.

And I had that feeling last Saturday night when I was smoking a Magnum 46 with my friend. I gave it 93 points. Try one.
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Cigars and Cannes

Posted: May 24, 2007 10:54am ET
Cigars still seem to be in fashion in the movie world, at least in Cannes. I was in the South of France for the annual film festival last weekend with some friends from Hong Kong, including Peter Lam and David Tang—both who also happen to own a piece of The Pacfic Cigar Company Ltd., the distributor of Cuban cigars in the Far East as well as Canada.

Lam is also a director of Media Asia, which is one of the largest film companies in the Far East. As I wrote earlier this week in my blog for Wine Spectator, he was in Cannes selling a new film he has coming out later this year called ‘Warlords,” which could redefine Chinese movies. It’s an epic film about three brothers battling together in what was known as the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) during the Qing Dynasty.

There are lots of battle scenes but also a gripping story of betrayal, adultery and brotherhood that we can all understand. It is action packed and full of saga—along the lines of “Braveheart.”

Anyway, there were plenty of cigars burning during the weekend and I noticed at just about every restaurant or club I was in a number of people were smoking cigars. Most were puffing on robustos such as Partagas Serie D No. 4 or Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2, but a few were even brave enough to smoke Churchills and double coronas.

There’s not much better than sitting in Cannes with a nice smoke in an outside café and watching the world go by—especially during the Film Festival.
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When Passion Blinds

Posted: May 16, 2007 9:01am ET
I appreciate the intense passion or enthusiasm some people have for cigars, particularly Cuban. But I think some times it gets carried away and it leads people to say ridiculous things.

For example, I have heard people say, and have seen them write, that Cigar Aficionado rates fake cigars because the descriptors and quality criteria we use are not the same as the ones they use, or not up to their standards. Or if there is a typo in an article I write, or some other mistake, then I am intentionally trying to slander Cuban cigars and all 11 million inhabitants of the island.

Chill hermano. Fuma. Calma.

I am sorry to disappoint them, but Cuba has made some bad cigars and will continue to, just like every other cigar producing country. Premium cigars,for the most part, are artisan products and quality can’t be completely controlled, especially when it’s hand made.

I was sitting in Havana a few months back and smoking a cigar with Ricardo Alarcon, who is president of Cuba’s National Assembly, and he agreed that quality in the late 1990s and the first few years of 2000 were not up to scratch. Why can’t others simply agree with the facts? Or at least try to understand them…
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Global Warming and Cameroon Wrappers

Posted: May 4, 2007 9:14am ET

My mobile phone rang early the other morning in Los Angeles, which woke me from dreams of sake and Trinidad Robusto Extras the night before. It was a bit hazy, but it was a familiar voice coming out of the small speaker—Josh Meerapfel, the young tobacco entrepreneur and grower who produces the best Cameroon wrapper in the world. If you smoke stuff like Fuente Don Carlos, then you have smoked Josh’s wrapper.
He’s a good friend and had just got back from Africa. “We need some rain, man,” he said. “It’s really got me nervous. We should be fine, but this weather is crazy.”
Sometimes we forget how cigars are really an agricultural product, especially when they are made with tobacco from Cameroon and the Central African Republic. Wrapper there is all hand grown and hand cultivated. There is no irrigation, no tractors, no nothing. I have been there. Most of the tobacco growers live in mud huts with no running water or electricity. It’s real Out of Africa/Dr. Livingston I Presume/Real Deal Jungle, with tobacco fields.
When I was there we would hike for miles through thick jungle to visit various growers. A few weeks before one of the Meerapfel's  employees was attacked by a big cat. I can’t remember if it was a leopard or a lion or what. I didn’t care. I was sweating bullets walking through that jungle! I think I had to change my underwear when I got back to the camp.
Anyway, everyone speaks about the weird weather and how it affects their tobacco crop. I remember old Alejandro Robaina was talking about the same thing a few months back in Vuelta Abajo in Cuba.

