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Day 7: Comparing Apples to Oranges?

It wasn’t the first time that I smoked a “foreign cigar” with Alejandro Robaina, the great tobacco grower from Cuba’s Pinar del Río region. Alejandro is a curious man for 89-year-old and he’s always interested to try cigars from other areas in the world. He wants to know what the competition is like outside of Cuba with cigars. As proud as he is of his tobacco and Cuban cigars in general, he also admits that good cigars can come from other countries, whether Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic.

I brought him a Padrón Serie 1926 No. 9, none other than Cigar Aficionado’s Cigar of the Year, but with a maduro wrapper. Honestly, I smoked a number of the cigars out of the box and I was not as excited by them as the lighter wrapper that I smoked when we rated our top smokes last year. But it was still interesting smoking them with Cubans. In fact, I was worried coming in to Cuba with a box of these cigars. Customs didn’t say anything after x-raying my bags. They must have thought they were Cuban. Who with a sane mind would bring Nicaraguan cigars to smoke in Cuba?

You can tell from the video that Alejandro liked the Padrón. He thought they looked great and the packaging from the white and gold bands to the wooden box were fabulous. He said that the cigar was perfectly constructed and drew like a dream. He loved the fact that the cigar was box pressed. “I haven’t seen cigars in Cuba like this in years,” he said with a big smile. “Most cigars used to be like this before the revolution.”

However, I am not sure he was all that excited by the character of the smoke. He said that it lacked a bit of flavor and remained slightly earthy, like most Nicaraguan cigars. “It’s not really fair for me to say,” he said. “I smoke Cuban cigars all the time and I smoke my cigars most of the time. So my taste is for that.

“I am sure that the public enjoys smoking the Padrón cigars,” he said, almost apologizing for not being that excited about it. "They have wonderful character for them. And they draw marvelously.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant by that. I think he was trying to be diplomatic. I tried to explain to him that comparing his cigars to Padrón is like comparing Cuban coffee to Nicaraguan coffee. They have different aromas, flavors and character. I have made the same argument to the Robainas, and others, about wine. California Cabernet is different than Bordeaux, but each has its own quality and character.

Nonetheless, it was still fun to see old Alejandro smoking the Padrón. He’s really a wonderful man and a great aficionado of tobacco. I hope that one day he and José Orlando Padrón can smoke a cigar together. They will have to decide which one though! Even better, I would be great to have a Padrón cigar with a Robaina wrapper…one day.
Mark Hallada Atlanta, GA February 12, 2008 8:25pm ET
James, et al., these recent blogs and video clips from Cuba are some of the best stuff CA has done (and I already enjoyed CA immensely). THANKS!
Michael Gordon Healdsburg, CA February 12, 2008 10:52pm ET
The implications of your hope that Mr. Robaina and Mr. Padron could sit down together, says it all. A friendly cigar between people minimizes their differences, increases respect, and suggests what life is really about. Our policy towards Cuba has long been a mistake, and has driven a wedge between peoples who have lots to communicate to each other, and much to gain over talk, and maybe a good cigar.Maybe when numb-nuts is out of the White House, things will improve between us, Cuba, and others.
Nelson Boronat Canton,GA February 13, 2008 1:32pm ET
James, thank you for keeping the politics out of your blogs and sharing your educational trip to the mecca of cigars. While we may not all agree on politics, I am sure that over a great cigar many differences can be put aside.

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