From the Print Edition:
Winston Churchill, Autumn 93
Last September, Edward Sahakian, the owner of Davidoff of London, received an inquiry from a local accountant on behalf of his Hong Kong client for a large stock of Cuban Davidoff cigars, the No. 1 and No. 2 sizes. At first the well-respected tobacconist didn't find the request out of the ordinary since all of his Cuban Davidoff cigars had started to become collectors' items after the end of their production in Havana in 1991 . However, Sahakian was a bit overwhelmed when the accountant ordered 5,000 of the No. 1's and 2,000 of the No. 2's, with a total price tag of $115,000.
"He could have bought a small house for the same price, but he obviously prefers cigars," says Sahakian, puffing away on a Cuban Davidoff Ambassadrice in his London shop this summer. "He's done a very wise thing. One day those cigars will be worth several times' than he paid for them."
Davidoff cigars from Cuba have quickly become the most sought after smoke among serious cigar aficionados. They are attractive for their good quality, but they are now coveted for their rarity and considered a "must have" for anyone interested in the best handmade Havanas. Demand can only increase as the Dominican Republic-produced Davidoffs replace those from Cuba. That is happening quite rapidly. The first of the "new generation of Davidoffs"--as the brand owners, Group Oettinger of Basel, Switzerland, call the Dominican cigars--began entering the world market in early 1990.
For many cigar smokers, however, nothing compares to the white oval band bearing the script type "Davidoff' and "Cuba" printed on its side. The Dominican version simply replaces Cuba with "Geneve." And there's no denying that the Dominican Davidoffs are very good in their own right. Many are the same size. Some even have the same names. There are some cosmetic differences; for instance, the Dominican wrappers are slightly lighter.
In tastings for CIGAR AFICIONADO over the past year, the Dominican Davidoffs have not risen to the same heights attained by the Cuban versions tested for this article. All 13 sizes of Cubans were reviewed, from the monumental 80 Aniversario--made especially for Zino Davidoff's eightieth birthday--to the small panetela-sized Ambassadrice. All rate from very good to outstanding. The Aniversario, for instance, scored 99 points, and the Davidoff 4000 came in with a 94. (See sidebar for notes and scores.) The depth and flavor of the Cuban Davidoffs are pronounced, but they still retain a smooth and refined character. To be fair, most of the cigars we tasted had about four to seven years of box age and were perfectly kept in temperature-controlled, humidified conditions. For that reason, we did not conduct a direct tasting comparison with the younger Dominican Davidoffs.
The ability to age well is one of the bench marks of Davidoff s Cuban cigars. Although many cigars do not improve with age, the Davidoffs are like vintage-dated red wine. In fact, Zino Davidoff, one of the brand's creators, always compared his Cuban products to great red wines, especially the Davidoff chateaux series, which bears the names of the five first growths of Bordeaux. Therefore, the extra aging contributed to the overall quality of the cigars in the test.
There has been a well-established black market for Davidoff Cubans in the United States for years, where only the Dominican version can be sold legally. As a result of disappearing stock worldwide, however, prices in America are up to three times the current retail price in Europe--and that's if you can find them. For instance, one connoisseur tried to find some 80 Aniversario recently and was told that the price per cigar was more than $100 and could go as high as $120. "I can find you a couple of boxes from a collector, but it's going to cost you," the connoisseur was told. Moreover, the collector was unwilling to break the boxes. It was all or nothing.
European merchants, particularly in London, France, and Switzerland, still have limited stocks of Cuban Davidoffs, although they are quickly running out. "I have already run out of [several sizes of] Davidoffs," says Sahakian with a sigh. "People often come into the shop and pick up a box, and they don't even realize what they are getting. I really shouldn't let them buy, but we can't be restrictive."
There are rumors of large stocks of Cuban Davidoffs still in Cuba and in such duty-free areas as Monte Carlo and Andorra. Some people even say that there are stockpiles at the warehouses of Davidoff's headquarters in Basel, but officials there deny this claim. The company, as well as most of its distributors, stopped selling Havana Davidoffs last December when Davidoff and Cuba's cigar distribution agency, Cubatabaco, came to an agreement. The accord, as stated in a press release in December 1991, said, "There will not be any more Davidoff cigars manufactured in Cuba or using Cuban tobacco, and the Davidoff Havanas will only be available until exhaustion of existing stocks, and in any event, not later than the end of 1992." (In practice, some Cuban Davidoffs still remain on the market, but not many.)
When the news hit the streets, cigar merchants such as Sahakian noticed an immediate increase in orders for Davidoff's Cuban cigars, although the demand appeared mostly in the form of large purchases from a limited number of customers. In London, most cigar merchants held their prices for Davidoff at normal levels. For instance, the Davidoff No. 1, 7 1/2 inches long by 38 ring gauge, is still available at about £280 (about $425) for a box of 25 in London while the slightly shorter No. 2 goes for £220 (about $334). A Davidoff 4000, 6 inches long by 42 ring gauge, still sells for £240 (about $364). "There's been a temptation to raise prices," admits Sahakian, who has stocks of various sizes. "But I don't believe in taking advantage of the situation. It would be an immediate gain but not a long-term one as far as customer relations."
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