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Havana Corner: Exclusively Exclusive Cigars from Havana

Posted: February 24, 2005
Partagas is making some of the best smokes in Cuba at the moment, so it came as no surprise that the factory unveiled two new sizes, or vitolas, today during the VII Festival del Habano in Cuba. The main theme of this event -- the Woodstock of Cuban cigars -- is the 160th Anniversary of Partagas. Cubans are obsessed with birthdays, be it man, woman, revolution or cigar.

The two Partagas cigars shown this morning at a press conference at the Melia Cohiba hotel was a torpedo called Serie P No. 2 and a robusto Serie D No. 4 Reserva. The latter was the hot ticket of the event -- and none of my fellow hacks at the meeting were given any. We were, however, allowed to gaze at a black lacquered finished box of 20 cigars, which was presented around the various tables by one of Cuba's most beautiful models, Arenne Ailen Machado Torres. (She was in Cigar Aficionado's Cuban model issue in June, 2003.)

However, one of these beauties -- not the model -- was introduced to me yesterday by a friend in high places, and it was a superb smoke. Before, it was lit, it showed lovely aromas of honey, tea and tobacco, as well as a perfect draw. The wrapper looked a bit rough, but once lit for about 10 minutes, it delivered the earthy, decadent flavors that an excellent Partagas cigar should. In fact, it reminded me of Partagas Serie D No. 4s from the early 1990s, when the robusto was almost impossible to find and was one of the best cigars made on the island. I scored the Reserva 95 points.

The bad news is that the Partagas Serie D No. 4 Reserva is going to be rare and expensive -- Habanos won't give the exact price now, but don't expect to get much change from $1,000 when you buy a box. (Or from 900 chavitos the new Monopoly money being used in Cuba.) Only 5,000 boxes (100,000 cigars total) were made, and they will be launched in the market in April.

The exquisite cigars come in a small box that looks like a humidor. Each box is numbered with a small gold plaque on the inside of the lid. The cigars have the normal, cool red Serie D band, but just below is a black and gold band reading "Reserva."

A piece of paper in the box describes in Spanish and English why these sticks are so special. Part of it reads (and I take no credit for the English translation; this is how it is written): "Leaves selected for the occasion, from the 2000 harvest, and carefully aged during three years in our storage of Cuba." I am not sure about the arithmetic, but apparently the tobacco has at least three years of age. It also begs the question of how old is the tobacco that goes into the normal Serie D, but that's for another column. Regardless, the new reserve is a tobacco excellente.

Habanos said that the Serie D No. 4 Reserva is the first in a new line of reserve cigars that will be coming out of the island. And they might even come out with a Gran Reserva, depending on the availability of aged tobacco. This would mean that the tobacco used for the cigars would be more than three or four years old. Hilda Baró, the manager of the Partagas factory, said that she used her best rollers to produce the cigars, and they did it with "all the love and care" possible. It shows.

At the press event, we were able to smoke the new Partagas torpedo, Serie P No. 2; I smoked one with a café con leche. I am not a big torpedo smoker -- pirámide, as the Cubans call the size -- but it delivered plenty of subtle, rich tobacco flavor with just a hint of earth, which made it distinctly Partagas. I gave it 91 points. The cigar should sell for about the same price as a Montecristo No. 2. It will be available worldwide this spring.

Besides the new Partagas cigars, I have also learned that San Cristobal de la Habana soon will have three new sizes, which will be sold exclusively through the Casas del Habano throughout the world. The Casas are franchise cigar shops, and there are currently 86 in the world. They sell Cuban smokes and have a license from Habanos SA, the global distribution organization. The new cigars are: Ofico, a petit corona; Mercoderes, which is similar in size to the 8-9-8 Partagas; and a slightly elongated torpedo called Muralla. The cigars are named after streets in Old Havana.

According to Ignacio Balmaseda, the director general of Casa del Habano for Habanos, the three sticks will be the first in a series of special cigars for his group of cigar shops. "We want to give our customers something exclusive to smoke," he said.

The way things are going in the world of Cuban cigars, more and more "exclusive" smokes are going to be available on the market, which is never a bad thing, especially for discerning cigar aficionados.


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