Monday, November 24, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: Don Lino Africa Kifaro


This weekend I reached for a cigar I haven't smoked in quite a while which caused me to ask myself, "Self, why haven't you smoked more of these?" I think it must have been that when I smoked the Don Lino Africa during its 2003 debut, then the revised-blend one year later, I didn't give either a fair shake. Then about two week's ago I got my hands on several different sizes and decided to give them a long overdue second chance. I started with the Don Lino Africa Kifaro, the 6¼ x 52 Belicoso in the series.

First of all, the Nicaraguan Habano wrappers on these cigars are beautifully dark and oily, and this particular stick was especially even in tone and neatly rolled. I'm usually a bit nervous about large figurados due to burn and draw problems I've experienced in the past, but fortunately the cigar drew nicely, both pre-light and after.

Once the cigar got going, it burned well through most of the first act, until it started to tilt slightly. However, the smoke itself made up for this minor discrepancy. The blend is very diverse, using Nicaraguan, Mexican, Dominican and African tobaccos, and the smoke had a predominantly semi-sweet, woody flavor that I would classify as "Cubanesque," with a pleasant hint of chocolate in the mix in the first act. During the second act, some peppery notes began to present themselves, which complemented some of the cigar's sweeter aspects.

By the third act, the cigar had blossomed into a smooth, full-bodied and much more complex smoke that remained consistently well-balanced to its conclusion at just below the 2-inch mark. Unfortunately, the burn never straightened out completely, but in fairness, I did note one of the filler leaves was giving it some resistance most of the way.

To summarize, this was a very enjoyable cigar that I could confidently recommend. I'm looking forward to smoking the other Don Lino Africa sizes I picked-up. Perhaps they'll display an even more varied flavor profile, so stay tuned...

~ Gary Korb

Friday, November 21, 2008

Does the cigar make the experience, or does the experience make the cigar?

The other day, I was talking with one of my coworkers, Humberto Gonzalez, about what some of the most memorable cigars we've ever smoked when he raised a very interesting question: What made the cigar so memorable - the cigar itself, or the conditions in which you smoked it? Humberto ascribes more credit to the conditions (IOW, the environment) rather than the cigar, and I'm inclined to agree.

Due to the nature of my job, I get to smoke a lot of great cigars in the office. And although I've enjoyed many of them for their high quality and great flavor, it's just not the same as smoking them at home on the deck with a good friend, or slouching in a cigar store lounge chair with fellow BOTLs. In fact, I often toss some of the best cigars in my briefcase to smoke at home because I know I'll enjoy them more without a computer monitor flickering in front of me, or being interrupted by a riptide of emails.

"It was at the 2005 RTDA Trade Show in New Orleans," said Humberto. "I had a fantastic meal with some good friends at Emeril's, and afterwards we moved to the lobby to smoke cigars. I had a Padilla Miami 8/11 Salomon on me and lit it up. We kicked back, relaxed, and it turned into one of the most phenomenal experiences I'd ever had. Having a brilliantly crafted cigar after a brilliantly crafted meal, everything just sort of came together. You could say it was the best "blending" of experiences."

I recently wrote about a similar experience I had with an Oliva Master Blends No.2. Although it was more a review of the cigar, it was also an experience I like to call "a perfect cigar." In my case, as it was for Humberto, the conditions were ideal. The kids were inside playing Rock Band on the Wii, the weather was perfect, I was with my good friend, Richard-from-up-the-street, we had good libations to pair with our cigars, and the conversation was pleasant. But it was the cigar that tied-it all together, making it one of the most memorable cigar experiences for me.

A good cigar is always a good cigar. But when a good cigar dovetails with a special place and time, it becomes a great cigar.

Your thoughts?

~ Gary Korb

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Il Cugine" is coming!


A few months ago I wrote about meeting actor Joe Gannascoli, aka "Vito" of The Sopranos fame, when we had Gene Arganese at Famous Smoke Shop for an Arganese Cigars in-store event. Even before that, I reported from the IPCPR show in Vegas that I had met Joe in the Arganese Cigars booth, where, at the time he was promoting his upcoming Cugine Cigars selection. (I even got some video of Joe on the Famous Smoke Shop YouTube channel.)

Well, the cigars will soon be arriving at cigar stores across the country, and although I haven't yet had the pleasure of personally sampling a Cugine, I did learn that Gene and Joe will be returning to Famous Smoke Shop in Easton, PA on Saturday, November 29 from 12-5:00 P.M. to kick-off their new collaboration. Moreover, this will be the first time the cigar is available in the North East.

