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For the Love of Cohiba

New sizes and ideas add life to a prestigious Cuban brand.
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Steve Wynn, Jan/Feb 03

It's 10 p.m. in Havana. I have just gotten off Iberia Flight 6621 from Madrid, grabbed my bags and taken a taxi straight to the Club Havana on the water in Siboney. It's 4 a.m. my time, but I feel awake and excited. It's a chance to smoke another of the newest Cohibas, a Siglo VI, during a launch party.

The cigar debuted in October in Cannes at a duty-free show. The Siglo VI is a big smoke, measuring a 52 ring gauge by just less than 6 inches long. The rollers in the H. Upmann factory, where it is made, call it the "canon shot" or cañonazo, due to its large shape. It is the newest smoke in the Linea 1492 line, which was introduced 10 years ago, and will be widely available in 2003. It should be priced similarly to the rest of the Linea 1492, or about $15 a stick in Havana shops. It will cost at least double that in other markets, such as Mexico, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The cigar is no bargain. But some cigar-crazy aficionado recently shelled out about $3,200 for a box of 25 Siglo VI's (about $128 a cigar) during a Cuban charity dinner on November 4 in London, which was held to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Bolivar brand. The agent for Cuban cigars in the United Kingdom, Hunters & Frankau, organized the dinner for about 100 people. All the proceeds were earmarked for Cuba's health system. The Hunters & Frankau folks gave me a Siglo VI to smoke during the dinner, which already had an excellent lineup of cigars, including a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2, a Trinidad Fundadores and a Bolivar Coronas Gigantes.

The Siglo VI impresses you the moment it reaches your lips. It is essentially a straight capana, or Cuban torpedo, due to its immense girth. The draw on these smokes is phenomenal, easy yet firm. It delivers wonderfully creamy flavors with plenty of espresso and tobacco character. It's a textbook Cohiba that can be rich and powerful yet elegant and classy. I scored it 96 points.

The second time I smoked a Siglo VI, at the Club Havana, it was even more powerful than the cigar at the London dinner, probably because it was newer. The London Siglo VI's were made a few months before the Club Havana party smokes.

But, in general, these are cigars that will improve with age in the box. They remind me of a few boxes of Siglo I's I bought in Havana in 1993 (a few months after the launch of the Siglo line); that little smoke (4 inches long by 40 ring gauge) almost blew my head off when I first tried it. Yet, they are now perfect smokes, delivering loads of character in a fresh and refined way.

The Siglo VI will debut in the market in a limited-production humidor to mark the 10th anniversary of Linea 1492. The beautifully crafted Italian-made humidor, which was on display at the Club Havana dinner, will include 15 cigars of every Siglo size, from I to VI. The price in Havana will be about $3,000, so expect retail prices around the world to be substantially more after taxes, duties and merchants' margins. Only 500 humidors will be produced, and will be offered only to the dozens of Casa del Habanos around the world, according to Habanos S.A, the global marketing and distribution company for Cuban cigars. There's no firm date yet for their arrival in the marketplace, but it should be soon, according to Habanos.

Cohiba is the hot brand for the Cubans at the moment. Not only are they adding the Siglo VI and the 10th anniversary humidor, they also have a new limited-production release in the works -- Cohiba Selección Reserva.

According to Ana Lopez, the head of marketing for Habanos, all the cigars in the selection are made from tobacco with at least two to three years of age. "This is very special, aged tobacco that has been selected for the highest quality," she said recently during a meeting in Madrid.

I am not sure what Lopez meant because I always thought that all Cohibas were produced with aged and higher quality tobacco. In fact, at the Club Havana dinner, during a brief speech about Siglo VI, Manuel Garcia of Habanos emphasized that Cohiba's tobacco is still fermented three times to create the smoothest and cleanest smoke possible.

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