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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

(continued from page 1)

The Cohiba Esplendido in the Reserve Selection that I smoked the day after the Siglo VI launch was an incredible smoke (95 points). It reminded me of the first Esplendidos I smoked in the early 1990s. It was rich and full of character, but it showed wonderful finesse and clarity. The aged tobacco definitely makes a difference. The selection consists of the Corona Especial (6 inches by 38 ring gauge), Esplendido (7 by 47), Robusto (4 7/8 by 50), Piramide (61/8 by 52) and a new vitola, or size, Media Corona (5 1/2 by 38). The cigars are sold in one cedar varnished box with a small selection of each: four Esplendidos, six Robustos, six Corona Especials, eight Piramides and six Media Coronas. (I originally thought the reserve Cohibas would be sold in individual boxes, but learned otherwise after seeing the final product in November in Havana.) The Media Corona is a special cigar made just for the Reserva line, and it will not be sold on a regular basis. The Reserva selection should be in the market early this year, as the Cubans were scheduled to start shipping in December.

The Cubans did not say how much of the Cohiba Selección Reserva they would produce, other than emphasizing that "it depends how much high-quality tobacco is available." However, sources say that they would like to make about 20,000 boxes. Prices are not expected to be much more than regular Cohiba Esplendidos, or slightly more than $325 a box.

In addition, the Cubans will soon be launching a "cleaned-up" version of the modish orange, black and white Cohiba band. Small packs are also in the works for the brand, including more five- and ten-packs of all the different sizes. You can expect to see some new Cohibas in aluminum tubes as well. There's even talk of a limited-edition humidor filled with 50 Montecristo "A"-sized Cohibas -- 9 inches long by 47 ring gauge.

Why the Cubans' sudden interest in developing Cohiba after a decade of neglect? Much of the strategy, according to sources at Habanos, is to emphasize the high quality of cigars from the island. Or as Garcia said during the Club Havana dinner, "Cohiba is the best example of Cuban efforts in tobacco." Of course, cynics might say that the Cubans are looking to increase their annual cigar export revenues through selling more expensive cigars such as Cohiba. Or that they have to create new sizes because of all the fake Cohiba Esplendidos on the market. Despite such criticism, the brand remains the island's most exclusive and best-made cigar, with perhaps the exception of Trinidad.

Regardless of the Cubans' recent enthusiasm for the brand, Cohiba remains slightly controversial with keen cigar smokers. Cigar conducted an online poll in late October to get an idea of smokers' thoughts about the Cuban Cohiba. About 86 percent of the respondents said they had smoked a Cohiba. Three-fourths said that Cohiba was not the island's best brand, and about two out of three said that it was too expensive. Even though they were generally negative about Cohiba, just about everyone also had something positive to say about the brand when they posted messages.

A number of comments posted online were very much like the one from Rob105 from Bethesda, Maryland: "I've truly enjoyed the smoke, but the bang hasn't been worth the bucks." Or Dog rocket from Singapore: "Like most of the opinions stated...they are way too expensive."

Yet there were also many comments from people willing to pay the price. "Is the Cohiba brand over priced?" questioned Basil from San Antonio, Texas. "Maybe it would be helpful to compare it to other purchases we make on a daily basis. I just got back from a trip to Seattle, Washington and paid $13.00 for a medium Coke and two Nathan hot dogs in the Phoenix airport. Based on a cost benefit relationship I would not consider spending $15.00 too expensive, especially for the experience of teasing my palate with this new release (Siglo VI). My favorite memories regarding taste and overall quality revolve around the Cohiba Robusto. The only better smoke I have had was a 1980 Davidoff Vintage...currently the quality and taste have lived up to their allure."

The poll participants' favorite size for Cohiba was clearly the Robusto. About 42 percent choose it as their preferred Cohiba, followed by the Esplendido at 21.9 percent. These two thick cigars were much more popular than any other size. The next most popular were the Siglo IV and the Corona Especial, which had 7.2 and 6.5 percent of the votes, respectively. But the preference for big smokes in the Cohiba line is obvious -- which is why the Siglo VI is a super addition regardless of the price.

Our final question in the poll was whether the respondents would like to see more sizes and shapes of Cohiba. The majority, 66.4 percent, said no. The Cubans obviously have other information, and they believe that the demand exists for the Siglo VI and the other innovations in the works. If some of the doubters have the chance to smoke the new Siglo VI, I am sure that they will have a different opinion. I am certainly convinced that the Siglo VI is one of the best cigars the Cubans have made in a long time.

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