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An End and a Beginning

Emilia Tamayo, the Cohiba factory manager, steps down as a flood of new cigars hits the market
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Alec Baldwin, May/June 2004

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For example, the buzzword at this year's cigar festival was "luxury product." It was hard not to hear these two words uttered at least four or five times a day. In fact, among the seminars on Cuban cigars held at the Palacio de Convenciones during the five-day event was a 45-minute discussion on the "World of Luxury: Past, Present and Future." I am not completely comfortable calling a cigar a luxury product like a Rolex watch or a Gucci tie, and I hope it is not an excuse for Habanos to continue to increase prices for their cigars, which rose 5 to 15 percent in the first quarter of 2004, depending on the brand and size.

In any case, the new Edmundo from Montecristo will be a luxurious smoke for any aficionado when it is launched this May in France, Italy and Lebanon. The Edmundo is almost the same shape as last year's hugely successful Cohiba Siglo VI, but it is slightly shorter. It measures a fat 52 ring gauge by about 5 3/8 inches long. I smoked an Edmundo fresh off a cigar-rolling bench at the new H. Upmann factory and it showed plenty of rich tobacco character while remaining refined and cedary. I tried it two other times a few weeks later during the festival and it was excellent. The cigar doesn't quite have the complexity of the Cohiba Siglo VI (last year's sensational release), but it is an excellent smoke with plenty of character. This could be the best Montecristo ever.

This new cigar for Montecristo couldn't come at a better time. Although the brand is the best-selling from Cuba (with between 35 million and 40 million a year), it remains rather lackluster in the minds of true Cuban cigar aficionados. Granted, the Montecristo No. 2 "torpedo" is a cigar appreciated by many serious cigar smokers, but the rest of the line is rather uninspiring. Edmundo should reenergize what historically was a great brand for the island. It should sell for about the same price as the No. 2.

The new limited-edition Montecristo humidor selling in Havana for about $3,600 is beautiful, a simple wooden humidor with pointed, beveled corners. The lid is made of lighter, blond wood and is emblazoned with the well-known crossed-sword logo of the Montecristo brand. Inside there are some wonderful smokes: 50 Montecristo "A"s, the largest standard-size format made in Cuban cigar factories, and 50 Salomones No. 2s, special figurados that are popping up on an increasing number of Cuban brands in special releases such as these. The "A" is a two-hour smoke that measures 9 1/4 inches long with a 47 ring. The Salomone is shorter, but fatter, with a 57 ring gauge at its fattest point and 6 7/8 inches in length.

The more popular recently released humidor, however, is one celebrating the fifth anniversary of the brand San Cristobal de la Habana. The refined-looking varnished humidor with eighteenth-century drawings of the old town of Havana and its port is a beautiful piece of furniture. It holds 25 cigars in each of four sizes: El Moro, 49 ring by 7; Mercaderes, 46 by 6 1/2; Muralla Rodolfo (long torpedo), 52 by 7; and Oficios, 42 by 6 1/2. The humidor, of which 500 were made, sells for about $2,900 in Havana.

One other limited-production humidor on the market is the 160th Anniversary H. Upmann. A simple upright humidor with 100 cigars, it contains 40 double coronas, 30 torpedos and 30 corona gordas. It sells for $1,600.

The newest Colleción Habanos, Edición 2003, has nothing to do with Montecristo. In its third edition, the stylish cigar box is filled with 20 Hoyo de Monterrey double coronas, measuring 7 5/8 inches long by 49 ring gauge. They have tapered ends like some double coronas from the 1960s and 1970s that I have seen. The box sells for about $450, and only 500 boxes were produced. The first Edición was in 2001, when 300 boxes of 10 Cuaba Salomones were produced and sold entirely in Germany. The second was last year, when the Partagas Serie C No. 1 was made. It was a fantastic smoke, measuring 6 5/8 inches by 48 ring gauge.

Some of the biggest news this year in Cuban cigars will be this year's Edición Limitada, but the Cubans are being very cagey about their release. Sources say that it will be in the autumn. The three sizes that will most likely be chosen are: Romeo Hermosos No. 2,48 ring gauge by 6 1/4; Partagas Serie D No. 1, 50 by 6 3/4; and Cohiba Sublimes, 54 by 6 1/2. All will come in boxes of 25 cigars. Production of these cigars is limited, so keep an eye out for them.

Domínguez said that the limitadas will always be what they are supposed to be, limited. "These specialty cigars are made with the best tobacco," he said, explaning the unique nature of the dark, aged wrappers. "It depends on the results of the crop. We have limited raw materials. So it all depends on the year."

Will we see more soon? This year's harvest looked to be a good one. I spent two or three days in Pinar del Río and I was impressed by the size and quality of the crop. The Robaina family, perhaps the greatest tobacco growers on the island, had already finished their harvest in mid-January. "It's the earliest harvest we have had in memory," said the 85-year-old Alejandro Robaina, a legendary figure here in Cuba who grows some of the silkiest wrapper tobacco in the world. "The crop was clean and perfect in quality and we had very high yields."

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