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The Top 25

Jan 9, 2009 | By Gordon Mott
Casa Magna! I know you're all surprised. We were too after our initial round of Top 25 tastings. And, then, that cigar just kept holding its spot among the top five cigars. In the end, the other factors—price, availability, intangibles—that we consider when making our final choice proved to be the tipping points in favor of the Casa Magna Colorado Robusto.

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.

"John,If you go back to one of my previous posts, and my original blog, you will read that we conduct an entirely separate blind tasting for our Top 25 selection. Cigars are selected for that "super-tasting" based on their performance during the entire year; the lowest qualifying score this year was a 91. After that, we start from zero, and re-taste everything. And, after a 2nd cut, we end up with our final 10 or so cigars, and then, we taste them AGAIN, blind. And, then, after that taste test, we reveal the cigars' identity, and began to judge them on some other factors (this year, price played a relatively more important role in our final decision) and then rank them.As for the questions regarding Cuban cigars, it is not a question we answer. Let's just say, we have our ways." —February 6, 2009 08:34 AM
"Gordon, I also forgot to add that my brother-in-law, co-worker, and I believe in your opinion about the Casa Magna Colorado Robusto that we bought a box of them to try out. None of us prior to the Top 25 being published knew about this cigar. Who knows, maybe this might be the cigar that becomes my everyday smoke. Take Care! Peter" —January 15, 2009 02:43 AM
"Gordon, I guess CA can't please everyone all the time, but that's okay. I for one enjoy reading CA and CI and I use it as a guide to see what is new out there. I've been smoking cigars on and off for about 15 years. But this last year I have found a small group of family and friends that enjoy cigars as well, which has prompted me to smoke at least one cigar a week with them. For a good majority of the last 15 years, my favorite cigar has been the La Gloria Cubana Torpedo. It's cheap and full of flavor (in my opinion). It's my everyday cigar if I chose to smoke one. But because of CA and CI, I have branched out to try other cigars. I now love Punch Champions, Padron 6000 and 1926 serie, CAO Brazilia Amazons, Ashton VSG Torpedos, and Alec Bradley Tempus Terra Novas. I'm sure my tastes are different than yours or anyone else to participates in the blind tests. But that's okay. I don't always agree with your ratings and that's okay too. It sure does bring up good conversation with my buddies when we are trying out some of the cigars you guys rate. Without dragging this out, BRAVO for chiming in. It's your magazine; run it like you will. If I don't like the rules that you guys come up with, then I'm free to stop subscribing to your magazine (which is not the case). I enjoy your two subscriptions (CA & CI) and I look forward to seeing what else you guys come up with. Happy New Year to you and to the rest of the crew at CA and CI. Peter" —January 15, 2009 02:38 AM
"Mr. Mott, Thank you to you and the staff at CA & CI for compiling a great year of reviews capped off with the top 25. I always look forward to reading about new cigars in both CA & CI. Unlike most, I wasn't overly surprised to find out which cigar was #1 this year. I liken them to fine wine, fine scotches, etc., each and every person has his/her own tastes, likes, and dislikes, and just because a cigar doesn't have a hefty price tag or a name, doesn't mean it can't be exceptional. I have found wines and scotches to be the same, there are some out there that have exceptional tastes without the hefty price tag. The guidance on what cigars are expected to taste like is much appreciated and I enjoy reading about them. Thank you again for a great year, and I look forward to many more." —January 14, 2009 16:24 PM
"Gordon,The top 25 is becoming a rite of passage that I look forward to with great excitement every year. I enjoy comparing my own tasting notes with the experienced tasters from CA & CI. The insight gained from tasters allows me to expand my palette as well as give me some satisfaction when I intially recognize the same tasting notes as the experts. Keep up the great work and I look forward to finishing this years 25." —January 13, 2009 20:16 PM
"I think since there are so many different variables that influence what a "great" cigar is, perhaps it would be good to have multiple categories of Top 25 cigars? It would be nice to split them into the top Value, High-End, Cuban, Non-Cuban, High production, and Low production cigars. (Or whatever groups you want...) Give the consumer breadth of choice to smoke the best of any category. And heck, even keep the Best Overall Cigar list as it is. " —January 13, 2009 00:01 AM
