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Havana Corner: More Good Smokes from the Island

Posted: February 11, 2004

Cuba will continue to produce new sizes and limited-production cigars and humidors this year, including a new vitola for Montecristo as well as a special-release humidor for the brand. In addition, another Coleccíon Habanos -- the highly successful small-production cigar that comes in a box resembling a book -- will soon arrive on the market, while the final decision on three or four Edición Limitadas for this year will be finalized very soon.

After a few days in Havana speaking to sources in the cigar industry as well as interviewing the co-president of Habanos S.A., Fernando Domínquez Valdés-Hevia, it was more than evident that quality and variety are the key themes in the production of Cuban cigars this year, and in the future. The 44-year-old Spaniard spoke often during an hourlong interview about how Habanos, the global distribution company for Cuban cigars, plans to give smokers what they want from the island, even better quality and more new and exciting cigars.

José Miguel Barzaga, sub-director of production at José Martí, with freshly-rolled Edmundo cigars.
A good example is the new Montecristo vitola being produced in the recently opened José Martí Factory in the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood in Havana. The Edmundo is almost the same shape as last year's hugely successful Cohiba Siglo VI, but it is just a tiny bit shorter. It measures a fat 52 ring gauge by about 5 3/8 inches long. I smoked an Edmundo fresh off a cigar-rolling bench at the factory and it showed plenty of rich tobacco character, yet remained refined and cedary. It doesn't have the complexity of the Cohiba Siglo VI, but it is an excellent smoke with plenty of character (I scored it a provisional 92 points). The cigar should be launched at the end of May in France, and will be sold later worldwide. The price should be close to that of the Montecristo No. 2.

The new Montecristo couldn't have come at a better time. Although the brand is the best-selling from Cuba (with between 35 million and 40 million sold a year), it remains rather lackluster in the minds of true Cuban cigar aficionados. Granted, the Montecristo No. 2 torpedo is a cigar appreciated by many serious cigar smokers, but the rest of the line is rather uninspiring. Edmundo should reenergize what historically was a great brand for the island.

The cigar also is the first new cigar for the new José Martí factory, following the closure of the building in the center of Havana near the capitol in the old center. The modern factory is an example of things to come in the Cuban cigar world, and it's hard to compare it to old factories -- it's new, clean and well organized. The handful of workers I spoke to during an hourlong visit to the factory a few days ago said they preferred the new factory due to the better working conditions. The cigars they were rolling certainly looked to be of high quality, and the quality control in the factory appeared to be among the best ever on the island.

It's not likely, however, that the soon-to-be-released limited-edition Montecristo humidor was produced in the new facility. At first glance, the latest handmade humidor from Havana is not much to look at -- it's a simple wooden box with pointed, beveled corners. The lid is made of light, blond wood and is emblazoned with the well-known crossed-sword logo of the Montecristo brand. But inside there are some wonderful smokes, 100 cigars -- half of them Montecristo A's, the largest standard-size format made in Cuban cigar factories, and the other half Salomones No 2s, special figurados that are popping up on an increasing number of Cuban brands in limited releases such as these.

The A is a two-hour smoke that measures 9 1/4 inches long with a 47 ring. The Salomone is shorter but fatter, with a 57 ring gauge at its fattest point and 6 7/8 inches in length. The boxes should sell for close to $3,000 apiece, depending on the market.

The newest Colleción Habanos, Edición 2003, has nothing to do with Montecristo. This is the third edition of the collection, and this presentation is a stylish cigar box that has 20 Hoyo de Monterrey double coronas, measuring 7 5/8 inches long by 49 ring gauge. They have tapered ends like some double coronas from the 1960s and 1970s that I have seen. The price was not set when I heard the news in Havana, but the box should retail for about $350 to $450 in key markets. It should be out very soon.

The first Colleción Habanos was released in 2001, when 300 boxes of 10 Cuaba Salomones were produced and sold entirely in Germany. The second was released last year, when the Partagas Serie C No. 1 was made. It was a fantastic smoke, measuring 6 5/8 inches by 48 ring gauge. Only 500 boxes of 20 cigars were produced.

Some of the biggest news of 2004 in Cuban cigars, however, will be this year's Edición Limitada, but the Cubans are being very cagey about their release. The new cigars are expected to be out later in the year, and sources say that three sizes will likely be chosen. The top ones in the running include: Romeo Hermosos No. 2, 48 ring gauge by 6 1/8 inches; Partagas Serie D No. 1, 50 ring gauge by 6 2/3 inches long; and Cohiba Sublimes, 54 ring gauge by about 6 1/2 inches. All will come in boxes of 25 cigars.

Regardless of what is finally chosen for Edición Limitada, Cuba has obviously made a serious decision as to what cigar smokers want -- interesting, high quality cigars.


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