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James Suckling

Good Start in La Habana

Posted: Feb 23, 2010 1:24pm ET
Piano jazz legend Chucho Valdés blew me away at the opening night of the 12th Festival Habano at the Gran Teatro de la Habana. The only bad news was that we couldn’t smoke anything. There are limits for smokers even in Havana!

The big man from Havana is a maestro on the piano and is able to master anything from classic to fusion jazz. I loved his piece “Basema Mucho” with Portuguese singer Mariza. He also played a number of songs with Brazilian composer Ivan Lins, who admitted to the crowd of about 800 that “he was a big consumer of Cuban cigars.”

If only I could have smoked a cigar during the gig. I am sure Chucho and Ivan felt the same way, because they love puffing on Cohibas.

Apparently a lot of Chucho’s music last night came from his new album: “Chucho’s Steps.” It’s real Latin fusion, with edgy intensity to it. He played with a new band called Afro-Cuban Messengers. “The idea about the concert has a lot to do with the perspective of my new concept, I mean, adding two brass instruments to the band, plus percussionist Dreisser Durruti, a guy who knows the African drums pretty well, let alone he can sing and dance,” he told Habanos S.A., the organizers of the event and global marketing and distribution company for Cuban cigars, in an interview for its in house newsletter.

Prior to the show, talking heads from Habanos told participants what to expect in this year’s five-day event. I wrote about the key new cigars for this year in yesterday’s blog. There was talk of also debuting the new Edición Limitadas as well. I am sure some of you have seen postings on the Internet of the expected trio: Montecristo Grand Edmundo, measuring 5 7/8 inches by 52 ring gauge; Partagas Serie D Especial, 5 1/2 by 50; and Trinidad Short Robusto T, 4 inches by 50. Apparently, they are not coming in boxes of 25 anymore, but simply 10s, or 12s with the Trinidad.

I got some clarification on the women’s cigar tribute, or whatever. Apparently, it’s only the Julieta, which is a slender smoke measuring 33 ring by 120mm. This is supposed to attract women smokes. It comes in a “cute” aluminum 5-pack case and it has a very girly band of gold and pinkish/red. We have to smoke them on Wednesday during a dinner to celebrate women’s involvement with cigars from growing tobacco to processing to rolling to selling to consuming. I might be bringing something a little more manly to smoke that night!

Fired up the new Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill and it’s a hell of a smoke. It’s very much along the same flavor profile as its little brother Romeo y Julieta Short Churchill, but it delivers a little more richness and sweetness. I like the spiciness on the finish, with just the right about of cedar and tobacco.

I stayed for a short while at the cocktail party and buffet in the ballroom of the Gran Teatro, which is breathtaking in all its marble splendor. But I decided to escape with my Mexican buddy Max Gutmann and eat some fresh fish at El Templete restaurant. (I miss the now defunct La Guarida!) We drank a bottle of 2004 Marqués de Vargas Reserva, which was fresh and racy for a Rioja and went well with our grilled snapper.

The 1996 H. Upmann Sir Winston that Max turned me on to was amazing. It shows fascinating aromas and flavors of tea, cedar and delicate fruits, even citrus. So much there still. I scored it 95 points, non blind.

All in all, it was a good start to a good week in La Habana.



You can follow James Suckling on Twitter: twitter.com/JamesSuckling


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