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Best of the Best

Cuban cigars you should be buying today
| By Gordon Mott | From Arnold Schwarzenegger, November/December 2019
Best of the Best
Photo/John Curry
The Cohiba Behike BHK 52 is a top-tier Cuban Cigar, and scored 94 Points.

You are standing in front of shelves full of Cuban cigars in a Casa del Habano. The yellow and black cases or varnished, mahogany wood cabinets or lithographed boxes of well-known brands are stacked there: Cohiba, Montecristo, H. Upmann, Partagás, Hoyo de Monterrey. You grab a wooden cabinet of Cohibas, because they are Cohibas, Cuba’s most famous brand. You crack open the seal, slide back the lid, stick your nose down into the box and take a deep breath; you smell the mix of aged tobacco with the aromas of cedar, earth and spices. You inhale deeply and imagine those cigars in your humidor.

But what next? Is the box of Cohibas better than the box of Montecristos? Is the H. Upmann Sir Winston as great a smoke as the Punch Double Corona? Are the Hoyo de Monterreys really worth more than a box of Diplomaticos? Those are questions every cigar lover asks as they get ready to buy boxes of Cuban cigars, either to smoke now or to lay down in their humidors.

Cigar Aficionado wants to make your choice a bit easier. During 2019, we have rated dozens of Cuban cigars, and based on the scores from our blind tastings, we have chosen the top 10. All of the cigars on the list have scored between 92 and 94 points. Nearly every cigar is available in the markets today from Havana to London, or in specific countries like Mexico, because the cigars are Regional Editions. We will also give you the top 10 from 2018, as well as a couple of cigars from our Top 25 tasting in 2018. We won’t quote prices here because they vary dramatically based on local taxes from market to market.

Before we dive into the specifics of the 10 cigars on the 2019 list, we want to emphasize that the tobacco in current production is the best in nearly five years. The majority of the tobacco in current-market cigars comes from the growing seasons of 2016–17 and 2017–18. Each of those crop years, which means tobacco that was planted in October and November, and harvested from late January to March, has been some of the best tobacco Cuba has produced in this century. After catastrophic rains and poor weather conditions in the previous three crops before 2015, the tobacco now being rolled for current-production cigars is of very good to excellent quality and the results can be found in the cigars. The crop of 2018–19, which is still aging, was also of very high quality and that means the current good cigar quality should continue for several more years.

But back to the list. The 2019 version includes four of the major global brands produced by Habanos S.A.—Cohiba, Hoyo de Monterrey, H. Upmann and Montecristo, and then three smaller brands considered to be of less importance: Bolivar, Juan Lopez and Punch. In 2018, Partagás, another global brand, made the top 10 list with two different cigars, along with three others, including two Cohibas, a Hoyo de Monterrey and two H. Upmanns. In 2018, three of the second-tier brands also joined the top 10 list: Diplomaticos, Punch and Vegas Robaina. The only global brand, which is a new designation instituted by Habanos S.A. this year, not represented in these lists is Romeo y Julieta.

Cohiba Behike

Let’s start with Cohiba, which is the best known and in some sizes, the most sought after by collectors and connoisseurs. The Cohibas from 2019 on the list include one of the iconic sizes in the brand, the Robusto (93 points), 4 7/8 inches by 50 ring. You can’t go wrong with this cigar; one of the greatest older robustos was from the 1992 vintage, a powerhouse when it was smoked nearly 25 years later. The Cohiba Behike BHK 52 (94 points), a pigtailed robusto, is considered to be the pinnacle of Cohiba’s production, but it’s a very tough find. The Siglo VI (93 points), at 5 7/8  by 52, is simply one of the best Cohibas made. This cigar is filled with woody notes, and a hint of vanilla—it also begs to be smoked down to the knuckle-burning stage. In general, Cigar Aficionado considers Cohiba a medium to full-bodied cigar in most sizes, in part because tobaccos used in the brand are aged longer than some other Cuban brands, producing a smooth but powerful smoke. 

Montecristo comes up next, partly because it is the largest-selling Cuban cigar brand in the world. The Petit Edmundo (93 points) is a delicious, well-balanced cigar. While the iconic No. 2, a pirámide, can often show full-bodied strength, the Edmundo series, which includes the Petit Edmundo, the Edmundo and the Double Edmundo, are good choices if you’re looking for a classic, medium-bodied Cuban cigar. The Petit Edmundo is 4 3/8 by 52, which is a great size for a quick afternoon smoke, and is filled with hints of coffee bean and dark chocolate.

