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Smoking Some of the Best

Cigar Aficionado editors and two cigarmakers compare six great smokes
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Antonio Banderas, Nov/Dec 2005

Our section of the dining room in Delmonico's Restaurant in New Orleans resembled a steam room more than one of the city's best eateries. The room was full of cigar smoke. Five of us sat in a large booth near the bar in the back of the main dining room, each with no less than six cigars burning in large ashtrays on the table. That's 30 cigars. And we were smoking them in public in America.

Smoking is allowed everywhere in New Orleans. Even a top-rank restaurant like Delmonico's allows cigar smoking. Moreover, this upscale steak house encourages it with a list of cigars for sale in the back pages of its impressive wine list. It may be some time before you can confidently go back to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but count on it. The city will be resurrected.

That smoky night in New Orleans was not just for pure pleasure. I had an idea, or perhaps a mission. I wanted to better understand where the best Cuban cigars currently fit in the world of other great cigars, particularly those from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. I wanted to compare them qualitatively as well as stylistically.

So I invited Litto Gomez, one of the owners of La Flor Dominicana, from the Dominican Republic, and Jorge Padrón of Padrón Cigars, from Nicaragua, to join me and two colleagues for dinner and a cigar tasting. I asked the cigarmakers to bring two of their best cigars (robusto and torpedo size) to smoke with two of the best from Cuba. They were more than happy to attend the dinner. Agreeing to come showed their open-mindedness as well as self-confidence in their cigars' quality. Many other cigar manufacturers would have declined to come because of their bias against Cuba or their insecurity with the quality of their own cigars.

Both Gomez and Padrón admitted that they had never smoked, or tasted, so many cigars during one sitting. Moreover, they confessed that they didn't smoke many Cuban cigars. "I am not used to tasting a bunch of cigars at the same time," said Padrón. "I like smoking my cigars. Like I always say, 'we sell what we don't smoke.'"

Even Padrón and his large family couldn't possibly smoke the close to six million cigars they make every year in Estelí, Nicaragua, I thought to myself. But, of course, he was joking. And Padrón hadn't come to Delmonico's to sell cigars anyway.

Gomez makes about half the annual production of Padrón at his small factory in Santiago, Dominican Republic. Both companies' output is tiny compared to the Cubans, who produce for export about 160 million sticks each year.

Gomez looked rather serene and cool as we started smoking. He seemed to know that his cigars would compare well to the Cubans. "I haven't smoked a Cohiba Siglo VI before," he said, picking up the cigar. The other Cuban I had brought was a Hoyo de Monterrey Pyramide Limitada 2004. "This should be interesting," said Gomez.

My fellow editors, David Savona and Gordon Mott, also looked very keen to smoke all the cigars. "This should be more than interesting," Savona said, in between mouthfuls of charred beef and creamed spinach about a half hour before we lit up. He was obviously looking for reinforcement to smoke his way through the half dozen cigars.

We lit up the first three cigars: the two robusto vitolas and the slightly smaller smoke from Padrón. All the cigars looked good, with high-quality wrappers. Padrón's was darker than the others and box-pressed. In fact, the Cohiba had the lightest wrapper. They also all drew perfectly as we puffed. We smoked for about 10 or 15 minutes, talking about the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show that had gone on during the day. The room was quickly saturated with cigar smoke.

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