Cigar Aficionado

Cigar Centro

I went to a wine dinner on Saturday night at Club Havana for the introduction of wines from Tuscany’s Castello Banfi to the Cuban market. The multi-course meal was full of Havana’s sommeliers as well as diplomats, actors and other celebrities from the island. I said a few words in my bad Spanish about Tuscany, Banfi and Brunello di Montalcino as well as how the various wines went with each course. Believe it or not, there is a small but serious food and wine culture in Cuba, and I am sure it will only grow as relations normalize with the United States.

At the end of the meal, Cohiba Siglo VI’s were handed out and served with 11-year-old Santiago Rum. The latter is made in the original Bacardi distillery in Santiago, and it used to be sold as Matusalem in Cuba until a few years ago. But that’s another column. What was interesting was how everyone was smoking, even most of the women.
The Siglo VI remains one of the best, if not the best, Cuban cigar produced. It delivers so much spicy, tobacco, cappuccino flavors with a elegance and smoothness that can’t be beat. I scored it 95 points, unblind.

I was speaking to a friend about the scene, Ernán López Nussa, the famous jazz pianist, and he said that almost all Cubans smoke a cigar if they are offered one. “Cigars are part of the party in Cuba,” he told me. “Hardly anyone would not smoke one in Cuba, if they were offered one during a dinner or party. It would be considered rude.”
In fact, amigos at Habanos SA, the global marketing and distribution company for Cuban cigars, told me that the domestic market still accounts for about 250 million cigars a year. Most of those cigars are apparently short filler, hand-rolled smokes, but they are, nonetheless, smoked. At one time, Cubans were offered a couple of cigars a month with their regular ration of food staples, but apparently this is no longer the case. Now they have to buy them for a few pesos each, which would be 10 or 20 cents.

I don’t know if I have been just more aware on the streets, but I seem to see more Cubans smoking cigars.

Photo by James Suckling

Harleyistas hang out in the Plaza Vieja with their bikes and cigars.

And I noticed a lot more young people smoking cigars. There’s nothing better than hanging outside in one of the cafes in Old Havana and drinking a coffee and smoking a cigar and watching the world go by. That’s just what I did, at what has become one of my favorite places, the Plaza Vieja. It was completely renovated a few years back. I was there a couple of days ago and I noticed a couple of Harleyistas with their 1940s Harley’s hanging and smoking. Not a bad way to spend some time.

"James,Thank you for the blogs from Cuba. I am born to Cuban exiles that have longed for the day that they can return and visit their beloved homeland. From a very young age my parents were staunch supporters of the embargo and had no desire to see a normilizing of relations with the communist country. Time passes and the older my parents get the more they realize that it may have been a failed policy. I also think that they long to see their birthplace one more time. Listening to their stories and reading your blogs has me wanting to connect with my heritage in a deeper sense as well as introducing it to my three young boys.Politics aside it is the birthplace of four generations paternally and three generations maternally. It is time that I get to see this beautiful country. Continue my friend with your writings and I will continue seeing Cuba through your eyes until I can see them with my own." —February 10, 2009 16:21 PM
"Nelson. God bless you my friend." —February 10, 2009 18:37 PM