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By the Numbers

During the last 20 years, Cuba’s cigars have both dominated and been dominated in Cigar Aficionado’s tastings by the rest of the cigar world, but in 2011, they reached new heights
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Brad Paisley, March/April 2012

For most of 2011, the editors of Cigar Aficionado remarked that the new cigars from Cuba reminded them of the glory days of the early 1990s. The benchmark brands showed balance and intensity, beautiful wrappers, solid tobacco flavors and excellent construction. But it is risky to rely only on impressions (and the occasional truly great cigar) to make assertions that in the end, may or may not be true. So, we decided to go to the database and test our impressions against the numbers.

The facts are clear. In 2011, the average score of Cuban cigars rated in both Cigar Aficionado magazine and Cigar Insider newsletter reached an all-time high: 90.9 points, up from 90.3 in 2010. We rated 103 Cuban cigars in both publications last year, which is about on par with every year since we moved to a bimonthly publication schedule in 1997. In 2007, we rated our highest number of Cuban smokes ever with a total of 124.

This past year also saw the highest number of Cuban cigars scoring 93 points or higher—15 cigars. The highest scorer of the year was the Partagás Serie P No. 2; the cigar continued to perform well in our annual Top 25 tasting, earning the No. 4 position.

But there were a number of other great Cuban cigars too: the Punch Double Corona, Cohiba Lancero, Bolivar Corona Extra and H. Upmann Sir Winston. Those results support the conclusion that Cuban cigars are continuing to improve, and reaching levels of consistent taste and quality that had been absent for a number of years.

“We are probably seeing some of the finest years of Cuban cigar production ever,” says Edward Sahakian, who has operated the Davidoff shop on St. James Street in London since 1980. “Now they have time to produce better tobacco, ferment and age it longer, keep the cigars longer and not rush them out.

“Anyone buying a Cuban cigar in the last two, three, four or even five years is getting great cigars. The cigars today are the Dom Perignons of the future. They are real collector’s items,” Sahakian says. He explains that it is difficult to keep some brands, such as the Cohiba Behike line and the Cohiba 1966 Edición Limitada, in stock on his store’s shelves.

Christoph Wolters, who runs the Casa del Habano in Hamburg, Germany, agrees that the current production is the best of the last 10 years or so. “I wouldn’t say they were better than the early 1990s, just different. They were using different varieties then,” he says. “Since they began aging their tobacco more again, the cigars, like the limited edition Havanas, have been some of the most remarkable cigars. It is a fantastic improvement.”

He adds that the demand for the regional and limited editions has been “sky-high,” and that Cohiba has been the leader in his market in 2011. “Sales figures for this popular brand are through the roof.”

In our reporting from Cuba in 2011, executives at Habanos S.A. expressed uniform optimism about the changes that had been instituted in the production process, and the evident improvements those had created. For instance, every major Cuban cigar factory now has a draw test machine, and they are testing a high percentage of every cigar rolled.  Perhaps more importantly, the marketing strategy, which has developed the regional and limited edition programs, has created a general confidence and excitement inside Habanos. Their own enthusiasm for the products clearly is being translated into the marketplace.

Furthermore, if the tobacco crop of 2010–2011 ends up being as good as the growers believed it to be, then this run of great Cuban cigars should continue as that tobacco begins to be used.

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