The Partagas Quality Tour will have Menendez making appearances in 50 cigar shops through the rest of 2005. At each stop, he will share three simple cigars, each made with only one type of tobacco, so the smoker can taste how one leaf in a blend tastes and contrast it with the complexity of the final product. One cigar will be made only with volado, a light-bodied leaf of filler tobacco; the second will be made with seco, a medium-strength leaf; and the third will be made with ligero, the strongest of tobaccos. After smoking the components, consumers will get a free Partagas cigar for comparison.
Menendez once worked with his father, Alonso, making Montecristos and H. Upmanns in Cuba before the Castro government took over. Since departing from Cuba in 1960 with virtually nothing left of his family fortune, Benji, as he is nicknamed, has been at the helm of some of General's most successful non-Cuban brands on the market, which in addition to Partagas include the Dominican Montecristo, Montecruz and Macanudo.
Menendez spent 14 years at General, from 1983 to 1997. He then took a job with the Spanish tobacco monopoly Tabacalera. He became an Altadis employee when Tabacalera merged with France's SEITA in December 1999, creating Altadis S.A. In 2003, he returned to General to become the senior vice president of premium cigars.
"During his 52-year tenure in the cigar business," said Bill Chilian, director of marketing for Partagas cigars, "Benji has learned a thing or two about the importance of blending tobacco to achieve a cigar with a balanced taste."
Davidoff's own tobacco guru Hendrik Kelner employed a similar version of this method at the 2002 Las Vegas Big Smoke and at a special seminar at the Davidoff Madison Avenue store in New York City in 2003. "The goal of the seminar is so that the smoker can know what is happening with the cigar," Kelner said in a 2003 interview. "Why the cigar is too strong, or bitter, salty or acidic."
Attendees of Menendez's tour stops can buy discounted packages of Partagas cigars. For a listing of events, visit www.cigarworld.com.
Michael Moretti contributed to this article.