Cigar Aficionado

Dancing with the Devil?

I was afraid to smoke. I wasn't sure how I would feel, or if it would leave some lasting effect. But I was sort of edgy when the Partagas Serie D No. 4 was lit up on Saturday after a long dinner with a winemaker and his friends in Tuscany. There were even feelings of guilt. Like I was doing something I shouldn't be doing.

I had had pneumonia for two weeks in Italy in my right lung, and it was the first weekend that I was feeling in shape. In fact, I think I haven't felt so well in years. My lung is clear. I lost some weight. I am sleeping well, and I have been working out again. But I was worried about smoking again.

We all know that smoking cigars is not hazard free. The risks are nothing like cigarettes, as long as you don't in hale and you smoke in a well-ventilated place. And chain-smoking cigar— ­ if you could afford it —is probably not a good idea. But there are still concerns.

But I had been drinking all night. Or as the wine trade euphemistically calls it: "tasting." We had some amazing wines from a 1988 Salon Champagne that was as rich and powerful as a top grand cru Burgundy to a 1991 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grands Echézeaux that defined the subtle yet rich character of the Pinot Noir grape. The 1978 Conterno Monfortino Barolo was dense, powerful and structured like a brick house yet it delivered mind-blowing aromas and flavors. These bottles, and others, took my inhibitions away and let me enjoy the smoke. I felt like a virgin cigar smoker.

I couldn't believe the rich yet refined flavors of the cigar. It showed a wonderful intensity of cedar, cream and cappuccino that turned to a nutty, almost honey character. It was easy to smoke with a lovely draw, one of those draws that isn't too quick or slow, just the right amount of resistance. And the aromas filled the room with dried flowers and tobacco. It was like letting a genie out of its bottle.

Granted, I didn't smoke the whole thing. One step at a time, I said. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and it's why I love smoking a cigar. I am looking forward to my next smoke. Maybe after the Rome vs. Bordeaux football match on Tuesday?

I also smoked about a month ago (before I got sick from a flight from Los Angeles) a new regional edition cigar for Italy that I thought you might want to know about. The note is below. It should be out in cigar shops in Italia now. It's the same size as the Bolivar Belicoso: El Rey del Mundo Belicoso Exclusivo Italia. It's a mellow and balanced smoke with cedar, tobacco and cappuccino character with a long finish. Draws beautifully. Impressive. I scored it 91 points, non-blind.

"Hello James, I share you love for habanos and understand how difficult it can be to refrain from indulging for any length of time. When you're in the habit of smoking one or 2 great cigars a day, 1 day without feels like a lifetime. I'd certainly agree there's an element of "guilt" when picking a ripened fruit from one's humidor, on the back of a respiratory infection. I sure have done it myself on few occasions. Nevertheless, it is a curse I am willing to bear. Besides, there will always be excuses available that can get you off the hook..(that 20yr old Graham tawny sure would go well with this Bolivar gigantes...) However I would concur that the experience can be heightened when the senses have rested for a while (due to uncontrollable events of course..). For example, lately I've been working on a box of Don Alejandro famosos which day after day smoked good but when I was forced to take a 2 day hiatus, the following puro smoked great. I was able to pick nuances in the flavor that appeared hidden from me all along. As I write this comment, I am half way through a San Cristobal la punta (which I'm about to follow with up a Diplomaticos #2) and I am knocking on wood the antioxidants in my body are firing on all cylinders. There was a study in the 1970s that found cigars smokers to live longer than non-smokers. It baffled the medical community. Of course, it never saw the public light and was quickly locked away. In the end, moderation prevails. It just doesn't apply to cigars..and wines..and spirits..and good food.. ouch! James, I'm glad to see I am not alone. All the best for you in 2009! Oliver" —December 21, 2008 18:01 PM