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Jammin' in Las Vegas

Two Cigar Aficionado editors. Two cigarmakers from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. The game: a smoke-off.
From the Print Edition:
Daniel Craig, November/December 2008

(continued from page 1)

I reminded Jorge that he always says that he smokes his own cigars and what he (or the rest of his family) doesn't smoke, he sells. We all had a good laugh. I think the only time he has smoked Cuban cigars has been with me and Savona. Litto actually seemed to be enjoying his Cohiba Maduro 5 Secreto, and he admitted that it was the first maduro cigar from Cuba that he had ever smoked. "I have been smoking my cigars all day long, so I really find this different from what I have been smoking," he said as he puffed away. "After the first half inch, I began to feel lots of toasted nuts and things…. It has very solid flavors. It's not overpowering. It has good balance. And the flavors are good.… It's very, very solid."

Larger than life both in energy and girth, chef Paul Bartolotta was hanging for a while in his stained kitchen whites and smoking a Coronado by La Flor Lancero. He wanted to know what were some of the obvious defects of a cigar.

Being my shy self, I jumped in first. "For me, the biggest defect in a cigar is if it is bitter or it has the flavor of ammonia," I said with great authority. I am afraid Padrón beat me on this one. He said there was one defect even more obvious than that, and he's right. He said that if a cigar doesn't draw, then "you are dead in the water. Even if it is good or bad, you are not going to know."

But assuming it draws, I said, a cigar has to have great flavor or why bother to smoke it? In my opinion, even if a cigar doesn't look great (its wrapper can be marked or ugly) but it has great flavor, then it can be a great cigar. "Cigars are all about flavor," I said.

This sparked Savona into commenting on how flavorful the Coronado by La Flor Lancero was that he was smoking. "I know that some people think that a non-Cuban cigar can't be stronger than a Cuban, but I think that this has really got a strong kick to it."

In fact, I was surprised how much "kick" so many of the cigars had at the cigar retailers show. There were many new and improved cigars on show. Just about every cigar manufacturer I visited was talking about "more flavor." For example, who would ever have thought that Davidoff and Macanudo—two cigar names that have built their reputations on mild smokes—would come out with full-bodied cigars? Davidoff released a maduro and Macanudo introduced a reserve.

The biggest revelation was the Macanudo 1968—the darkest and richest Mac ever produced. I have never been a great fan of Macanudo. I have found them to be just too mild. But the new Mac is a MacDaddy of flavor. After a few puffs, you get loads of coffee and chocolate character with medium body. It's spicy and super fresh and keeps your mouth moist and your taste buds satisfied. It is of outstanding quality.

"We are going back to the basics," said Daniel Núñez, the head of General Cigar Co., about the new Macanudo, which is made with a dark Honduran wrapper, a Havana-seed binder grown in Connecticut and a mix of Nicaraguan and Dominican filler. "We are not reinventing the wheel. We are putting more value into the leaf.… It is strength and flavor, but keeping a balance."

The 1968 Mac comes in four sizes and costs slightly more than the regular Mac: Churchill (7 by 49 ring gauge), $10; Toro (6 by 54), $9.50; Robusto (5 by 50), $8.50; and Gigante (6 by 60), $11.

Davidoff's slightly enhanced robusto (5 by 50) looked strange with its dark brown maduro wrapper. I am so used to seeing Davidoffs with light brown, almost yellow wrappers. I remember the owner of the company, Ernst Schneider, once preached to me about how Davidoff cigars must be light colored, beautiful and mild, like a beautiful woman who's wearing delicate perfume. Times have changed! Sam Russell from Davidoff admitted that the company had been skeptical about the maduro thing. "We are not a trendy cigarmaker," he said, as I smoked one of the Maduro Rs at his stand at the cigar show. "But people asked us for years. Maduro is just the wrapper. We don't make that distinction. It is the blend that counts for us. So we didn't just make a maduro cigar. It is a maduro blend.

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