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Havana Nights 2005

The Festival del Habano showcased some great new cigars and lots of revelry as usual
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Jimmy Smits, May/June 2005

I couldn't tell you if it was a fashion faux pas or not. Few people knew, however, that British actor Jeremy Irons was wearing the same outfit at this year's Academy Awards in Hollywood that he had donned just a few days before in Havana for the gala dinner of the VII Festival del Habano, the annual cigar event in Cuba. Let's hope he sent it to the dry cleaners before wearing it again.

At the Academy Awards, Irons was introduced as a "comedy superstar." Strange, considering what a serious, dramatic actor he is. But, in fact, Irons made the crowd at the Oscars laugh. And he is a smoker.

In Havana, Irons received an award from the Cuban cigar industry as "Communicator of the Year" during the February 25 gala dinner. But he also confessed to smoking both cigarettes and cigars. "I was sitting next to a very beautiful woman today, and she asked me if I smoke both cigarettes and cigars," said Irons, standing on the stage in front of about 1,400 participants while puffing on a Partagas 8-9-8. "I do. Smoking a cigarette is like having sex, but smoking a cigar is like making love."

The crowd applauded as Irons took a few drags on his cigar, adding that he hoped to smoke fewer cigarettes as he got older. "In the years ahead, I am going to try to smoke more cigars," he concluded, drawing more cheers from the crowd.

I'm sure he would rather smoke one of the new Partagas Serie P No. 2 cigars instead of his usual Benson & Hedges. The cigar debuted at the gala dinner in Havana, which celebrated the 160th anniversary of the Partagas brand. The torpedo, which is the same size as the Montecristo No. 2, smoked like a dream. It was subtly rich and spicy, with just the right amount of decadent character. The cigar was expected to reach the world market in April.

It was one of two cigars officially introduced during the five-day event. The other was the Serie D No. 4 Reserva, a limited-production robusto made with slightly older tobacco than the original version. The Cubans say the tobacco is three years old, which doesn't sound much to me, but the cigar delivers more character than the normal Serie D. The Reservas come in beautiful black-lacquered boxes of 20. All the small humidor-like boxes are numbered, and only 5,000 were produced.

I preferred the Serie D No. 4 Reserva to the P No. 2, but both are outstanding smokes. The Reserva showed lovely aromas of honey, tea and tobacco, as well as a perfect draw. The wrapper appeared a bit rough, but about 10 minutes after lighting, the cigar delivered the earthy, decadent flavors of an excellent Partagas. In fact, it reminded me of Partagas Serie D No. 4s from the early 1990s, when the robusto was one of the best cigars made on the island, though almost impossible to find. I scored the Reserva 95 points.

I am not a big torpedo smoker—pirámide, as the Cubans call the size—but the P No. 2 showed plenty of subtle, rich tobacco flavors with just a hint of earth, which made it taste distinctly like a Partagas. I gave it 91 points.

The P No. 2 sells in a cedar box with 25 cigars for about the same price as a Montecristo No. 2. However, the Reserva is going to be very expensive—close to $1,000 a box in some markets.

I ran into Lucia Newman, the Latin American correspondent for CNN, during the gala dinner, and she asked me on camera if I thought that Cuban cigars were not at the same quality level that they had been in the past. I told her that I thought it was the complete opposite. I said that Cuban cigars have regained high quality levels recently due to improvements in quality control inside the cigar factories on the island. The interview, of course, may never see the light of day.

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