Let me respond to some of your questions and comments. Everyone has noticed that certain cigars in the Top 25 have higher scores than cigars ranked higher in the final list. There's no mystery or mistake there. We do not base the final selection for the Top 25 on scores alone. If we did that, then we wouldn't even bother to hold a special tasting for it; we'd just go down the scores given during the year and rank the cigars from one to 25. But gee, what fun would that be? We really do consider everything from price to country of origin to production quantities and that word intangibles, which boils down to whether or not we find something unique about the cigar that sets it apart from other products in the market today.
The NFL or NBA Playoffs are a good analogy for the Top 25 tasting. Teams make the playoffs based on their performance during the regular season. But once the playoffs begin, it's a whole new season. About 45 cigars qualified for the final "taste-off," based on scores of 91 points or better in Cigar Aficionado or Cigar Insider during the issues published in 2008. Even in that selection, if there are multiple cigars from the same brand, we'll just choose the highest rated one for our final test. Then, we begin smoking. The test is conducted just like all our blind tastings for the magazine; cigars are purchased in the marketplace, the bands are removed and replaced with a simple white numbered band and placed in each of the taster's humidors. The Top 25 tasting panel included me, Dave Savona, Jack Bettridge, James Suckling and Marvin R. Shanken.
Once all the cigars have been smoked, we cull the list again down to around a dozen; nothing is fixed in stone at this point although cigars do get eliminated from consideration. The panel then smoked those cigars, again, all blind. We narrowed the selection down one last time to about five cigars, and then, more to confirm our ranking than anything else, we smoked the five cigars one last time.
But, you must wonder, how can a cigar score a 96 one time, and a 93 the next. Well, it's one of the most important points I make about any tasting process. It is subjective. While it's unlikely a cigar will score 95 one time, and 82 the next, there is a small range that can occur, and of course, the final tally can fluctuate depending on who is doing the tasting. We've always said that individual preferences can affect a score. That's part of what makes a tasting so interesting, and the foundation for discussion about what makes a particular cigar good, or what makes it one that you particularly appreciate.
You also have noted that last year, the cigars did rank 1-25 with corresponding scores; that's true, but it won't always be the norm. And I remember talking among ourselves last year that the top to bottom ranking by score was an anomaly. The Top 25 guidelines, a fancy and perhaps inappropriate word for a subjective test, don't limit us to just ranking the cigars by score.
Why Casa Magna? Well, first of all, the price point is an absolutely unavoidable and appealing factor. In one of the worst economic downturns in most of our lifetimes, a $5.25 suggested retail price is worth noting and rewarding. It is also a full-flavored, wonderfully constructed cigar. Trust me. We didn't know it was one of the lowest priced cigars in the entire selection when we were smoking. It stood out on its own.
The choice of Casa Magna takes nothing away from any of the other cigars in the list. They all deserve huge kudos for not only being great cigars, but for having survived an extremely selective process, against the best cigars made in 2008.