"Gordon,Thanks for your input regarding our blog responses. Now I, and perhaps others, have a better understanding of your rationale and criteria for ratings. As mentioned in my earlier response, I look to CA and CI for guidance and input as to where to invest my dollars in search of the best cigar smoking experience (what cigars to buy). While I now understand your rating and ranking system, it does not clearly guide my quest to quantify and determine "the best" smoking experience. Could you comment on your magazine's role in helping those of us who are looking to find advice on the "best smoke" regardless of economics, scarcity, or where it is made, etc. It may very well be that you do not intend to offer such simply because it is just too subjective and as you state, "one person's lemmon is another's sugar". Perhaps you feel that it's best left up to public forums. Do you feel it is unrealistic for some of us to seek such information from your publications? In summary, I enjoy a quality smoke session about six evenings each week and it would therefore be very helpful to be able to tap a source from "pros in the know" in order to make good purchase decisions. Perhaps the best way to ask, is simply to say, if you were me, what would you do in your quest to find reliable info regarding "the best smokes" available? Thanks much! " —January 12, 2009 19:23 PM
"Mr. Mott, As I said in my post the top 25 aren't as important to me as the reviews throughout the year,I am pleased to hear that CA ratings are tweaked for the purpose of the yearly Top 25. As I said I have enjoyed the Casa Magna several times and have enjoyed it very much and for Value it is a number one Cigar! To say the least it got my attention when you revealed it as the #1 Cigar!" —January 12, 2009 15:59 PM
"Gordon,I must offer a huge apology for any insinuation I may have made regarding the integrity of the magazine. My comment about advertising was a lame attempt to point out, based on my view, that price is as out of place as advertising spend when judging. If I felt that advertising truly was a criteria, I would no longer subscribe. The problem with factoring in price, is that it is a relative factor. A price to one person is not the same as the price to another. The ratings would seemingly be premised upon a standard - a gold standard if you will - a non biased set of criteria that all readers can then use to judge for themselves based upon their economic situation. In the end, as you say, they are your ratings. Thank you for taking the time to explain to those of us who did not spend the time understanding the ratings criteria. For what it is worth, I love your magazine and have for years. Along with my cigars, it represents the oasis I frequently escape to from the real world every so often." —January 12, 2009 14:49 PM
"I think some may be overthinking the selection process. In the end, the Top 25 represents the opinion of several very knowledgeable and experienced cigar lovers, and as a regular reader of both CI and CA I am very interested in hearing those views. As with all cigar lovers, some of the ratings I agree with, and others not so much. And by the way, why shouldn't price and other factors be considered? Sports MVP's are not just selected based on their stats, but a variety of other factors. Why shouldn't the same hold true in selecting a cigar of the year?I was disappointed that there were no Tatuajes in the Top 25, and sort of pleased that the overpriced Opus X cigars are out for a change. I was especially happy to see the Savinelli SS 2005 Torpedo in the Top 25 - one of my favorites in 2008. I was surprised that the Decade and Tempus cigars were ranked so far below their initial ranking, but I still enjoy mine and the year's rankings won't change that (not to mention my unranked Bolivar RC's, Monte #2's and Punch Double Coronas!). The Casa Magna Robusto is an excellent cigar and a surprise as No. 1 ... but what's so bad about surprises?" —January 12, 2009 11:54 AM
"Nuff said. Happy smoking." —January 13, 2009 14:55 PM
"You know, CI and CA publish literally hundreds of detailed cigar reviews and ratings every year - they are all there for anyone to read. Each cigar has not only been scored, but the country of origin, price, etc. are all provided, enabling anyone to categorize them however the please. That should be all that is needed to achieve your "quest"!" —January 13, 2009 10:28 AM
"Dear Mr. MottI am a long time fan of cigars, and a loyal customer to CA & CI. even if at times i would disagree with some of the ratings. obviously everyones tastes are different. i would imagine trying to hone in a cigars "taste" would be hard to do with just 4 people. no matter how experienced they are. that is why i like when you factor in the cigars appearence, as well as construction. a cigar can taste like heaven, but if it has an aweful burn, its pointless to smoke.BUT, i couldn't help find myself disagreeing with the REASON the casa magana was chosen. yes it is a good price, and it sure is a good cigar...... for a $5 smoke. i have smoke 3 since the ratings came out, and everytime i smoke the casa magna, i couldnt give it the same prestige as the past years winners. i would rather smoke one really good cigar than 3 "good for the price cigars". given the economy, it sure is nice to have affordable (and tangible) cigars out there. and yes it is hard to justify spending $30 on a cigar these days. but isnt that what the top 25 is all about? splurging? the best of the best? super heavy weight division where the are no weight limits? the padron 6000, oliva serie v, & carlos torano exodus are all greats smoke (some are even cheaper than the casa magna) and they have made the list in the past years. but none of them were #1 because they didnt deserve it. in terms of being king of the hill, 80% of the time, it is pure muscle (I.E. money) that usually wins. but nontheless, you guys make a killer mag. i will be subscribed until the day i die. keep up the good work, and thanks for the distraction away from the disasterous direction our economy has been going. thanks, adam" —February 9, 2009 02:33 AM