Global warming is real.  I hope the earth corrects itself soon. Or maybe we will be growing tobacco in Los Angeles, if we can find the space?
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Cellaring Cigars

Posted: Apr 30, 2007 10:42am ET
I saw this this morning over my coffee, and I thought I better chime in. The parameters for aging cigars is always slightly subjective, but I prefer to have mine a little dry. That’s how it’s always been done in England, and the British are the specialists in aging smokes.

I prefer to keep my cigars around 65 percent humidity and 65 degrees. The latter is important to keep cool because warmer temperatures run the risk of allowing beetles to hatch and munch your sticks!

Anyway, here is a posting from Wine Spectator’s site on storing cigars in wine cellars. It’s from the Dr. Vinny section, which is a Q&A feature on the web.

April 27, 2007:

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I would like to start storing and presenting cigars openly in my wine cellar. Will it hurt my wine to store the cigars in the cellar side by side?


Dear Chris,

It won’t hurt your wine, but it might hurt your cigars. I checked with Gordon Mott, executive editor of Cigar Aficionado, and he says that the ideal condition for cigar storage is a 70 degree temperature at 70 percent humidity, which roughly matches the growing conditions of the tobacco.

However, the ideal storage for wine is 55 degrees at about 70 percent humidity. This means that wine cellar temperature is generally too cool to store cigars. Why would that matter? Well, for one, humidity is also relative to temperature. I know it sounds like magic (it’s science!) but for every drop in temperature degree below the ideal for cigars 70 degree temperature, you need to increase the humidity to keep cigars properly humidified. If the air is too cold, it won’t be able to hold enough moisture in suspension. So at 55 degrees, you’d need about 80 percent humidity. Over the long term, your cigars are likely to dry out in your wine cellar.

The good news is that cellars aren’t awful for short-term cigar storage, and that cool temperature will prevent the hatching of any dreaded tobacco beetles (ew!).
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The Strength of Harmony

Posted: Apr 25, 2007 7:46am ET

About a week ago I had a small dinner party at my house in Tuscany with Giacomo Neri of Casanova di Neri and Vicenzo Abbruzzese of Valdicava. These two guys are some of the best wine producers in Italy, making Tuscany’s famous red, Brunello di Montalcino. I gave both of their Brunellos 100 points about a month ago in Cigar Aficionado’s sister publication Wine Spectator. The wines were the 2001 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Madonna del Piano Riserva and the 2001 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto.

We drank those wines as well as two other 100-pointers: 2000 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto Riserva and 1990 Latour. I was feeling too generous that night. They were some of my best bottles in my cellar. But that is what great wines are for…drinking.

And all four wines were mind blowers. What was amazing about them was that they were powerful and rich; yet they continued to have an elegant, refined undertone. They did not blast you with fruit or tannins, like some modern wines today. It was all about balance. And all of them continue to deserve 100 points.

Thinking about that dinner also made me reflect about what we smoked after dinner. I had a cigar and wine merchant friend from Hong Kong over as well, Thomas Bohrer. I smoked a 1988 Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 (50 ring gauge by 4 7/8 inches) as did Giacomo Neri while Thomas lit up one of my last 1993 Cohiba Siglo I’s (40 ring gauge by 4 inches). My and Giacomo’s cigars were so refined and flavorful with wonderful harmony with loads of tobacco, cedar and dried flower character. I gave it 96 points.

Thomas’s smoke, even though was a short one, was never finished. The guy loves cigars but I guess he found it too strong. I have smoked it many times and it is a blockbuster smoke. And I love it, especially with a rich espresso. But for some it is too much.
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Lovely Lonsdale

Posted: Apr 9, 2007 11:06am ET
I am smoking a 1998 Partagas Lonsdale from a cedar cabinet of 50 cigars and it is lovely. It is balanced with lots of cedar, dried flower and cappuccino character. I don’t want it to go out. (92 points.) It was made in the Partagas factory in downtown Havana.

Whenever I smoke a lonsdale, I think of Havana. The cigar measures 42 ring gauge by 6 ½ inches long.

