RTDA Blog: Day One

Maybe it was the 112 degree heat or the drinks, but I woke up parched this morning in Las Vegas. I'm out here with the crew from Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider checking out the new cigars on display at the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show. There are plenty of great new cigars, and a general upbeat opinion about the cigar industry.

After a gallon or two of coffee, I began the day with a León Jimenes Cameroon handed to me by Jose Blanco of La Aurora. He was in a good mood, thanks to the Yankee sweep of the Chicago White Sox and the recent Boston loss that put our beloved Bronx Bombers right in the hunt for the American League East. The cigar was a perfect a.m. smoke, rich enough but with good balance and a pleasantly toasty medium body.

I said my hellos to various people as I walked the large floor, taking notice of the Las Vegas spirit on display in several booths. (One may have gone just a touch too far -- the spokes model was wearing essentially a rubber band in just the right places. Good crowd; bad cigar.)

My second cigar of the day was phenomenal -- a freshly rolled Don Pepin Garcia handed to me by its namesake, the man who makes Tatuajes and Padilla 8&11s in Little Havana. He cut the top off the cigar with his chavetta and offered his turbo lighter. It was strong, complex and rich, with heavy mineral and wood notes. Pepin, as everyone calls him, makes great, strong smokes, and it sounds like there will be many more in the near future. He and his son recently opened a new factory in Nicaragua with 50 workers. I just hope the great construction and quality he gets in Little Havana, Miami, can be duplicated in Central America. We'll see.

A great way to get the pulse of the cigar industry is to talk to the guys who supply cigarmakers with tobacco. I spoke to some of the best today, including Nestor Plasencia and his son, Nestor Jr., John Oliva Jr. and David Perez. All are doing well, but Oliva and Perez are fretting about the active volcano blowing its top in Ecuador and raining ash on their fields. It isn't easy being a tobacco farmer.

It's hard to keep up with all the new smokes. C.A.O. has a Dominican-wrapped cigar called Vision that comes in a box that actually lights up, plus a series of figurados in shapes I've never before seen on a cigar. Litto Gomez has several new, strong smokes, Manuel Quesada has a Cuban-style Fonseca….I can't keep up.

Last night was a steak dinner at Del Frisco's with Altadis followed by a party at Rain with General Cigar, who unveiled the Partagas 160, made with 29-year-old wrapper. Tonight it's a Davidoff affair followed by a C.A.O. party featuring Tommy Lee, which will be out in the Vegas heat. (It drops all the way down to 90 degrees when the sun goes down.) Time to drink lots of water -- plenty of cigars left to smoke before this show is through.

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