Last Night's Real Cigar Convention in Vegas

The day was long and smoky yesterday during the cigar show in Vegas. My eyes felt like someone threw sand in them by the end of the day. But it’s been worth it. I have smoked numerous excellent cigars and had some great conversations with dozens of cigarmakers.

I am so impressed with the passion so many of them have for making cigars. It’s like talking to great winemakers or fabulous chefs. They are all dedicated to making a great product whether it’s a cigar, bottle of wine or plate of food. Their hearts and souls go into it.

Two of the best cigars yesterday came from relative newcomers -- the Garcia family at El Rey de los Habanos and Dion Giolito of Illusione Cigars. The father and son team at El Rey, Jaime and Pepin Garcia, really know their stuff and fellow editor David Savona and I spent close to an hour (we were late for all of our meets afterwards) talking about cigars, from fermentations to rolling techniques. Los Garcias have come out with a new cigar line called MF, or My Father. They seemed sort of surprised when I
told them that MF also stood for Mother F__ . Luckily, it was lost in the translation. They don’t speak English very well.

Anyway, what a smoke. The Crema that I smoked that measured 6 inches by 49 ring (it’s like a shorten 109 from Cuba) delivered super clean and floral aromas and flavors with hints of cedar and tea. It was very, very balanced and refined with a medium to full body. 92 points, at least, in this non-blind tasting.

Father Pepin – HF (for His Father) – said that the new cigar is their first smoke made from their own tobacco that they started growing in the key areas of Nicaragua a couple of years ago. This is the only way to make great cigars, he said. We can control the quality of the leafs we grow and later the fermentations and aging before rolling.

The MF line comes in four sizes: Robusto, 52 ring gauge x 5 1/4”, Belicoso 54 x 5 1/2” Crema, 49 x 6”, and Lancero 38 x 7 1/2”. They range in price from $10 to $12 a stick.

Another great cigar I had yesterday was the Illusione ECCJ. I honestly don’t remember if it was a corona or a lonsdale, but the cigar delivered wonderful flavors and class. It was like smoking a Cuban from the late 1980s. It was super fresh and refined with a tobacco, cedar and floral character. It was medium to full body, with focused flavors and a balanced and refined finish… 93 points, non-blind tasting. It was my favorite cigar of the show.

The creator of the cigar is a trip. Dion Giolito reminds me of Elvis Presley, or some funky town rockabilly dude. And he can talk a lot of philosophical gibberish about olfactory characteristic of cigars and how they should be blended. But his passion that verges on religious dogma delivers the real deal. God Bless him – and that doesn’t include the photographs of the late Reverend Jim Jones that decorated his booth. Dion has a funny sense of humor!

If you don’t know Illusione cigars, they are worth seeking out. They are going to be hard to find though. He only has about a half a million sticks made each year in Nicaragua. Most of his time is spent running his retail store in Reno, Nevada, – Fumare.

I don’t need to guild the lily with my cigars, he said as I smoked his cigar in his tiny booth. I don’t expect everyone to like my cigars. I have had people tell me that they don’t like them. That’s fine. I have no problem. When I later told him that I thought his HK Lanceros was a little strange at first smoke, he said, “Are you '' crazy!?”

It was a great smoke in the end, and I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like Illusione cigars.

The day ended in Vegas sitting and smoking outside well past midnight at the Paul Bartollotta restaurant at the Wynn Casino with Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana and George Padrón of Padrón Cigars as well as Savona and associate publisher Barry Abrams. We had an amazing fish dinner with dozens of courses and some of the best starters and pasta this side of Capri or Positano. No need to go to Italy, if you want amazing Mediterranean food. Go here.

But the main point of the dinner was to hang and smoke some Cubans against their top smokes. I brought some Montecristo Petit Edmundos as well as Cohiba Maduro 5 Secretos. They brought a mixed bag of stuff. Check out the video.

I started with Padrón Serie 1926 No. 35. The petite Corona packed a punch with loads of spicy, earthy and dark chocolate character. Full and powerful…92 points, non-blind tasting. Then I went to a La Flor Dominicana Coronado Lanceros, which was a little more refined than the Padrón but equally rich. 93 points, non-blind tasting. A Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Exclusivo at the very end was mind blowing and the best smoke of the night, offering coffee, cappuccino and cream aromas and flavors. It had so much flavor yet balanced and mellow.

Across the table, George and Litto were smoking Cubans. George had the Petit Edmundo and Litto the Maduro Cohiba. They didn’t look that impressed. In fact, they both said that the two cigars had a notable acidic character that made them slightly astringent. It’s the soil in Pinar del Rio that produces a slightly more acidic tobacco than ours, said George. I like the cigar a lot but that character is very different than what we produce.

Strangely, I have to say that I noted it as well when I tried the two Cuban cigars. Perhaps it was easier to note after smoking the non-Cubans, but there was definitely an acid character on the palate, Moreover, I have to say that the Cubans were the lighter smokes as well – even the Maduro Cohiba.

We have a major video series on the cigar jam session from the evening. So stay tuned! It should be out soon.

We talked for more than an hour about tobacco growing and cigar making. Chef Paul Bartolotta also smoked and hung out with us. It was a cool evening of comparing ideas and thoughts about cigars and life.

And in the end, that’s the whole point of cigar smoking – even if come to a cigar convention or not.

"James,Haircut!" —September 9, 2008 14:53 PM
"James, I noticed the same acitic taste in almost all my Cuban cigars. Do you think aging will help resolve this acidity or I have to live with it?" —July 29, 2008 23:02 PM
"Dion has always embraced things he believes in with passion, intelligence and pride. His musical talent is deep and very developed. His presence in the cigar world is just beginning, and I'm amazed at what he has done and what he is planning. Pretty fine business man too, and just like any top of the crop CEO, artist and product creator, he is accountable. I should know, I'm his mom." —July 18, 2008 14:18 PM