"Thanks and sorry for your having to reiterate. I did not read all of your original blog. I am new to the cigar world and I have greatly benefited from reading the articles and the cigar ratings provided by CA and CI. " —February 6, 2009 15:01 PM
"I noticed that the Rocky Patel Decade torpedo scored a 95 previously this year. When the final top 25 were posted, the same cigar was listed with a 92 pt. rating. Could you explain the reason for this...are all the cigar ratings revised?" —February 5, 2009 17:21 PM
"Kudos to the participants in the Top 25 list. Last year yielded many a wonderful moment of enjoyable cigar smoking based entirely on your efforts. My friends and I attempt to purchase at least the top 10 in an effort to maximize our cigar experiences and to quantify our personal preferences versus the panels judgement. We may not agree on the exact order on the list, but thus far we haven't been disappointed in your choices. The OpusX is our personal choice of cigars and we rate all others against this Fuente line. As we often say, "A wonderful smoke, but not an Opusx." Thanks from Billybobgoodtime and the Central Valley Cigar Guild...... :c)" —January 30, 2009 23:44 PM
"Gordon, great work on the top 25 list. Having smoked many cigars, I agree with your rating of The Case Magna and picked up a box. It's an excellent smoke and would rival various release of the Pardon 1926, the Limitada Edicion Partagas from Cuba, La Gloria, Don Carlos, Opus X, etc, and the price point is insane for a smoke of this flavor and quality. However it seems that CA has a bias toward medium to full body Cigars, in the top 25, especially top 10. (with the emphasis on full body.) How do you go about comparing a mild to medium or full body and ranking them in the top 25? " —January 27, 2009 20:32 PM
"Mr Mott, I have read nearly all of your blogs and watch just about all of the videos, and I have come to a realization for which i cannot find a reason. Now I must first say, that if this is a question that for whatever reason you cannot answer, please just say so and I will understand. I realized that you and your colleagues smoke or talk about smoking/owning a lot of Cuban cigars. My question for you is how are you guys able to obtain these cigars that us non-professionals have such a hard, if not impossible time acquiring. Does it have something to do with your job? This has been puzzling me for some time now but once again please just say the word if you are not at liberty to say. Thank you and keep up the good blogs!" —January 16, 2009 20:06 PM
"Let me make a suggestion to some of you that are harping-out these critical comments...Just sit down, chill-out, pour yourself a glass of wine, and have yourself a great cigar,... like maybe a Casa Magna Colorado Robusto! Now I don't expect you armchair pocket-protector quarterbacks to take much credence with the following, for I just started smoking cigars. That's ok, for I am thoroughly enjoying myself. Being a novice and trying to discern what I like, what is offered, and that mind-numbing multitude of different shapes, sizes, colors, flavors, strengths, origins, histories, and on and on, not to mention $$$... is like trying to walk out into a heavy surf and wave after wave keeps you either completely off-balance or pinned teeth first to the gritty, salty sand. CA and CI have given me a helping hand and allowed me to navigate these often confusing waters of mysterious and enchanting smokes from around the globe. Having read their review of Casa Magna well-before it was a 'star' and as I was looking for a good, reasonably priced, everyday smoke, I bought a box. Lucky me? I was enamored with the wealth of information CA provides and advidly following the '08 contest when I was completely and so pleasantly surprised seeing Casa Magna pop into the Number 1 place. I thought some big-time, big-rated, heavy weight would come bustin' in. I tried a good portion of those at the top and they were and are damned good...but being damned good sometimes just doesn't make a champ. A true champ has that somethin' extra...somethin' you can't always put your finger on, something elusive...and Casa Magna, the Cinderella Cigar of '08 has it. Thanks CA and CI for what you do and how you do it...and congratulations to Manuel Quesada and all those who helped him. " —January 14, 2009 15:51 PM
"If you look at the Cigar Insider breakdown of the cigars rated, 60% of the Cuban cigars in CI are rated 90+. No other country even comes close, but yet year after year, we don't see Cuban cigars dominating in the Top 25 list. Recent production from Cuba (2006+) has been great...based on the CA ratings and from the observations of many forums' members. Nicaragua has the next highest percentage of cigars with 90+ at 36.5%. We really should be seeing more Cuban cigars take the spotlight but we aren't.I can understand if there's a tie between several cigars of equal greatness (points, whatever); by all means use price and availability as secondary criteria. But why make value judgements for the consumer? People want to know what THE BEST cigar is, whether it costs $1 or $100. " —January 10, 2009 13:09 PM
