The box is black and brilliant, gleaming in the reflected light. An ornate and interwoven G and R shine in gold type from the box top, with the date 2007 written below, a sign that the 15 cigars inside are something special indeed.
This is a box of Partagás Lusitania Gran Reservas, one of only 5,000 for the entire world, and after more than a 10-month wait they have finally begun appearing in cigar shops. The smoke has the same dimensions as a regular production Lusitania—7 5/8 inches long with a ring gauge of 49, the standard for double coronas, known as Prominentes in Cuba—but the tobacco inside is said to be more than five years old. Only the third Cuban cigar to ever bear the Gran Reserva name, they sell for more than $100 each in most global markets, and have generated big interest among serious cigar smokers.
“It is the most exciting product launch from Cuba. Overall it’s the one that excites cigar smokers the most—not only the current cigar smokers but the collectors as well,” says Eddie Sahakian, who works alongside his father, Edward, at the Davidoff shop in London about Cuban Gran Reservas. “Everyone is interested, and everyone wants to try it.”
Gran Reservas are, in essence, special versions of regular Cuban cigars, made with extra-old tobaccos. They are priced at a premium, made in very limited quantities and have been resold for considerably more than their already high release prices. The cigars are packaged like elaborate gifts—fitting for their rich prices—in black lacquer boxes bagged in a velvety pouch meant to protect the box, which has a golden plate on the inside lid showing the precise box number. There is an outer cardboard box, containing the factory stamp, and the entire package is quite like that found on Cohiba Behikes. The Partagás has something new for Cuba—a QR code engraved, subtly, on the back of the box, so a cigar lover can get more information on the smoke.
Cuba made its first Gran Reserva in 2009 when it launched the Cohiba Siglo VI Gran Reserva. The reaction to that cigar was extraordinary, and the 5,000 boxes soon sold out. Some singles appear for sale here and there—one should be very careful when buying a cigar of such rarity—and we’ve seen prices approaching $300 for a single cigar. The second Gran Reserva, the Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva, came out in 2011, again with 5,000 boxes allocated for the world.
The demand for the Partagás is strong. Sahakian says he has been receiving constant e-mails from customers seeking out the cigar since the Habanos Festival in February 2013, when samples of the cigar were passed out at the final dinner concluding the event.
Some question whether the Gran Reservas (and their somewhat less expensive cousins, the Reservas, which are made with three-year-old tobacco) justify the price, which tends to be about triple that of a regular production smoke of similar size. The Partagás Lusitania Gran Reserva retails for about £65 each ($108) in the United Kingdom, and $100 or so in Switzerland.
We smoked two Partagás Lusitania Gran Reservas in a non-blind tasting for this story, conducted with the bands on, unlike our traditional blind tastings for the magazine. One had an unduly firm draw, the other smoked beautifully. Both were medium bodied, with tasting notes that included leather, just a touch of pepper and cocoa powder. Those seeking the taste of Partagás from days gone by won’t find the old full-flavored intensity the brand was once known for. “It definitely doesn’t knock you out,” says Sahakian.
Sahakian believes the cigar shows rich aging potential. “I say this is going to improve for 15 years,” says the retailer. “If they put them away, they’re going to get better and better.”