There are two Hoyo de Monterrey sizes in the 2019 list. The Epicure No. 2, a robusto size, nearly 5 by 50, scored 92 points. Apart from the Hoyo Double Corona, this is probably the best known, and one of the most consistently great sizes in the Hoyo lineup. Known primarily as a mild to medium-strength brand, the Epicure showed a lot of flavor with floral and nutty elements, some leather and toasted almond on the mid-palate and a pleasantly sweet finish. The other Hoyo in the 2019 lineup is the Río Seco, which is part of the new Le Hoyo line extensions. The Río Seco is more full-bodied than the regular Hoyo cigars, and at 5 1/2 by 56, is also one of thickest sizes in the entire Habanos portfolio. It scored 94 points, and the complex smoke was filled with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and wood all leading to a rich, caramel finish.

Montecristo Petit Edmundo

The final global brand in the list is the H. Upmann No. 2, the same pirámide shape as a Montecristo No. 2. These cigars fall into the medium-strength range, although the Upmann No. 2 shape tends to come across as much stronger because the tapered head concentrates the smoke. This is always a great substitute if you are a Monte No. 2 fan. It scored 92 points, and with a core of sweetness, still delivered solid notes of almonds and leather. A real keeper.

The true gems in the 2019 lineup are from the so-called second-tier brands, now classified by Habanos as “portfolio brands.” Cigars in this second tier can be some of the best smokes in the entire Cuban portfolio, and potentially some of the best values. The Punch Double Corona (94 points), 7 5/8 by 49, is a powerhouse with notes of cedar, coffee bean and a long chocolate finish. This cigar always has long aging potential in good vintage years, like the ones on the market right now. Considered medium to full-bodied, this is a smoke for a long, late night with a glass of Cognac or aged rum. The Punch Duke, (93 points), a Mexican Regional Edition is also a great smoke. It’s a well-balanced 5 1/2 by 54 cigar with medium strength, and continues the trend of great Mexican Regional Editions. The cigar is floral and nutty with leather and dried red fruit on the finish.

Bolivar Coronas Junior

The other two 2019 second-tier cigars are quite different in style, but each worth tracking down. The Bolivar brand is considered one of the most consistently full-bodied cigars from Cuba. The Bolivar Coronas Junior (93 points), 4 3/8 by 42, is a wonderful small smoke, just right to accompany a morning espresso or  after a meal—assuming you’re looking for a quick, full-bodied experience. It has a leathery, earthy core with strong coffee bean notes, and a long chocolate finish. The Juan Lopez Selección No. 2 (94 points), a 4 7/8 by 50 robusto, is a relatively low-production cigar, but has always been one of our favorites, falling in the medium to full strength range. It’s often found in cabinets of 25, a great way to age a cigar. These have a solid spicy, cedary character with layers of raisin and chocolate that hint of leather and chestnut. 

The top 10 cigars from 2018 are interesting, but there are three, including one from the year’s Top 25 rankings, that stand out: the H. Upmann Sir Winston (94 points), a classic Churchill at 7 by 47. This is one of the most elegant large cigars in the Cuban cigar universe. It’s a medium-bodied smoke that delivers a lot of sweet, creamy and coffee flavors, and is one of our favorites.

Another standout is the Diplomaticos No. 2 (92 points), which many connoisseurs consider the equal to its pirámide shaped cousin, the Montecristo No. 2. Diplomaticos is a medium to-full-bodied brand, and one we personally look for whenever we’re in a Casa del Habano, or in Havana. It possesses unique sweet-and-savory qualities with hints of wood and chocolate-covered almonds.

The Quai d’Orsay No. 54, 5 3/8 by 54, deserves your attention too. Once a regional brand for France, the Quai d’Orsay line was relaunched in 2017 and now reaches a broad, global market. Each encounter with them has been a real treat. It’s another combination of sweet and savory, and we feel it has great aging potential. On top of everything else, it’s a good value.

There are some other great Cuban smokes available in the market today. Although they don’t all necessarily receive the top-echelon scores in our tastings, the Añejados line (which Habanos ages for many years before release) has turned into a wonderful, well-aged smoke. The first Añejados releases, the Romeo y Julieta Pirámides (92 points) and the Montecristo Churchill (91 points), were unfairly dismissed by many connoisseurs, but
several recent samples have opened up and are smoking beautifully.

Finally, if you are buying these cigars today, consider laying them down for a year or so. They are smoking great today, but they will get better with a little time in your humidor.

Cuba Report Habanos S.A.

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