"Thank you for pointing out how subjective this process is. I also assume that for some cigars, it can't be a "blind" test, since you would recognize what it was, by its taste and/or appearance, especially as in the Chisel. Also glad my favorite cigar is not on your top 25. It means no sudden demand, making it hard for me to obtain. Also, I do not see James Suckling in your tasting videos, as to top 25 cigars. I happen to trust his judgment, particularly as to Cuban cigars." —January 10, 2009 13:07 PM
"I depend upon the advice of Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider in order to make educated decisions on the "best" cigars to buy. I have invested a considerable sum in the acquisition of nearly 1000 cigars in my humidor. I personally don't care about the country of origin or production quantities when trying to find out what is considered the "best" cigar to smoke. Also, while price point may be a factor to some, many of us are simply trying to find out what cigar is a great smoke and feel the affordability issue is a personal choice thereafter. Let me decide if I can afford a $30 stick, as I just want to know what's a good smoke.In summary, I think most of us out here probably assumed until now, that your point ratings suggested the merits of a quality of smoking session for a particular cigar. While I agree with your stated analogy that it is a new season once you reach the playoffs, the best team is still the one that scores the most points in the playoff game. Now, I can't assume your published ratings indicate an expectation for a guality smoke, and I"m left puzzled as to what cigar to purchase if I'm looking for an enjoyable smoke session. What advice can you give your subscribers who, like me, just simply want to know how to find out what are the best tasting and enjoyable smokes? " —January 9, 2009 15:17 PM
"I agree with Frank Lin's comments about the absence of Cuban cigars in your top 25 ratings. In the last few years the Cuban cigar industry has been releasing some of its most superb cigars in many years, especially the Limited Edition and Regional Edition series, many of which never seem to get reviewed by CA. Moreover, as everyone knows, Cuban cigars typically require two to five years of aging before they are ready to enjoy, so reviewing one of a recent vintage is an unfair comparison with non-Cuban cigars that are ready-to-smoke on purchase. While I have noticed that CA is increasingly rating Cuban cigars with several years of aging, this policy is not consistent. But the largest problem to me is the relative absence of Cuban cigars in your regular CA and CI reviews. You seem to rarely review the Regional Edition Cuban cigars, which in my opinion are among the best that Cuba is currently manufacturing, eg, the Edmunto Dantes Conde 109, Por Larranaga Magnificos, and Juan Lopez Obus. Granted that all three of these Regional Edition cigars are of recent release (the past year or two), all are outstanding and among the best cigars available today. When will you give more attention to these outstanding Cuban cigars?" —January 11, 2009 14:36 PM
"First of all, for Mr. McCormick and Mr. Samson, the regular tastings in the magazine do not take price into consideration. It is a simple score based on blind tastings. As I said, if we were looking solely to scores as the only factor in the Cigar of the Year contest, we would just take the top 25 scores of the year in the magazine and Cigar Insider and leave it at that.But our Top Cigar of the Year is meant to be about something more than just a score. Yes, in previous years, the cigars have been ranked according to score, but that was never meant to be the sole criteria. We always judged those cigars based on the intangibles we talked about this year. Another example is the Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year in 2008. This year, it was a Chilean; that choice met with some raised eyebrows because it competed against some of the great 2005 Bordeaux, many of which were released at hundreds of dollars more per bottle than the under $100 a bottle for the Clos Apalta. The Wine Spectator editors determined that it was a great value and worthy of recognition even though it was not the highest scoring wine during the course of the year. We feel the same way about the Casa Magna; for $5.25, we found it to be an outstanding cigar that is worthy of recognition, and worthy of your attention. It is the kind of discovery that we stand behind 100 percent, and would like to believe that our credibility, now established over 17 years, is enough to at least elicit some interest from you. Presumably, none of you mean to suggest, as it would be possible to interpret fyour postings, that all you want to know is the highest score and that's what you want to smoke. Our scores are always meant to be guides, not absolutes. And, I would like to presume that because we smoke everything on the market, our judgment about relative quality is a valid one. Go to 2nd page" —January 12, 2009 10:14 AM