During that last Arganese in-store, I spent well over an hour chatting with Joe about the cast and writers on The Sopranos, his book, A Meal to Die For, movies we like, and some roles he's done since he got wacked in the last season of The Sopranos. Fortunately, Joe is one of those actors who hasn't been affected by his success, and I felt like I was speaking to an old friend. IOW, he's a regular guy.

The Cugine blend consists of Dominican longfillers with a Honduran Sumatra-seed binder, and will available in two wrappers - a mild Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper and a full-bodied Maduro wrapper. The sizes so far are a 6 7/8" Torpedo and a 5" x 50 Robusto.

Now, for those of you who don't know what "cugine" means, there are several definitions. The common translation from Italian is "cousin." However, another definition, which may be closer to what people think of when they see Mr. Gannascoli is, "a young ambitious gangster who wants to climb the ranks of power," or "a young tough guy looking to be made." Whether that's what Mr. Gannascoli had in mind when he came up with the name is irrelevant. Let's see how the cigar tastes.

If anyone has already had a Cugine cigar, please feel free to leave a comment.

~ Gary Korb

P.S. You can find more information on Joe Gannascoli at his website, www.joesoup.com.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A night of good Port and fine cigars

This past Wednesday night I attended a Port wine and cigar tasting party sponsored by Gary's Wine & Marketplace in Wayne, N.J. (No relation to moi.) Held at Jamie's Restaurant in Clifton, NJ, Gary's supplied the Ports, and the cigars were provided by Tony Santana of The Cigar Vault in Nutley, NJ. Tony, who is of Cuban descent, also markets his own Santana line of premium cigars which are produced in the Dominican Republic. He's also a roller, and I when I stepped through the door, he was working his chaveta on a Santana Cabinet Robusto.

A little later, Tony and I got a chance to talk. I told him I was in the business, yadda, yadda, yadda, and he handed me an EXM Santana Cabinet Toro Maduro, which I paired with a sample of Graham's Six Grapes Port NV, which had a nice, fruity bouquet. The cigar was well-packed and offered a rich and well-balanced woody flavor with a note of sweetness in the mix. It picked up in spiciness in the third act, but overall, the cigar was medium-bodied with a pleasantly round finish. (FYI - this cigar received a 9.1 rating in SMOKE magazine.)

Also interesting was how the cigar paired with different Ports. Once I had finished the Six Grapes, I moved on to a sample of Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny NV, which had a little more bite to it. It reminded me of the Offley Tawny Reserve I've had on past occasions. Nice and smooth. Unfortunately, I didn't get to sample all five of the Ports, but I kept the list. So, if you're also partial to Port, here are the remaining three featured choices to assuage your curiosity:

  • Smith Woodhouse Late Bottle Vintage 1995
  • Blandy's Alvada NV
  • Blandy's 5 Year Old Sercial NV

Before I left, Tony handed me a sampler with some of his other blends, so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank him publicly and wish him continued success. Thanks also to Gary's Wine & Marketplace for inviting me. I look forward to doing it again soon. Perhaps next time with cigars from Famous Smoke Shop.

~ Gary Korb

Monday, November 10, 2008

My Weekend Cigar: CAO LX2 Robusto

This past Saturday, we held a CAO Cigars and XiKAR cigar accessories event in the Famous Smoke Shop Retail Store. The place was jammed and both companies were showcasing their finest wares. Even though they will not be arriving at retail for several weeks, in honor of the occasion, I decided to smoke my CAO LX2 (Ligero times 2) Robusto sample, which I've been saving since the IPCPR Show in Las Vegas, this past July.

When I asked Paul Spence, the CAO sales rep, if he thought I should consider smoking something else under the circumstances, he said, "Don't worry about it. It'll give 'em something to look forward to."

So, I lit up the coffee-colored, 5" x 48 vitola, which dons two bands; the top band has the CAO LX2 logo featuring a crown, while the second, butterfly-shaped band has the words, "Fortaleza Tres" on it, which translates to "three strengths." (I'm looking into what that's all about). The blend consists of a toothy Nicaraguan wrapper, Honduran binder, and two different ligero filler tobaccos - one from the Dominican Republic, and one from Nicaragua, which is grown on the 140-acre Pueblo Nuevo farm in Condega.

