06 March 2009

ProCigar Festival 2008

19 February 2008


I just returned from a quick trip to the Dominican Republic. Within hours of my feet touching Dominican soil, I felt like I never left. I get to the Dominican Republic about four times a year, and every time is unique and special. This year I brought my girlfriend and two friends along with me- making it extra special.

Thursday, we spent the day at MATASA. Best known for making the Fonseca brand, MATASA makes some of my favorite cigars to smoke. From the airport, we went straight to one of MATASA’s storage facilities. Bails upon bails and Tercios upon Tercios were stacked- filled with tobaccos from years past that ensure MATASA’s ability to make incredible, consistent cigars, year after year. We proceeded to the factory in Santiago,where we walked through the factory looking at the various stages of making a premium cigar. From sorting, to stripping, to sorting some more… then making the bunch, applying the wrapper, forming the cap, and then aging. But of course it doesn’t stop there… MATASA has their own box factory as well.

On Friday we drove out to La Canela to see one of MATASA’s fields. I’ve been there many times before, but each year is always different as each crop is unique year after year. This year was incredibly healthy, with harvest well under way. “We only lost 30 or 40 plants” said Manuel Quesada, owner of MATASA, referring to the two major storms that pounded the Dominican Republic in late Fall. We walked in and out of curing barns where thousands of leaves had been strung and hung to begin the curing process- changing in color from bright green to brown. From here, they’ll head to the storage facility we visited the day prior to begin their long fermentation process before going to the storage facility for aging.

We then headed north, through the mountains and up to La Isabella, the place where Columbus first landed. A friend of mine has a wonderful beach house that he generously made available to us for the weekend where we enjoyed all the sun, Presidente beer, Brugal Extra Viejo Rum, and cigars we could before heading back to Santiago on Sunday for our Monday departure back to New York.

What’s always so impressive to me, and seems to be most impressive to folks on their first visit to a cigar factory is just how much is done by hand. In fact, EVERYTHING is done by hand. Seeds are planted by hand. Leaves are picked by hand and carried to the curing barn where they’re strung by hand and then hung by hand to cure. When that’s complete their then removed and stacked by hand on the ground of the barn until their bailed by hand and brought to a fermentation facility where they’re stacked by hand in pilons. No less than twice a day the core temperature of each fermenting stack is measured and each stack is rotated regularly by hand, bringing the inside tobacco to the outside, and the tops and bottoms to the middle, to ensure even fermentation. After months of fermentation, the tobacco is bailed by hand and brought to an aging facility. Once it’s time to use the tobacco, the bails are opened by hand, the leaves are sorted and re-moisturized, sorted, stripped and eventually rolled in a premium cigar. The cigars are inspected by hand, sorted by color- a band is then placed on each one by hand with the brand’s logo, and many are placed into cellophane sleeves- by hand. Then the cigars are sorted for color and boxed, each box sealed and labeled with all the necessary stickers for the importing country. It’s astonishing. It gives new meaning to the words “Hand Made”. Next time you reach for a cigar, before just cutting and lighting it- pay a little more attention to it, and appreciate just how much truly goes into making that Premium Hand-Rolled cigar!

New Year's Smoke 2008

2 January 2008

The celebration of a New Year is always filled for me with reflections over the past year and thoughts of the upcoming year. 2007 was a wonderful year for me. I traveled quite a bit- from the Tobacco Harvest in the Dominican Republic in February to the Grape Harvest in Napa Valley in September. Great cigars, wine, food and friendship were what helped make 2007 so special. And what better way to finish up a year than by embracing all of those great things together.

At 17 people strong, we held court at Rothmann’s Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan for the ringing in of the new year. The food was outstanding as always! I brought along a few bottles of Vieux-OS 2005 Old Vine Charbono by Shrader Cellers (one of my favorite producers) to help wash down the Crab Cakes, Lobster Ravioli, and Porterhouse. Once the countdown was over and there were more streamers than vino in my wine glass, it was time to change venues. A remaining 6 of us, with a couple bottles of bubbly in tow- retreated nearby to a private little oasis where we would be permitted to smoke. Both ladies and gentlemen alike fired up Davidoff Classic No. 2’s and drank some wonderful Cava throughout the first 3 hours of 2008. We shared stories- some new and many old- laughed, and enjoyed the rare occasion of enjoying great cigars without interruption or complaint.

Now it’s back to reality. Alarm clocks, deadlines, month end, year end- but even with all the potential stresses and pressures, there is less of a sense of urgency as there was a few days ago… after all, we have a whole year left… what’s the rush? I’ll get it done… as soon as I’m done with my glass of Charbono and No. 2.

Happy New Year!

New Year's Smoke 2008

2 January 2008

The celebration of a New Year is always filled for me with reflections over the past year and thoughts of the upcoming year. 2007 was a wonderful year for me. I traveled quite a bit- from the Tobacco Harvest in the Dominican Republic in February to the Grape Harvest in Napa Valley in September. Great cigars, wine, food and friendship were what helped make 2007 so special. And what better way to finish up a year than by embracing all of those great things together.

At 17 people strong, we held court at Rothmann’s Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan for the ringing in of the new year. The food was outstanding as always! I brought along a few bottles of Vieux-OS 2005 Old Vine Charbono by Shrader Cellers (one of my favorite producers) to help wash down the Crab Cakes, Lobster Ravioli, and Porterhouse. Once the countdown was over and there were more streamers than vino in my wine glass, it was time to change venues. A remaining 6 of us, with a couple bottles of bubbly in tow- retreated nearby to a private little oasis where we would be permitted to smoke. Both ladies and gentlemen alike fired up Davidoff Classic No. 2’s and drank some wonderful Cava throughout the first 3 hours of 2008. We shared stories- some new and many old- laughed, and enjoyed the rare occasion of enjoying great cigars without interruption or complaint.

