Havana Corner: Festival 2007

Missed But Not Forgotten

Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's National Assembly, told me in an interview last week that Fidel Castro is always full of surprises, and that you can never be sure what he will do next. With that in mind, I kept wondering if last Friday's auction during the IX Festival del Habano was just an aberration, or if Castro will never again attend the event or sign another humidor again. I guess you never know.

The 1,000 or so attendees of the gala dinner event in Havana applauded Castro in a sort of get well message before the auction, but you had to sense the disappointment that el commandente was not there and the five humidors on sale did not have his signature.

It didn't matter. A record was set for a strange-looking humidor that paid homage to Cohiba and resembled a modern altar with a statue of a female Terminator-esque figure in the center. It sold for 270,000 euros (about $354,000). Altadis S.A.'s cigar division, which owns half of Habanos S.A., the organizer of the event, bought the lot, helping to bring the auction total to more than 530,000 euros ($695,000). All auction proceeds go to the island's public health system.

The other notable bidder at the auction was British design guru Sir Terence Conran, who paid 105,000 euros ($138,000) for an ornate Indian-style treasure chest containing 250 cigars, which included every size of Montecristo as well as the legendary maravillas and robusto edición limitada 2006.

But something seemed to be missing….

This doesn't mean that the five-day event didn't have some great moments for cigar smokers. One of the highlights was the opportunity to try three new Cohiba sizes with five-year-old maduro wrappers. They include the Genios, 52 ring by 5 1/2 inches; Mágicos, 52 by 4 1/2 inches; and Secretos, 40 by 4 1/3 inches. The dark-wrapper smokes were originally supposed to have small pigtail ends, but the caps were ultimately left round like normal Cohibas because the Cubans believed the pigtails was not in keeping with the brand. Who cares anyway? The new trio is excellent.

I have a slight preference for the two larger sizes. I would rate them both "classic" quality, or 95 to 100 points. They all have the wonderful Cohiba character: a soft texture and a rich, round yet refined style. However, the aged maduro wrapper gives them a spicier, coffee bean and dark chocolate flavor profile compared to a regular Cohiba. Some might even call it roasted. I find the extra two years on the wrapper delivers more balance to the cigar than many of the edición limitadas I have smoked over the years. The three-year-old dark wrapper on the limitadas sometimes slightly dominates the flavor of the cigar, in my opinion. The maduro cigars are expected on the market this summer.

Another cigar everyone was talking about during the festival was the Edmundo Dantes Conde 109, a smoke made especially for the Mexican market. It is part of the ediciónes regionales program of Habanos, in which special cigars are made for specific markets for one year only. The Conde 109 is essentially a robusto extra with a tapered end. The 50 ring gauge by 7 1/4 inch cigar was last made in 1995 to celebrate the 150 anniversary of Partagas. That cigar came in a special humidor that included 50 of the cigars. About 7,500 cigars were made in total, and one roller made all the cigars. The molds used for the new 109 are the original five used for the special humidor cigars.

I smoked the cigar during the gala dinner and was blown away by the quality. It reminds me of the original 109, in that it showed lots of tea, light cedar and tobacco character. It was full and rich yet harmonious and balanced. It turned peppery and spicy as I smoked it. I gave it a provisional 95-98 points. The cigar is expected on that market in a few months in special boxes of 25. Only 600 boxes will be available.

At the gala dinner gueats were also given a small box of new reserve Montecristo No. 4 cigars, which are expected out this fall. They follow the reserve Partagas Serie D No. 4s sold a couple of years ago. The new No. 4 is made with slightly longer aged filler than the regular No. 4. I didn't get a chance to smoke it.

Castro was missed at the festival this year, but the music, the people-watching and the Conde 109s still made it a great event.

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