2011 Big Smoke Saturday Seminars: Top Three Legal Cigars of 2010 Tasting

Halloween weekend in Las Vegas can be described as a combination of Mardi Gras, Carnival, and some spooky pageantry. Its casinos are full of characters whose costumes range from the surreal to the sexy and its vast atriums are decorated in welcoming autumnal colors, warmed by a theme of harvest—and the smell of cigar smoke, thanks to Cigar Aficionado magazine’s 16th annual Las Vegas Big Smoke celebration.

The event came early this year to the Venetian Hotel, coinciding with one of Vegas’s most festive weekends, though Big Smoke loyalists were not deterred. Celebrity parties up and down the strip mean nothing to a cigar enthusiast when so many industry luminaries and cigar lovers converge as they do at the Big Smoke weekends.

The seminars, which are the perfect balance of the academic and the recreational, began at nine o’clock Saturday morning, where each attendee was handed a Humidipak bag containing our top three non-Cuban cigars of 2010. For a cigar lover, this is a particularly exciting offering, as many Big Smoke guests live in areas where these cigars are exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.

Gordon Mott introduced the top cigars and their makers.
Gordon Mott introduced the top cigars and their makers.

Some guests lit up their smokes as soon as they got them, unable to contain themselves for the introductions. Who could blame them? A Viaje Oro VOR No. 5 Reserva, the Fuente Fuente OpusX XXX Belicoso, and the Padrón Family Reserve No. 45 in its natural wrapper were numbers two, three and four, respectively, from our 2010 Top 25 list. Each had rated 95 points in that tasting, classic on our 100-point scale. As the show began, executive editor Gordon Mott took the podium to introduce the cigars and their makers.

“Twenty years ago this month I was sitting in my office and Marvin Shanken walked in and said ‘How’d you like to work on a cigar magazine?’ Honestly, I thought he was just having a bad day. I mean, a cigar magazine in 1992? We were in a sort of mini recession and the anti-tobacco folks were on a rampage. Nine months later, the magazine was in a warehouse in Chicago waiting for shipment to the first RTDA we ever attended. Here we are 20 years later, and I have all of you to thank.”

Mott went on to introduce the first cigar of the morning, Viaje’s Oro Reserva VOR No. 5, the No. 2 Cigar of 2010.

“Smoking it was one of those revelations. It was like ‘Wow, what is this?” said Mott. “I had never heard of it.”

The brand is owned by 33-year-old Andre Farkas, who started the company in January of 2008. After a brief but memorable stint in cigar retail, Farkas realized that his career as a talent agent in Los Angeles was unfulfilled and yearned to be back in the tobacco business, explaining his dissatisfaction with the entertainment industry: “If you didn’t give up your entire existence to the job,” he said, “there was no chance for success.”

Andrew Farkas speaks about his Viaje Oro Reserva VOR No. 5 cigar.
Andrew Farkas speaks about his Viaje Oro Reserva VOR No. 5 cigar.

By 2008 he started the Viaje brand, which means “journey” in Spanish. “It seemed like a word that most could relate to.”

Originally produced in the Joya de Nicaragua factory, Viaje is now made at Raices Cubanas in Honduras and the Oro Reserva was part of a small-batch production.

“Being a small manufacturer gives me tremendous freedom to be creative, to control quality and to be nimble as a company. I can change directions at a moment’s notice,” said Farkas. The audience listened as they smoked his cigar, which is a blend of Nicaraguan tobacco from different growing regions. A Corojo ’99 wrapper covers a double binder of Corojo and criollo around filler tobacco from the country’s three major growing regions, Jalapa, Condega and Estelí.

The Viaje Oro VOR No. 5 gave smokers something to enjoy during the next seminar, which focused on Cuban cigars and the U.K.’s retail market. When that seminar concluded, Cigar Aficionado’s senior editor David Savona introduced Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr., and his Dominican puro cigar.

“I invite you to light up the Fuente Fuente OpusX XXX Belicoso,” said Savona, “Cigar Aficionado’s Number three cigar of 2010.”

