Cigar Aficionado

Havana Corner: Cuba's Newest

The Cohiba Siglo VI is finally hitting the markets this week, as well as three of Cuba's new Limitada 2003. The United Kingdom is one of the first markets to get the cigars, although prices are going to be very high due to the country's punitive tax structure on smokes.

For example, the Siglo VI will retail for about £511.50 (about $860) per cabinet of 25, while they are expected to sell for about one third of that in Havana. The Siglo VI is not yet available in Cuban shops, so it might be worth paying a premium if you are impatient. The Cohiba Siglo VI is one of the best Cohibas ever. Measuring just less than 6 inches long by 50 ring gauge, it's rich and exciting with amazing flavors. I continue to score it 95 points.

The only problem is the number of fakes in the market already. And people seem confused with the packaging because many of the fakes have the old Cohiba bands. "The Siglo VI is the first Cohiba to be introduced with the new Cohiba golden band," said Gonzalo Fernandez de Navarrete, one of the marketing gurus at Habanos S.A. in Havana. "From September on, we hope to have all newly produced Cohibas with the new band."

Habanos, the exporter of Cuba's cigars, is always revamping other brands' looks. Now it has "cleaned up" the packaging on Cohiba, making it much more opulent and modern. Parts of the band resemble gold embossing. (See photo for details.)

Obviously, for a time the market will have both bands for Cohiba, the dull yellow one and the bright gold one. So you should be wary about fakes. In any case, only a handful of boxes of Siglo VIs were made with the old band, and those were for promotional events last year in London and France. So anyone trying to pass off Siglo VIs with the old bands as genuine is selling fakes.

The counterfeiters have also been busy knocking out plenty of the new Limitada 2003. And I can see why. They are really good smokes!

Here are my tasting notes and ratings for the first three, which are now on the market. Prices are for a box of 25 in Cuban cigar shops:

Romeo y Julieta Hermosos No. 1, super hermoso, 48 ring gauge by 6 1/2 inches long, $123: a rich and round smoke with chocolate and coffee character. It's medium bodied and very satisfying, with a smooth and mellow taste. You might think it should be stronger but it shows elegance. 92 points.

Partagas Serie D No. 2, super robusto, 50 ring gauge by 6 1/8 inches, $139: Very similar to the No. 3 but lacks some of the depth of flavor. The cigar is full bodied, with plenty of character but slightly one-dimensional. It needs some box age to really come around. Give it two or three years. The smoke grows on you. It gets better and better. 92 points.

Hoyo de Monterrey Piramides, torpedo, 52 ring gauge by 6 1/8 inches, $141: This is a rocket. Love this stuff. It has fabulous flavors and aromas of coffee and spice, with the full body and sweetness and flavor character of Hoyo. Very long in flavor. Super smoke. 93 points.

As I have previously written, the three cigars above are among the five Limitada 2003 that will be on the market. The other two are a Cohiba Prominentes, double corona, 49 ring gauge by 7 1/2 inches, $418, and a Montecristo "C," corona gorda, 46 ring gauge by 5 5/8 inches, $236. They should be out later in the year.

As in the past, all the limitadas, are made in limited numbers in specific factories and with two-year-old wrapper from the top leaves, or corona, of the tobacco plant. The wrappers are not maduro, but colorado oscuro or oscuro, or dark brown to very dark brown. They tend to have a richer, slightly more spicy flavor profile than normal cigars in their respective brands.

How do other cigar aficionados like the new smokes? I gave a Hoyo Piramide to Marvin R. Shanken while we were in Las Vegas a few weeks ago on business, following a dinner. He was playing craps and was smoking away as he watched the dice. "This really is a great smoke, Suckling," he said about three times. It's a shame his luck wasn't better with the dice. The Hoyo lasted a lot longer than his stay at the craps tables in Mandalay Bay.

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