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Bigger Is Not Always Better

Bigger Is Not Always Better
by James Suckling
European editor
Cigar Aficionado

Posted May 22, 2000, 5:30 p.m. e.s.t.

People have become obsessed with large-sized, big-name cigars. They're missing out on some great smokes as a result.

They are becoming to cigars what label drinkers are to fine wine. Instead of wanting to only drink Chateau Lafite or Cristal Champagne, they will smoke nothing but Cohiba Esplendido or Partagas Series D No. 4. This isn't to say that these cigars are not great in their own right, just like the trophy wines I mentioned, but other very good to outstanding cigars are out there -- and at a fraction of the price.

I have thought about this for ages but it all came back to me at the beginning of last week as I stood in the Berry Brothers & Rudd duty-free shop in London's Heathrow airport. I was in Terminal 3, waiting for an American Airlines flight to JFK. Berry's always has a great selection of fine wines in its Heathrow shop, from first-growth clarets to hard-to-find super sweet German wines. It also has a super selection of Cuban cigars -- which, of course, I spent a good deal of time checking out before my flight.

Apparently, Berry's bought loads of cigars about three years ago when it first opened its shop. Although demand has been good, it hasn't sold as many as it had hoped. So, the cigars they have sitting there have a good amount of box age, anywhere from two to seven years. For example, I spotted three awesome cabinets of Hoyo de Monterey Le Hoyo du Gourmet in boxes of 50. They were seven years old, and only about $300 per box. That's a good buy. In fact, I am smoking one as I write this column.

It was just about when I told the shop assistant that I wanted one of the cabinets that some bozo came through the shop to supposedly buy some cigars. He interrupted the assistant and myself and tried to ask a question while simultaneously carrying on a conversation on his cell phone.

"Where are your Cohibas?" he said, followed by, "Are those Cohibas?" while pointing to a box of Montecristo Especials.

"We don't have any Cohibas," said the store clerk.

The traveler, who appeared to have his cell phone sewn to his ear, was not impressed. "You have no Cohibas," he muttered. He spun around and headed out the door.

What an ass. There were loads of good cigars available, many better than the current crop of Cohibas on the market. But, of course, someone like that wouldn't know any better.

Sure, most of the cigars at the Berry shop weren't big sizes such as double coronas and robustos, but there were ample boxes of Churchills and even boxes of torpedos. But, there were no Cohibas, as the phone-touting imbecile noted. Big deal.

Look -- the shop was full of some glorious smokes. Here's a sampling: Partagas Lusitanias and Churchill Deluxe, Bolivar Coronas Gigantes and Inmensas, Punch Punch and Doubles, Sancho Panza Corona Gigantes and Sanchos, and Vegas Robania Famosos and Unicos. I was a child in a candy store.

But, even with such a super selection, I went for the Gourmets, a long, thin cigar measuring 6 2/3 inches by 33 ring gauge. They were the best boxes in the lot, with gorgeous, dark brown, silky, oily wrappers and an aroma coming from the box that intoxicated you with cedar, coffee and tobacco.

I often find great boxes of thin or short cigars while stopping in cigar shops around the world. People just aren't interested in them, so many age, which makes them all the better.

There's another reason to take a closer look at small or thin cigars. They can be of better quality than the big fellas. Think about it for a moment: If the Cubans are having a problem getting large wrappers for big-size cigars, they generally still have good quality small wrappers to make petite coronas or corona cigars. It's the case now and it was the case about three or four years ago.

This all reminds me of a day that I stopped in to see one of the best cigar merchants in Havana, Enrique Mons, now of the La Casa del Habano at the Havana Club but formally of the store at 5th Avenue and 16th. I asked Mons what was good to buy today, and he said, "Are buying smoke, or are you buying real cigars?" He turned me onto some petite coronas from Gispert for $15 a box of 25. I am still enjoying them today.

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