"Cigars are not like playoff teams. They are hydroscopic objects and great cigars are very consistent. Maybe the tasters are simply trying to reinforce the #1 cigar that the publisher wants. CA is a great magazine and I don't need it to reinforce my opinions of great cigars. CI is much better as a buying/tasting guide and it did devote a recent edition to Cuban regional cigars. Speaking of Cubans, they are illegal to import into the States and therefore very limited. So why devote a lot of time to them?" —January 12, 2009 00:49 AM
"I couldn't agree more with Richard McCormicks comments about this years ratings. A friend and I were having a small wager as to what would be the top cigar this year. We were quite surprised when you announced Casa Magna. I think CA should be basing the rankings on the cigar taste/construction, not the availability or the price. Much like Richard, I am now confused on what your ratings mean and cannot put as much stock into your analysis as perhaps I did before. I am sorry, but I have smoked a number of cigars in my lifetime and this cigar, while a very good cigar, was not the best cigar I had this year. To have it second to Padron 80 is all I need to know about this ranking.What's the next criteria - how much advertising is done with CA?" —January 10, 2009 09:52 AM
"Kick Ass ....Manuel Quesada is the guest at our January 24th event in 2 weeks. So we have hundreds of boxes ready to go ..... Congrates to Manuel and his team. Come Party with Manuel at Outlaw Cigar in Kansas City on Jan. 24th." —January 9, 2009 14:18 PM
"BRAVO! Congrats to Manuel Quesada and the Plasencia team! It's great to see such a wonderful cigar earn the recognition and accolades it deserves! Also congrats to the other great cigars in the top ten!!! " —January 9, 2009 11:24 AM
"page 2As for great cigars always being consistent, that too is open to debate. I've had some supposedly great cigars that didn't draw or worse, tasted differently than the previous one I'd smoked. No organic product can always be 100 percent consistent, which is one of the reasons we have multiple tasters, and we are willing to re-taste things if they don't conform to expectations. That brings me to the comment about the recent high quality of Cuban cigars. Our tastings for the magazine do bear out the notion that the Cuban cigars are of higher quality in recent years. But I can tell you this; in our Top 25 tasting, against the best cigars from the rest of the world, they did not stand out. Is that because we got inferior boxes for this test? Is that because, while good, Cuban cigars still don't have the power and flavor being produced elsewhere in the world? Is it that their consistency of construction still falters? I can't tell you exactly, but many didn't make the final cut. And our coverage of regional cigars is complicated. By their nature, those cigars are produced in small quantities and are available only in limited markets, so they're not as easily found as other cigars. We do the best we can, but if any given year we don't cover every new regional cigar, just know that we tried. Here are a couple more random answers. James Suckling's absence from the videos this year was a matter of logistics, timing and his travel schedule. He couldn't be in New York after we had selected the cigars. In the future, he'll take part whenever he can. Someone made a comparative judgment on Cigar Aficionado vs. Cigar Insider tastings; the same group of people take part in both tastings (not always the same ones on each publication) so the relative value of the scores should be the same. The main difference is that we do verticals of new releases and try to always search out the newest cigars on the market for Cigar Insider.Finally, and I do have to take a deep breath here and count to ten. The Top 25 and the Cigar of the Year is our contest. We set the parameters. We make the rules. We choose the cigars. Read about how we do it. If you disagree with it, that's your prerogative. But don't let your disagreement spill over into slander about our integrity, or your suspicions about our motives. I've grown impatient over the years with repeatedly responding to attacks that scores are dependent on advertising, that only advertisers' cigars get rated, etc, etc. etc. … the litany has never changed. And our response has never changed. Ask the advertisers. They know. " —January 12, 2009 10:15 AM
"Not to simplify this too much but based on the top 10 only one Cigar scored above 95 to put it in the classic range, price set aside that should be your number one Cigar of the year! The top 25 to me is just fun, what I look to are the reviews throughout the year. It will now be a problem for me to rely on your reviews as I have looked to CA in the past for CA¿s cigar ratings based solely on the merits of the cigar itself. If PRICE, LOCATION, AVAILABILTY and INTANGILBES are being considered in your reviews throughout the year it diminishes the value of your ratings substantially to me. There is no question that the Casa Magna is a very good stick and a great value, that being said Cigar of the year?" —January 11, 2009 11:01 AM

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