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Day 4: The Taste of an Habano

It was all about taste yesterday in Havana. I attended two tastings. One was a smoker in the El Laguito factory, the home of Cohiba cigars, and another was a tasting in the evening at the Nacional Hotel that I led promoting the idea of drinking Champagne while smoking cigars.

Both of the events were extremely informative and fun.

The Cohiba tasting showed how lanceros, the long, thin and elegant vitola, age very, very well. We smoked a Cohiba Lancero from the 2007 production as well as one from 1997. The younger smoke came from the stock rooms of the factory and the 1997 came from the Davidoff shop in London. Alex Iapichino, a London-based lawyer, brought the old Lanceros, and also organized the tasting.

The factory’s conference room was full of cigar aficionados, tobacco technicians as well as merchants. Check out the video. My conclusions, as you can see, were fairly strong—maybe I overstated my thoughts in the video! But great Cuban cigars age wonderfully. I have been saying this for years. And I feel strongly about it!

I don’t think anyone in the room needed convincing. The 1997 showed lovely creamy cedar and tea with milk character. It was medium bodied, with a wonderful freshness and a long and flavorful finish. It was very refined. 91 points (unblind). I thought it could use another five or six years of box age to really meet it’s perfect smoking point.

By comparison, the 2007 has much less of an aroma but was a little bit fuller bodied and rich on the back of the palate. I actually liked it more than the 1997. It was all there as I expected with dry flowers and a freshness on the palate. It was creamy and spicy with an almost smoked almond character. It was long, rich and beautiful. 92 points (unblind). I think that many of the current production of Cuban cigars are some of the best ever…

I also brought a 1991 Lancero from my small cigar collection in Italy. The cigar was originally given to me by Avelino Lara, who at the time was the manager of El Laguito. It was when I was visiting Cuba for the first time with publisher Marvin R. Shanken. In fact, it was that trip when Marvin and I came up with the idea of Cigar Aficionado magazine

Anyway, I found the 1991 clearly the best cigar of the three. It showed a dried flower, Indian tea aromas and flavors. It had medium body, with pretty tobacco and cedar character, almost sandalwood. It was long and very fresh. What a beautiful smoke. 95 points (unblind). I think the 2007 will come out the same, but I am not sure I want to wait 17 years!

A professor from the Cuban Tobacco Institute explained, if I correctly understood his Spanish, that they ferment the tobacco in a way so that all the organic material is not completely used up during the processes. So as a cigar ages it is like a very slow fermentation. When the cigar gets to about 10 or 15 years, the organic material turns inorganic and it, therefore, burns much better. “This,” he said, “gives you richer aromas than younger cigars but a much more mild and refined flavor.”

Makes sense to me. And the older cigars in the tasting proved this.

A few hours later I was in front of about 50 people smoking the new Edición Limitadas and sipping on three different vintage Champagnes from the small house of Part des Anges. (All in a day’s work.) The Champagnes included a 1998, 1996 Blanc de Blanc and 1980. We smoked each Limitada, one after the other, and tasted all the Champagnes at the same time.

What I found was that the higher the acidity in the Champagne—which essentially means the younger the fizz – the fresh and more refined the cigar had to be. For example, the richest cigar was the Montecristo Sublimes and it went perfectly with the 1980. Conversely, the most refined and refreshing smoke was the Cuaba Piramide and it went best with the youngest Champagne, the 1998.

I am not sure that everyone followed what I was saying in the room. But they certainly got the idea about Champagne with cigars. Many were very excited about the idea. One Cuban sommelier spoke for about five minutes on the subject. I was looking for the stage hook!

I really think that Champagne and cigars go very well together. The freshness of the fizz with its acidity, fruit and bubbles cleanses your palate to make it ready for every new puff of a cigar. Try it.

Just to end, this may be a little off subject, but a few hours ago I was having lunch at the El Aljibe restaurant and I found a three-pack of the new Partagas Serie P No. 2. So I decided to put it on my Flip Video. Check it out.

How hipster is that? I love the shape and color of the black and red tube. It is classy, yet modern and hip. And the tube is very, very useful….
Jorge Armenteros Princeton, NJ February 28, 2008 5:33pm ET
Ive had enough already James.... the palm trees, old havana, limited edition cigars, El Aljibe's chicken.... im looking out my window at 3 inches of snow and more to come.... i hope the rest of the cigars you smoke are plugged...respectfully...(suffering winter angst)
Steve Cohen Oakville, Ontario February 28, 2008 7:34pm ET
Very cool, great reports James.
Alex A Toronto February 29, 2008 4:33am ET
Hey steve..I am from Toronto area and I noticed you post alot of comments here. My website is Check it out. Maybe we can have a smoke together. Also we are planning to have some BBQ events in spring and summer.Alex
Jose Blanco February 29, 2008 8:26am ET
James, have you smoked any cigars with Capero NO1 wrapper, take care.
Jose Blanco February 29, 2008 8:56am ET
James, have you smoked any cigars with Capero NO1 wrapper, take care.

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