Now it’s back to reality. Alarm clocks, deadlines, month end, year end- but even with all the potential stresses and pressures, there is less of a sense of urgency as there was a few days ago… after all, we have a whole year left… what’s the rush? I’ll get it done… as soon as I’m done with my glass of Charbono and No. 2.

Happy New Year!

Dunhill Estupendos

3 December 2007

There’re tricks in every trade- but one thing cannot be faked, and that’s age. Whether it’s a good bottle of wine, a classic car or a great cigar, they all demand proper care, patience and a true love for them. Today I smoked a Dunhill Estupendos (7X47 tubos) from the mid 1980’s. Made entirely of Cuban tobacco, it has been among the most sought after cigars for collectors at auctions.

I never had the opportunity to taste what a Dunhill Estupendos tasted like when it was new, but having smoked this one with over 20 years of age… why turn back the hands of time? This cigar began slightly vegetal in character, with an herbal and tea-like quality. It slowly built in all aspects- strength, flavor, and aroma.

By the mid-point of this cigar a toasty, caramel-like flavor began to work its way into the profile. Hints of cedar and honey also became more apparent as I smoked more and more, but impressively the cigar never became hot or harsh.

The finish was long, and lingered after the cigar was extinguished but not in an unpleasant manner at all. It was a wonderful example of how age can benefit a cigar. Aging cigars helps to marry a blend, and really allow the tobacco to mellow. Though mild cigars generally do not age as well, especially long term, fuller bodied cigars age wonderfully as there is more potential for change and development over time.

Of course opportunities to smoke cigars with this much age come few and far between, but aging cigars yourself can become as a much a part of your cigar experience as actually smoking them. Active humidification systems ensure that the humidity remains stable and consistent. But you don’t have to sacrifice the aesthetic of a room to risk it looking more like a cigar store than an office or den. Companies like Filias Design (www.filiasdesign) can help create an appropriate humidor to work with your space and will perfectly store and age your most precious cigars.

Purchase cigars in boxes, and age them appropriately in your humidor. Mark on the box the date you received them, and keep a log of your experience with the cigar each time you smoke one to keep track of how the cigar is changing and whether that change is favorable or not. Then stock up, put them away, and enjoy the pleasures of smoking a fine aged cigar.




http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/39/Estupendos.jpg

Mystery Smokes

26 November 2007


Jose Blanco, marketing director for La Aurora, popped in to see me recently. I love this guy, I really do. He’s balls to the wall cigars. We smoked some La Aurora Excepcionales and drank espresso as we caught up on what was new. La Aurora recently moved their facility from Santiago to a much larger one in Guazumal, Dominican Republic. Just before he left, he reached into his pocket and pulled out two cigars and said, “smoke these when you have a minute.”

Well, it just so happened that I had a minute (and nothing to smoke), so I cut the beautiful little corona shaped cigar and dry smoked it for a bit. The draw was effortless. The earthy undertones and the wrapper’s spiciness were apparent without the use of flame. It lit easily and the flavorful smoke filled my mouth with each puff. A small blister began to form around the base of the ash. This is typically an indication of youth- and although common to see among many of today’s popular strong cigars, it’s rare to see it in something from La Aurora leading me to believe that this was a new project of some sort. The smoke felt almost velvety in my mouth and rich and complex flavors were beginning to develop. Though some seemed familiar, this was for sure a cigar I’d never smoked before.

I emailed Jose Blanco immediately to find out A) just what the hell was that, and B) how can I get more. In typical fashion he said A) oh just a little project, and B) you can’t. Pressing him for more information, he would only share that the filler and binder was in fact a cigar I had had the pleasure of smoking on several occaisions- the “Don Fernando” a Cameroon-wrapped corona only made for Don Fernando Leon, the patriarch of the Leon Family. The wrapper he was keeping secret.

Despite the mystery, it reminded me that just when you think all the bases are covered and you ask yourself over and over, how can we create new flavors in cigars- here was just one of an infinite number of examples of just that. There are a lot of cigars that I enjoy smoking on a regular basis, but there’s nothing like smoking something new and different. It’s like smoking your first cigar all over again… new, exciting, and inspirational to try more new and exciting things. Gracias, Jose!

The "Special Occasion"

2 November 2007

I woke up this morning earlier than normal and opted to drive into work rather than taking the subway. I dimpled my tie and walked over to the humidors to make my morning selection, but found myself at a loss. Not at a loss of cigars… but which cigar to smoke. As I moved cigars and boxes left and right, I saw a a box of Juan Lopez petit coronas from 2001- gifted to me from a good friend in Switzerland a couple years ago. It’s a trophy little stick with loads of flavor. I was conflicted whether to sacrifice one to my morning commute when it me. I’ve got lots of cigars… many of which I hold on to for “a special occasion”. But, I’ve had countless special occasions since I’ve received these cigars and never once had I gone for one since I’d received them. So I decided to make my commute that special occasion. I cut the cigar and lit it in my apartment, just to enjoy the aroma for a moment. Then I was off. As I neared the foot of the bridge, I found myself less agitated at the parade of brake lights ahead. As I blew the smoke up into my sunroof, I paused to allow a cab in from the right (instead of him just cutting me off). As I was approaching my greenlight at 3rd Avenue, I slowed to the crossing pedestrians (I DID have the right of way, by the way) and stopped short about 10 feet enjoy the rich spiciness that had overwhelmed the flavor of this cigar. I double parked outside the garage for another twenty minutes, listened to the news, watched my fellow New Yorkers rush about, as I sat reclined at the wheel enjoying the last inch of this most wonderful cigar. It’s important to appreciate life’s precious moments, but its equally and perhaps even more important to simply appreciate how precious life is and enjoy every moment…