Great Cigars I Have Smoked: A Lesson in Inconsistency
Posted: Apr 24, 2007 10:28am ET
One of my first lessons in how cigars can be incredibly inconsistent came during the first few months after we had launched Cigar Aficionado. At the time, our ratings system was causing a bit of a storm in the cigar industry. The manufacturers had never been subjected to independent scrutiny about the quality of their cigars, and, of course, never had to face a 100-point rating scale. We were confident of our methodology, but, OK, I’ll admit it, a wee bit defensive about the process.
In our second issue, we rated double coronas, and gave the Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey, from the 1992 vintage, a classic rating of 99 points. It was, and is, one of the greatest Cuban cigars ever made. But we gave a Partagas Lusitania a mere 88 points, saying that while it was good, it had not lived up to its legendary reputation.
Within a month after the issue’s publication, one of my favorite gentlemen in the cigar business, Max Guttmann from Mexico, showed up in our offices in New York. Max is an international businessman, and he owns the Casa del Habano franchise in Mexico. He is sophisticated and urbane, and has one of the greatest collections of cigars that I’ve ever seen. But at the time, I didn’t know him that well. He walked into my office, and in so many words—kindly of course—said we didn’t know what we were doing. I went through the usual litany about the fact that tastings are subjective, and that in this case, we had all arrived at the same conclusion.
Max pulled out his leather cigar case, pulled apart the two sections, and drew out one of the darkest, oiliest, most luxurious looking cigars that I had ever laid eyes on. “This is a Lusitania,” he said, continuing to extol its virtues as his favorite cigar, saying it was much, much better than most Hoyos.
I agreed to smoke it on the spot with him. In my memory, I can remember it being so oily that it felt like I had to hold on tight to keep it from slipping out of my fingers. It was firm, but not hard, and had that indescribable aroma when held under your nose that seems to come from somewhere between a barnyard and an earthy, mushroom patch.
I clipped and lit it, and I knew immediately that I was smoking one of the greatest cigars that I would smoke in my life. I found all those flavor characteristics that we’d already been taught were the hallmarks of a great Cuban cigar. Sweet cocoa bean. Leather. Spice. An incredibly complex smoke with a finish that never seemed to stop. I didn’t want to put it out, and kept on smoking with Max until I felt I had to get back to work.
He sat there smiling.
I didn't score that cigar, but I would have given it at least 99 points, to match the Hoyo. In fact, it was probably a 100 point cigar. Unfortunately, I’ve never had another Lusitania quite as good as that, and certainly, in the dark days of the Cuban cigar industry during the late 1990s, there were many that didn’t resemble anything that could be called great.
But that day is notable for two things. I did learn a lesson about how important it was to taste cigars blind, and judge them for what you smoke, not what you think it should smoke like. And, I smoked one of the greatest cigars of my life.
P.S. Over the next few months, I will writing a “Great Cigars I Have Smoked Series.” There are about a dozen stories to be told. But this was one of the best, and one of the first.
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