Cigar Aficionado

Part Two: Las Vegas Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

Collecting Cuban Cigars
With the second anniversary cigar of the morning lit and filling the room with even more smoke, Cigar Aficionado's European editor, James Suckling, took the dais for the day's second seminar: Collecting Cuban Cigars. Joining Suckling on the panel were Thomas Bohrer from Habanos Wine and Cigars in Hong Kong and Frank Nisenboim, a private cigar collector based in Chicago.

As the seminar title suggested, the cigar lovers in attendance were given a "how to" for collecting Cuban cigars, especially rare and aged Cubans. Suckling and his fellow panelists, each an expert on aged Havanas, discussed a wide range of topics, including price, availability and market quality.

"The cigar world changed in May 1997," Suckling began. "Christie's held the first major cigar auction and established a world value for rare cigars." Before the auction, Suckling explained, nobody was really sure what the prices should be for rare and aged Cubans. In the mid-1990s, boxes of pre-Castro Montecristos or Cuban Davidoffs were relatively inexpensive, sometimes selling for less than current-production cigars. Today, these cigars command thousands of dollars in the marketplace and on the auction blocks.

Thomas Bohrer
Yet even as prices rise and demand for them increases, there are still rare and aged Cubans available. "The [market for such Cubans] is very strong," said Bohrer, one of the world's largest cigar traders, "but the market has changed. There are more auctions and higher prices, and every aged or old cigar is not a great cigar."

For Suckling, the key area for collectors to concentrate on is buying cigars that will age well, not what their price is. This way, "if the value [of the cigars] goes down, at least you can still smoke them." Cigars are like wine, explained Suckling, and provenance is as important in cigars as it is in wine. It's all about where and how they've been stored. Cigars can be rejuvenated, but they can lose flavors if stored poorly. Proper storage, Suckling said, means keeping your humidor properly humidified to your palate's liking. It also means maintaining a moderate temperature -- Suckling himself stores his cigars in his wine cellar, between 55 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit, although much closer to 70 degrees is the norm.

Frank Nisenboim
Of course, "not every cigar gets better with age," said Nisenboim, an avid pre-embargo cigar collector with a vast collection. He suggested, and the two other panelists agreed, that it's the blend that matters most. Stronger blends will age very nicely, while a mild cigar will not age as gracefully, the panelists said. That's not to say mild or medium cigars aren't worth looking for, just that they will have different flavor profiles. With age, cigars change and take on different characteristics. "It's simple," said Suckling. "Cigars that age well have stronger tobacco, but in the right proportions. A balanced cigar is what you want."

So which cigars are best for aging? "If you smoke a cigar and enjoy it," said Nisenboim, "that's the one that I would put away for a few years."

"After a few years, the cigar is more mellow and more refined," added Suckling, "and aging is all part of the enjoyment of cigars.

An attendee listens intently to insider info on Cuban cigar collecting.
As for which cigars are the best investment for collectors, the panel had many choices, including the Cuban Davidoff Chateau Haut Brion, which at $100 a stick is Bohrer's best seller, and any Cuban Dunhill. The panel also recommended several Cuban cigars being produced today, but stressed the importance of understanding box codes and which years are worth seeking out. Cigars produced between 1999 and 2001 can be inconsistent because the Cubans increased production during that time, while Havanas made since July 2002 are vastly improved. The panelists also recommended names such as Hoyo de Monterrey, Por Larrañaga and Ramon Allones, plus the limited-edition humidors released by Habanos S.A., Cuba's cigar exporting organization. In addition, Suckling also noted that some great non-Cuban cigars, such as Fuente Fuente OpusX, Padrón, Ashton VSG and La Flor Dominicana should age very well.

In the end, it's all about being a cigar lover and smoking the cigars you love most. However, no cigar enthusiast should go through life without smoking a rare or aged cigar, no matter how costly or difficult they are to find. "It's just a different experience," said Suckling. "As cigar lovers, it's something we should all be able to enjoy." And a few lucky smokers at the Big Smoke did enjoy them, as Bohrer surprised them by sharing some Los Statos Brevas, pre-embargo Cuban cigars from the early 1960s, at the lunch that followed the seminars.

Photos by Camilla Sjodin Hadowanetz