I remember that this was the preferred smoke of many of the top cigar people in Havana in the 1990s. It was to Cubans who smoke, what espresso is to Italians who drink coffee. I haven’t met many Italians who don’t drink coffee.

Or maybe smoking the lonsdale in Havana is like ordering a beer in Ireland? You get a Guinness. You don’t get another beer from a pub on the Emerald Island unless you ask for it.

I think that many of the old timers liked the Montecristo No. 1 when it came to lonsdales. They liked the mellow cedary character of the Monte. They also said that it was just the right length…longer than a corona or petite corona (Monte No. 3 and No. 4). Those cigars were just not long enough for after a meal.

I understand what they are saying, especially today after lunch.
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Taking a Break from Barrels

Posted: Apr 3, 2007 11:23am ET
I just lit up a Montecristo Petit Edmundo, and the spicy and tobacco character in the smoke is seducing me like a lost girlfriend who wants me back, and is willing to do anything to make me happy.

It’s just what I need after tasting close to 500 barrel samples in Bordeaux for the Wine Spectator over the last two weeks. I have been in Bordeaux tasting the region’s newest vintage. (Check out my report on And it’s been hard work. A lot of the reds showed excessive tannins either from being made from slightly unripe grapes or overextraction during the fermentation and macerations. But there are also some superb wines including: Latour, Margaux, Mouton, La Mission-Haut-Brion, Léoville Las Cases, Pétrus, Trotanoy, Vieux-Chateau-Certan, Lafleur, and Pavie. There are another two dozen or so outstanding wines.

My tasting has been an aid to people interested in buying 2006 Bordeaux as futures, or “en primeur.” Basically, it’s buying the wines as they age in the cellars of the various châteaus and securing the wines you want at a particular price and a certain quantity. In the past, people bought the wines at lower prices as futures than when they arrived in the market two years or so later in bottle. But it’s not as sure now with the large increases in prices for the last vintage as futures, 2005, but the ‘05s are amazing wines. They may be as great as the legendary 1961. I tasted a number of them during my stay this time and they continue to spellbind me.

I wish I could say the same about 2006. It is not a year to buy many futures, especially for Americans with the weakness in the dollar against the euro. Unless prices come down significantly, I doubt there will be much action in the world market for futures, except with a few precious names. But if someone wants to buy, there are some interesting wines.

Anyway, what a pleasure to be sitting outside right now on the balcony of my hotel in Bordeaux at Les Source de Caudalie puffing away on a PE Monte on a sunny spring afternoon. La vie est belle! Life is beautiful. The PE is 92 points too!
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A Petit Robusto Takes Me Home for the Night

Posted: Mar 23, 2007 11:11am ET
I smoked a Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robusto the other night while finishing a bottle of 2000 Lafite with a buddy in the fashion business who lives near me in Tuscany. Is it my imagination or is the PR stronger than the Hoyo Epicure No. 2?

I would have thought that the PR would be milder, like the Epi No. 2. But it seemed very strong for this cigar. I think a lot of Cuban cigars are stronger these days as factories use better-aged ligero, or stronger tobacco in their blends.

These “abridged version” or “Cliff notes” smokes seem to be concentrated versions of the original. The Hoyo PR is certainly richer and stronger than the Hoyo Epi No. 2 and the Montecristo Petit Edmundo is equally stronger than the normal Edmundo. I wonder if the Cubans do this intentionally when they create the blends for these cigars?

Anyway, it was a hell of a smoke. And it was better than the Lafite 2000. I scored this wine 100-points in blind tastings for CA’s sister publication, the Wine Spectator. It was not 100 points the other night though. It was so tight and closed. It wasn’t giving much of anything. It was a real bitch of a wine…

I don’t think it was a perfect bottle. May be the cork was a little off? Or the wine had not been stored properly? I have had the Lafite 2000 many times and it’s a perfect young thing. So don’t worry if you have some.

Nonetheless, Hoyo Petit Robusto stole my heart that night with my Italian friend. I only wish it had been longer…
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