The pre-light draw was excellent with a woody-leathery flavor. By putting my tongue up against the head I could taste the spicy leaves. Once lit, waves of peppery spice broke over my palate. This is pretty much what I expected. At about the 1-inch mark the cigar rounded out nicely, taking on a dark, woody character with a mix of pepper and earthy sweetness on the finish.

As the cigar continued to smoke, by the second act, the stronger peppery aspects had all but faded, leaving what I considered a very smooth, medium to full-bodied, "Cubanesque" smoke dominated by deep, woody flavors with a hint of semi-sweet cocoa. The overall construction, burn and balance were top-flight, and although the LX2 was not a "complex" smoke, the flavors remained consistent down to the last inch, when I finally left it in the ashtray to expire gracefully.

This cigar would have been great with a good Tawny Port or 12 year-old single malt, and Paul agreed with a smile. I enjoyed the cigar, and highly recommend the LX2 once they hit the shelves, so keep your eyes and ears open. I also look forward to having another with one of the spirits mentioned above.

~ Gary Korb

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Will President Obama be "cigar friendly?"

Now that America has spoken by electing Barack Obama its 44th president, there's no doubt "change" is in the cards. All sorts of questions have arisen since he made his victory speech. Will he continue to lean "left" as he did in the Senate, or will he rule more as a "centrist?" Will he raise taxes on small businesses? Will he push through a national health care program? And so on, and so on…

My question, and primarily because my job depends on it, is will our new president-elect lend an ear to the plight of American cigar smokers? During their campaigns, both Obama and McCain vowed they would stand up to the "special interest" lobbies. That always made me a little queasy because "big tobacco" and a few other groups such as the IPCPR (International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers), the CRA (Cigar Rights of America), and the CAA (Cigar Association of America) are all we have to defend our rights to enjoy one of life's very special pleasures.

I know dozens of cigar smokers who smoke only one or two cigars a week. They may not be the majority, but they really look forward to that cigar, if only to escape the worries of the world in a cloud of smoke for an hour or two. I would hate see them lose that very special quality time.

Obama's selection of Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff is already making me nervous. Emanuel is the No. 4 ranking Democrat in the House. His record shows that he leans stridently to the left, and has allegedly never reached across the aisle, so we may be in for one heck of fight. Certainly SCHIP will pass with flying colors when it comes around again.

On the other hand, with President-elect Obama's open-mindedness on foreign policy, we may finally see the Cuban embargo lifted. That would certainly be the catalyst to a second "cigar boom," but what good will it do if an "embargo" is placed on smoking altogether?

As cigar smokers, we’re all adults, and we know the risks tobacco presents. Even Mr. Obama has been a cigarette smoker and partaken of the occasional cigar. So if he wants to earn my vote in 2012, I hope he'll think long and hard about how much he enjoyed those cigars before he signs any legislation that will adversely affect the rights of good, hardworking, tax-paying Americans.

Your thoughts?

~ Gary Korb

Monday, November 3, 2008

What's politics got to do with it?

I have to admit, sometimes I can't help but get a little peeved with the way some people respond to the most nugacious things when it comes to politics. Without a doubt, millions of Americans are stridently zealous in their political views, but sometimes it gets carried to the point of absurdity.

On the eve of what may be the most significant election days in several generations, I call your attention to a phone call I received this morning from one of the Famous Smoke Shop call center operators. It seems that several customers were offended by the "cigar quote of the week" I chose for this week's sale on Arganese Cameroon cigars. One customer even asked to be removed from our mailing list altogether if we didn't remove it.

The quote was from an article titled, "Bill & Barack: Smoking Buddies?" by Rick Klein of ABC News. As always, it had do to with cigar smoking, NOT politics. However, since it was accompanied by a picture of Barack Obama, some customers took this as some sort of endorsement for him. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The main reason I ran it was because the email would arrive the day before election day and I wanted something that tied the election to cigars, period.

In June, I ran a cigar quote from an article in TheDay.com titled, "John McCain Has Long-Ago Connection To New London," in which the writer related a humorous anecdote from John McCain's book about the Senator's father and a cigar.

Look, I realize there are many of you who are passionate about the candidate of your choice, and I respect that. Personally, I'm still undecided. Regardless of who you plan to vote for, I think it's fair to say that every American voter wants what's best for the country. Will the winner deliver the goods? That remains to be seen, but let's not let politics get in the way of our enjoyment of good cigars.

~ Gary Korb