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James Suckling

Day 6: A Room Full of Friends

Posted: Mar 3, 2008 11:05am ET
The massive room at the Pabexpo in the chic Havana neighborhood of Siboney was already thick with smoke within the first 30 minutes of the gala dinner on Friday during the 10th annual Festival del Habano. The thousand or so participants were either smoking the Trinidad Reyes handed out at the door by a line of gorgeous Cuban women, or their own stash. I fired up the Reyes and it was delicate and satisfying, as usual.

The room was filled with everyone who loves cigars, from merchants to collectors. And they came from just about everywhere in the world where cigars are sold. I noticed a few Americans also. Plus, a number of key ministers were there, including Ricardo Alarcon, the president of the National Assembly. There was no sign of the Castro brothers. In fact, a Castro hasn’t been seen at the event for a number of years now. The humidors sold for charity at an auction at the event are no long signed by Fidel Castro.

Nonetheless, there was plenty of entertainment and lots of fun at the event. Check out my video. It was almost worth the ticket price of $550 for the cigars alone. There was a nice sampler pack of 10 cigars in a laminated box at each seat. And then there were four other cigars to smoke during the meal including the Trinidad Reyes, San Cristobal Mercaderes, Hoyo de Monterey Epicure No. 2, and Cohiba Maduro 5 Genios. I smoked everything but the Epi. The San Cristobal was very light, almost tasteless, but the rest were excellent. In fact, I love the Cohiba Maduro 5 Genios.



The best cigar of the night, however, was the 150th Anniversary Partagas Robusto. What a cigar!! It showed amazing aromas and flavors of dried roses, cedar and light spices. The palate was full, fresh and super long. It touches every tastebud on my palate. I scored it 97 points, non blind. I also took a puff off a buddy’s 1992 Flor de Cano Diademas, a Churchill that replaced the Davidoff Dom Perignon for a few years after the DP was discontinued. Great smoke too with more of a nutty, mahogany, almost smoked almond character. 99 points, non blind.

Sharing cigars and cameraderie is really what the Gala Dinner is all about. “The dinner is fine, but I wouldn’t go if I wasn’t with all of you at the table tonight,” said one of my best friends at the dinner.

Nonetheless, Friday night’s gala dinner may have been the best ever. The food was very, very good by Cuban standards with the main course of roasted lobster perfectly cooked for such a large group. The wine selection from Torres was adequate and the 15-year-old Edmundo Dantes rum was certainly not a downer.

The various shows were very good. I particularly liked the Tropicana dancers half way through. I got them on the video. It reminded me of cool shows in Vegas.

I only stayed for part of the annual auction to raise money for the Cuban health system. Prices were very high and started at about $70,000 a lot despite the fact that the eight large humidors had not been signed by former president Fidel Castro. The auction raised 945,000 euros or more than $1.4 million.

It was a shame it had to end, but I needed to get up at 5 am to catch a 7:35 to Cancún, Mexico. Thinking about getting up in three hours to catch a plane was the worst part about this year’s gala dinner.


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