Posted December 22, 2000, 12 p.m. e.s.t.
It's sometimes hard to understand just what is going on with cigars in Cuba, even when you are on the island. A few weeks ago, I stopped by all the normal spots to buy cigars in La Habana, from the Partagas factory to the Club Habana Casa del Habano, and I was amazed by the influx of new cigars -- despite the shortage earlier this year of every cigar imaginable. About the only cigar you couldn't get was the Ramon Allones Gigantes, although I saw a few cigar aficionados pulling out boxes from their luggage with great glee.
The buzz, however, was mostly over the anniversary humidors for Partagas and Romeo y Julieta, and the maduro wrapper limited-edition smokes from Partagas, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta and Hoyo de Monterrey. Strangely, I neither saw nor smoked the "Edicion Limitada," as the maduros are known, (although they are readily available in London at the moment), but I carefully reviewed as well as smoked a number of the other cigars.
For me, the best of them all was the Partagas 155 Anniversary humidor. It is absolutely glorious to look at, a varnished cedar box standing about two feet high that folds apart into four swiveling drawers. It contains 50 Solomones (the original shape, not the one with cut ends, like the Solomones II), 56 109s (a Prominente or double corona with tapered ends), 24 Dalias (which are similar to 8-9-8s) and 25 Super Robusto Extras (50 ring gauge cigars, like robustos, but an inch longer). It is the most gorgeous limited humidor since the legendary 1492 Humidor. And it's a good buy at $2,800.
The cigars taste as good as they look. I was surprised by their complexity and floral character at such an early age, particularly the Solomones. All the cigars were made at the Partagas factory by Carlos Faustino, the same man who made a good part of the Solomones II in 1996 for cigar merchant par excellence Christoph Wolters of Düsseldorf, Germany. (Click here for the Best of the Best Column).
I can't say that I smoked the cigars in the R y J humidor, but they didn't look all that impressive to me. The humidor contains two types of cigars, Distinguidos and Churchills, 25 of each. Not only was the wooden humidor pretty rough-looking with its coarsely carved wooden top with the famous picture of Romeo reaching up to Juliet at her balcony, but the cigars were very light in color, almost as if they were Conneticut-shade seed grown in Partido. Of course, the Cubans have been growing Connecticut there for years, but they say it's only for export in bales. So, it couldn't be on those cigars. Right?
The new maduro Edicion Limitada is a different story. These are dark brown, or Colorado, cigars -- what the Cubans say are classic Cuban maduros. The cigars are wrapped with tobacco that has been fermented and aged in bales for two years at slightly higher temperature, and high pressure to give them the darker color.
"We haven't used dye or chemicals, or cooked them like cigar producers in Nicaragua or Honduras," said one source at the Partagas factory. "We did it the traditional Cuban way with extended fermentations and aging."
Although some people think that the wrapper is from the corona leaf, or the top leaf on a plant, this isn't the case, continued my source. "Tobacco for maduro wrappers can come from just about any part of the plant, except for the very bottom or the sand leaf," said my source. "It's a question of finding leaves that are thick enough and ripe enough to withstand the extended processing."
Whatever the process, the cigars on the market are a bit young, according to a few friends who have smoked them in London. I haven't had the opportunity yet, although I smoked a corona at the Partagas factory with the same wrapper and blend. It smoked decent enough, but I found it rather rough and coarse. In addition, the wrapper blistered as I smoked it, suggesting that the tobacco needs further aging.
Three of the four Edicion Limitada are available in England, although they are selling out fast. Apparently only about 5,000 of each have been or will be made. The cigars now selling are: Montecristo Robusto, 4 7/8 inches by 50 ring gauge, $28; Partagas Pyramide (a torpedo), 6 1/8 by 52, $32; and Romeo y Julieta Prominente (double corona), 7 5/8 by 49, $42. The Hoyo de Monterrey Particulares, 9 1/4 by 47, is not yet on the market.
All these new cigars from Havana certainly make life interesting for smokers. They are clearly some of the best cigars made on the island for a number of years. But what about all the other cigars?
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