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The Montecristo War

James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
cigar case, Summer 93

(continued from page 2)

If the situation ends for the worse, Spain's politicians with an appetite for the brand can always follow the example of their counterparts in France. "Every serious cigar aficionado has one friend or another in either Geneva, London or Brussels," says one Paris cigar merchant. "They can always buy their Montecristos through them."

The Making Of Montecristo

Enrique Mons, one of Havana's great cigar aficionados and the head of the humidor room at La Casa de Habano, the city's most prestigious tobacconist, could smoke anything he wants, considering the vast selection of cigars in his shop--all the sizes and shapes of Cohiba, Hoyo de Monterrey and Punch, among others--but when he decides to smoke a cigar he usually picks a Montecristo. "I have always smoked a Montecristo", says Mons. "It's a unique cigar with unique character. The blend is rich, but more importantly, the wrappers are very special."

If Montecristo is not Cuba's best cigar, it is certainly its biggest and best known. Each year, more than 30 million cigars are shipped out of Havana bearing Montecristo's brown and white band. This huge volume makes it necessary for the brand to be produced in seven different factories. Most are in Havana including H. Upmann, La Corona, Partagas and Moncada. Most of these factories produce the ubiquitous Montecristo No. 4, called the Mareva by cigar rollers. About 20 million are made each year. H. Upmann has been making Montecristo the longest, since its original owners, the Menendez family, founded the brand in 1934.

The current factory for H. Upmann, called the Fabrica José Martí, is located behind the Partagas factory and a few minutes' walk from the Capitol. H. Upmann over the factory in 1944. Connoisseurs of the brand know that this factory makes the very best Montecristo cigars and scour cigar shops for boxes printed with the José Martí code on their underside--"JM."

Benito Molina, Manager of José Martí, wasn't surprised to hear this. "We have the best rollers here," he boasts, smiling smugly to himself with a large pyramid Montecristo No. 2 clenched between his teeth. "We control the production of Montecristo from here." Molina says that he and a group of technicians constantly monitor the production of Montecristo in the other factories. They select the tobacco from the Vuelta Abajo region and stipulate what goes into the blends for each cigar shape and size. In addition, nearly all of the wrappers are selected and processed at José Martí. "We really look for a special wrapper," Molina says. "It is not so much the color. What is more important is to have the oiliness come through the wrapper. This assures a rich smoke."

Besides oily wrappers, Montecristo cigars are often said to show a woody or light nutty character. Molina says this is due to how they age the wrappers, which are matured for a month in warehouses with cedar-lined walls. "This preserves the aromas and flavors of the tobacco," he explains.

Although there are 11 different cigars in the range, the best Montecristos are usually considered the larger vitolas. This includes the mammoth "A," 9 1/4 inch long by 47 ring gauge or 47/64 of an inch thick; the robust No. 2, a 6 1/8 inch long by 52 pyramid; the sleek Especial, 7 1/2 inch by 38; and the classic No. 1, a 6 1/2 inch by 42 lonsdale. The Menendez family originally thought of giving the different models numbers. "Apparently everybody had an opinion on what to call the vitolas of Montecristo, and Señor Menendez got tired of it," says Angel Pereira, a historian who is researching a "book on the various Cuban cigar brands. So he decided just to call them 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5."

The Montecristo "A" was introduced later, but the newest sizes are two thin and elegant Especiales, the normal one at 7 1/2 inches long, and the No. 2 at 6 inches. Both have a ring gauge of 38. These two cigars were apparently introduced in the early '70s, after the same format had been developed for Cohiba. The Especial is exactly the same size as the Cohiba Lancero, and the Especial No. 2is identical to the Cohiba Corona Especial.

Some aficionados actually prefer the two Montecristo vitolas to Cohiba, since they are often better made. In fact, Francisco Padron, Director of Cubatabaco, admitted this November that he was slightly disappointed in the quality of Cohiba Lanceros and that Montecristo's Especial seemed to be better made.

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