A Green Cigar Fit For A Prince

If we were smoking cigars 50 years ago in the United States, we were most likely lighting up green ones. Yes, those disgusting looking light, lime-green smokes called candela. I have no idea why they were so popular in the States then. Some old-timers say that it is because people thought the cigars were actually sweeter or fresher if they had the sick-making green wrapper. Most of the cigars shipped to the United States from Cuba were candela before the Cuban Revolution just about a half a century ago, and the fashion soon subsided after the U.S. trade embargo was created against Cuba in early 1963.

I always wondered what the cigars tasted like. I assumed they would be disgusting. They would taste of green grass — and I mean cut grass, not the good stuff — or some sort of fresh herb like basil or parsley. The idea of stopping the curing process to keep the wrappers green revolted me. I figured that the filler tobacco inside the cigar would be just as tongue curling.

Well. I was wrong. My prejudices and presumptions were completely unfounded.

Last week, I smoked a 50-year-old candela Cuban petit corona from Romeo y Julieta with the owner of Chateaus Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion and it was divine. It had a pretty, light herbal nose, like dried thyme or parsley with hints of honey and nuts, that followed through to a medium-body dried tobacco and rose leaf. It was mild, almost sweet and refined. 91 points in this non-blind tasting.

The owner of the chateaus, the Prince Robert de Luxembourg, who I was having dinner with last week at the chateau, said that he found a few boxes of the cigars in the cellar of the chateau in a locked file cabinet. “The cigars have been locked in their since 1979,” he said. ‘I almost threw them away because I thought they could not possibly still be good. But I tried one and they were not half bad.”

I thought they were delicious. It was the perfect end to an evening when the Prince organized a small comparative tasting of 1959 La Mission Haut-Brion and 1959 Haut-Brion versus 1961 La Mission Haut-Brion and 1961 Haut-Brion. All the wines were breathtaking, but for me the 1961 Haut-Brion stole the show with its thick, velvety texture and amazing flavors of raisins, tar, treacle tart and red fruits. 100 points, non-blind, the perfect wine. What a night.