Cigar Aficionado

Back in the Dominican Republic

The Airbus swooped down from the clouds, revealing the lush, tropical landscape below. Fields of yucca, plantain and tobacco covered the land, flanked by mountains brimming with trees, each one cloaked by thick mist.

I’m back in Santiago, and it feels good.

I’ve been coming here since 1996, and returning to this cigar-producing haven feels a lot like coming home. I’m here for the second annual ProCigar Festival, where many of the country’s cigar producers open their factories and fields to curious cigar lovers from around the world.

I landed at lunchtime and met part of the group at a new restaurant called Pedro. When I first started coming to Santiago, the dining scene was extremely limited. Today there are all kinds of fine places to eat, and Pedro more than fits the bill. I sat down with Guillermo León of La Aurora, Manuel “Manolo” Quesada of Manufactura de Tabacos S.A. (the guy who makes our Cigar of the Year, Casa Magna), Nestor Miranda and Rene Castaneda from Miami Cigar & Co., and Michael Herklots of the Davidoff shops in New York. After tucking into a nice plate of paella, we fired up smokes and began catching up.

Manolo gave me a Fonseca Cubano Limitado. I torched it up and began puffing it with my espresso. It’s a fine cigar, rich and fairly bold with good balance. It has a Nicaraguan criollo wrapper, the same type that goes on Casa Magna, Manolo said, but different priming. Nice smoke.

Everyone was in great spirits. Manolo joked that we at Cigar Aficionado had given him a problem—he can’t keep Casa Magnas in stock! The smile on his face tells me how happy he is to have such a problem on his hands. Jose Blanco of La Aurora came over and slapped Manolo on his shoulder. “Now that he has Cigar of the Year, we all have to ask him when we want to leave the country!”

Tonight, the festival begins in earnest with a big celebration. There will be plenty of cigars, some icy cold Presidente beers and a good time.

It’s great to be back in Santiago.

"My congratulations to Senor Quesada. If anyone deserves the honor for creating the "Cigar of the Year" he does. He has been making quality cigars for a very long time.When he introduced the original Fonseca line. a friend of mine thought the first corona he smoked was Cuban. Senor Quesada and I do have one thing in common (besides smoking his great cigars) We both were RTOs in Vietnam-although he never should have been drafted in the first place.Best Regards,Paul Dunn " —March 25, 2009 17:06 PM