Havana Corner in Estelí

Reports from a trip to cigar country in Central America
Posted: January 8, 2007

OK. It is not Havana, or Cuba. But Managua, Nicaragua, does not need to be.

I am on my way today with senior editor Dave Savona (they know him as El Gordito Guapo) to Managua to visit some of the best producers in Nicaragua and Honduras, including Padrón, Oliva, Plasencia and Patel. Who are making some of the most exciting cigars this side of La Habana. And most of the cigars are great because of where the tobacco comes from -- Nicaragua.

When I arrive, I am meeting up with the biggest rum producer of the country and then I am off in a 4x4 up to the dusty town of Estelí, where most of the cigar factories are located. We will head up to Danlí in Honduras later in the week.

I have been to the tobacco growing regions of Nicaragua many times, mostly around the towns of Estelí, Condega and Jalapa. And the soil and climates are very special indeed. Each area produces unique tobacco very much like San Luís, San Juan y Martínez, and Piloto grow different tobaccos in the region of Pinar del Río in Cuba.

You know I write about wine for Cigar Aficionado's sister publication, Wine Spectator; so I will make a comparison with the fruit of the vine. Comparing Nicaraguan tobacco to Cuban is like comparing grapes grown in Napa Valley to Bordeaux. They are different and they are equally good -- and can be equally bad. At the end of the day, you just have to enjoy them for what they are.

Yes, I smoke many Cuban cigars. I like them. But I smoke numerous Nicaragua smokes, mostly Padróns and a few Toraños, if I must be honest. There is a time and a place for everything. Sometimes I prefer the bolder, richer, more in-your-face character of the Padrón smokes, which are pure Nicaraguan sticks. Other times, I want the richness and subtlety of a great Cuban -- particularly aged beauty with seven or eight years of box time.

That's the beauty of smoking cigars in our world today. And it's why I am going to Nicaragua. I want to know what is new in the factories and what is hot in the plantations. Plus, I am interested in getting the buzz of what people are feeling after the elections and Daniel Ortega's strange but true reentry into the country. Stay tuned this week for daily blogs. And we have some videos on the way too!

We smoked 1991 Cohiba Lanceros and 1998 Trinidad Fundadors to warm up for the trip at the new Standard Hotel (super cool new hangout) in Miami the night before our flight. Bring on the Nicaragua smokes….

Check back this week for more from James Suckling in Central America.

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