Fuente came to the stage and said, “I’d like to light up my cigar because I’m only half a man without it. To us, the most meaningful things are friends and family, and each and every one of you are not only my friends, but an extension of my family.”

He then called his sister Cynthia, his daughter Liana and Wayne Suarez up to the stage for “support.” Approaching the 100th anniversary of his company, Fuente gave an emotional retrospective of his family’s history. Rather than talk about his Dominican-made cigar, he paid tribute to his grandfather, who emigrated from Cuba to Florida, and all his struggles while making cigars, first at the Gato factory in Key West, and then on his own at A. Fuente in 1912 in Tampa Florida.

Fuente also painted vivid pictures of life in Ybor city and the cigar industry before the revolution. “In the 1920s, Tampa, or Ybor City, had more than 200 factories making 500 million cigars made with Cuban tobacco,” Fuente said. “It was a community where in every corner, there was a cigar factory.” Fuente also illustrated the plight of Cuban exiles forced to leave their homes and establish their trade in other countries and gave thanks to Cigar Aficionado magazine for reinvigorating the industry.

Carlito Fuente speaks about his Fuente Fuente OpusX XXX Belicoso cigar.
Carlito Fuente speaking to the Big Smoke audience.

“This cigar got a 95?” said Fuente holding up his OpusX. “If it was three inches longer it would have got at least three more points,” he said jokingly. “One thing I’ve learned is that everything is family. You need their strength and support. You cannot achieve anything alone.”

A round of applause segued into the next seminar on hybrid tobaccos, after which, Gordon Mott introduced the number four cigar of the Year—the Padrón Family Reserve No. 45 natural made in Nicaragua. But due to the unexpected and unrelated deaths of two Padrón employees in Nicaragua, Jorge and José Orlando Padrón, who were scheduled to speak, could not attend, so the audience lit up the smokes (which were in their packets) in the Padrón’s honor while Savona and Mott spoke about the cigars.

“Of the seven Cigars of The Year that we’ve had since we started that award, they have won three of them and have never finished out of the top four,” said Mott. “To me, it’s just a statement of what they themselves say. They want quality over quantity.”

At one time, the Family Reserve was commercially unavailable, reserved only for events where a family member was present. Then in 2009, the Padróns introduced it to the general public.

Cigar Aficionado smoked the No. 45 in a natural wrapper over the course of 2010. Its original high score qualified it to become a finalist for the Cigar Of the Year and the smoke did progressively better, rising in the ranks until achieving the number four spot.

“Jorge is very cagey with details,” said Savona. “I ask him what’s in it and he says ‘Oh, you know, I make my cigars you write your stories and that’s all you really need to know.’ He does tell me that he puts old tobacco in here. Think back to where you were 10 years ago because that’s when some of the seeds for this tobacco were planted. You’re smoking some of the oldest tobacco from the Padróns. These guys love tobacco and take great care to make great cigars like this one. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.”

There’s no set rule as to when audience members should smoke certain cigars. Some follow the show, smoking the cigars when they are introduced, others just smoke whatever looks interesting, and others are so impressed by the rarity of their packet that they don’t smoke them at all, but save them for another time.

Regardless, the three cigars of the Saturday seminars were a diverse representation of the industry and the perfect score to a day of tobacco education, and, more importantly, enjoyment.

Big Smoke Evenings

2011 Big Smoke Evenings, Las Vegas

Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

Top Three Legal Cigars of 2010 Tasting
An Insider's View of Cuba Today
Today's Hybrids: The Tobacco Used in Your Cigars
Size Matters
Lunch with Rocky Patel Premium Cigar Co.

Big Smoke Sunday Seminars

Breakfast with Charlie Palmer
Roll Your Own, Seminar No. 14
The Cognac Connection

Big Smoke Weekend Photo Gallery

Slideshow: 2011 Big Smoke Las Vegas Weekend

"Test comment...Anu" —November 8, 2011 15:39 PM
"I would like to say that Carlito's words were Awe inspiring, and made me think about alot of things in my life, being hispanic myself I could relate. ThankYou Carlito!!!" —November 3, 2011 03:55 AM