This couldn't be a better time to be putting cigars back in the spotlight. As of mid-December, the premium cigar market in the United States was on track to exceed 300 million units in 2004, an increase of more than 15 percent over 2003, and three times the size of the market when the cigar renaissance started back in 1992. Retailers all over the country reported brisk sales during the holiday season, and the manufacturers in the Dominican Republic and Central America have been scrambling for months to meet the growing demand in the marketplace.
There's a reason. We've said it before, and we will say it again. Cigar manufacturers are making better cigars than ever before. At the end of the first boom, in the mid-'90s, there was widespread dismay over the drop in quality. The ensuing glut of cigars and lengthy decline in sales could have caused irreparable harm to the industry's reputation. Instead, the manufacturers and growers evaluated what they had done wrong, focused on lands where the best tobacco could be grown, restocked their tobacco inventories with better leaves and then aged them longer, fired the least skilled rollers and kept the best ones, and in the end, began to climb back into the market with new ideas, and new cigars.
Just take a look at the choices that the editors of Cigar Aficionado have made in this issue's cover story. Our top 10 cigars come not only from Cuba, but Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, and the No. 1 cigar, the Padrón 40th Anniversary from Nicaragua, is one of the best cigars ever to reach the market. While still carrying the Padrón name, the 40th Anniversary is a new cigar for the Padrón family. The La Aurora 100 Años is the first Dominican puro, or cigar made entirely from Dominican tobacco, created by the León family. It follows in the footsteps of the great Fuente Fuente OpusX, but other Dominican puros are also now in the market, such as Litto Gomez's LG Diez. Those three cigars alone show just how the cigar world has expanded and improved over the years.
But our list of the best cigars in the world today includes some great Cubans as well. The Cohiba Siglo VI was the first new size of Cohiba in years, and it has rocked the international market with its full body and complex flavor. Other superb examples of the Cuban cigar craft include the Montecristo No. 2 and Diplomaticos No. 2, both terrific torpedos, and the H. Upmann Magnum 46 and the San Cristobal de la Habana.
Other non-Cuban cigars have also made their mark. Besides the ones mentioned above, the Dominican Montecristo mini-Belicoso and the H. Upmann Vintage Cameroon both highlight the creativity of today's cigar blenders. So does the new La Gloria Cubana Reserva, a powerful cigar filled with with great Nicaraguan tobacco. The variety of these blends is a true testament to the skill and innovation that are stepping front and center in the cigar industry.
This is the first time that the editors of Cigar Aficionado have gone beyond our tastings to pick our favorite cigars. We didn't just focus on the ratings to make our selections, but evaluated everything from production to country of origin to the type of tobacco, to give you, the consumer, as broad a range as possible from which to choose. No matter what type of cigar you prefer, you can find something in this list that you'll like. And no matter how much you're comfortable paying for a cigar, there's a choice in here for you.
The truth is simple: it's easier today to make this kind of selection than ever before. Enjoy!