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Holiday Lights

Richard Carleton Hacker

Speak with true cigar makers—people who prepare filler blends and then select binders and wrappers that complement those blends—and you frequently will hear the word balanced. Cigar makers seemingly employ the term as often as winemakers say approachable. Everyone—those who make cigars and those who smoke them—prefers cigars that exhibit balance. But only the real masters can create cigars such as the ones on the following pages: strong selections that are not bitter, medium-strength offerings that retain a consistent flavor throughout the length of the smoke, and mild cigars that still exhibit personality. These cigars (prices are per stick unless otherwise noted) are ideal for celebrating the holiday season, whether you give them as gifts, present them to party guests, or light them up on your own. Reflecting current trends away from milder smokes and toward exclusivity, some are especially potent or collectible or both. Others have unusual shapes (the figurados) or backstories that are sure to spark conversations at your holiday gatherings.

DAY OR NIGHT LIGHTS
Davidoff Puro d’Oro
Davidoff’s first all-Dominican cigar represents a goal that master blender Hendrik “Henky” Kelner had been pursuing for more than a decade. Finding the right land to grow the wrapper leaf was the key for Kelner, whose search led him to Yamasá, an area with the ideal mix of cloud cover, humidity, and mineral-rich soil. “I purchased this land for the climate,” he says. The wrapper is dense, oily, and thick enough to hold plenty of moisture, enough sometimes to make it a challenge to keep the cigar lit. The wrapper burns slowly, and as a result, a corona can last almost as long as a larger corona gorda. Davidoff produces four shapes (the robusto is our favorite), each with a pigtail cap and embossed golden foot band reminiscent of Davidoff’s 1940s-era packaging. The four-stick collection ($56.20), which includes one cigar of each shape, makes a handsome gift. ($9.50–$16.50) www.davidoff.com

La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor
The dark brown, rustic-looking Cuban-seed Mexican wrapper, with its hints of cocoa butter flavor, and the mellow Nicaraguan filler make this cigar a perfect match for a snifter of Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old. The cigar, which is made at Don José “Pepin” Garcia’s factory in Nicaragua, is available in five sizes. Four of the sizes have the traditional Cuban soft-press box shape with rounded edges, while the Valentino (5¾ x 58) is a parejo with a straight, cylindrical body. ($6.75–$8) www.ashtoncigar.com

Rocky Patel Fifteenth Anniversary
This box-pressed cigar is made in Estelí, Nicaragua, at the Tabacalera Villa Cuba cigar factory, which is jointly owned by Rocky Patel and Amilcar Perez, the former factory manager for Ernesto Perez-Carrillo in Miami. The cigar is bunched in the labor-intensive entubado style during which filler leaves are rolled instead of folded. It sports a triple cap and has two binders, both from Nicaragua. Patel calls the cigar his company’s best yet. “It has the best Habano wrapper from Ecuador,” he says, “high priming from the Oliva family [of Tampa, Fla.], and special fillers from Estelí—from our own farm—plus other fillers from Jalapa and Condega.” The flavor of this medium-full-bodied cigar includes smoky cocoa and citrus. ($9–$10.75) www.rockypatel.com

Rocky Patel Decade Edición Limitada
This muscular, triple-banded cigar made by Nestor Plasencia in Honduras features a chocolate-brown Pennsylvania broadleaf wrapper that has a heavy, sweet aroma. The filler blend consists of Nicaraguan leaf from Estelí and Jalapa and Honduran tobacco from Olancho. ($8.60–?$12.50) www.rockypatel.com

Avo Heritage Series
This richly mellow cigar is the strongest and most exclusive offering in the Avo collection. The filler comprises five different tobaccos: three Dominican ligeros for strength, a Dominican seco for mildness, and a Peruvian seco for sweetness. The specially fermented Cuban-seed Ecuadoran wrapper is rich and oily and has a suedelike texture and a delicate, floral aroma. This cigar deserves to be paired with a spirit as complex as Armagnac Réserve de la Famille or Dalmore King Alexander III. ($7–$9.50) www.avo.com

La Aurora 107
This cigar commemorates the Jimenes family’s 107 years in the cigar-making business. Established in 1903 by Eduardo León Jimenes, La Aurora was the first Dominican Republic cigar brand. It remains family owned and is now run by Guillermo León, the founder’s grandson. The 107—with its Ecuadoran sun-grown wrapper, Dominican binder, and Dominican and Nicaraguan filler—is medium-spicy, an ideal complement to Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX. The cigar comes in four sizes—belicoso, toro, robusto, and corona—and a fifth size, lancero, is expected to be made available this fall ($6.40–$8.40) www.laaurora.com.do

H. Upmann Sun Grown
This storied brand, which originated in 1844 in Cuba and then relocated to the Dominican Republic after the United States imposed its trade embargo, is now offering cigars made in Honduras, at the La Flor de Copan factory. With its sweet, candied Ecuadoran sun-grown wrapper (hence the name), broadleaf binder, and Nicaraguan and Honduran filler, this cigar is the ultimate golf course smoke: mild, not distracting, and smooth. Six sizes are available, ranging from a 5½ x 44 corona to a 7 x 54 Churchill. ($6.25–$7.75) www.altadisusa.com

Toraño Single Region Serie Jalapa
This is one of the first new cigars from Toraño since the family-owned company sold its Nicaraguan and Honduran factories to Scandinavian Tobacco. Toraño now works with independent growers and rollers. The Serie Jalapa is the first of a series of cigars made with tobaccos grown on the same farm. Although the cigar is a Nicaraguan puro, it is rolled at the Fábrica de Tabacos Raices Cubanas factory in Honduras. The Criollo 98 wrapper is indicative of Nicaraguan soil. Like the rest of the cigar’s tobaccos, it is grown on the El Estero Farm, where a mineral-rich stream irrigates the red clay soil, giving the leaves a mild, creamy flavor. The cigar is available as a 5 x 52 robusto, a 6 x 54 toro grande, and a 7 x 50 Churchill. ($6.50–$6.95) www.torano.com

POWER PUFFS
Graycliff
Heritage Royale
We doubted that Enrico Garzaroli and his team of cigar rollers in Nassau, the Bahamas, could top their Chateau Grand Cru, a Robb Report Best of the Best selection in 2006, but the Heritage Royale is an even stronger cigar. Except for the over-the-top Espresso, it is the strongest cigar in the Graycliff line. Made from a well-aged blend of Costa Rican, Ecuadoran, Honduran, and Nicaraguan tobaccos, this cigar displays finesse as well as strength. The flavor includes notes of citrus, dried fruit, and coffee. It is definitely an after-hours cigar. Of the three sizes offered, the 4¾ x 53 Windsor (a mini salomon) is our hands-down favorite. ($12.50–$20.75) www.graycliff.com

Ortez y Turrent Dos Familias
A collaboration between Alejandro Turrent, a fifth-generation member of Mexico’s reigning cigar family, and Omar Ortez, whose family is one of Nicaragua’s most prestigious tobacco growers and cigar makers, was bound to produce an extraordinary cigar. The cigar, which is made at the Ortez factory, emits a rustic, leather aroma from its San Andres Criollo wrapper, which plays well against the soft, almost floral taste of the Nicaraguan and Mexican filler. Pair this cigar with 15 Year Old George T. Stagg cask-strength bourbon. ($5.50–$7.50) www.altadisusa.com

Arturo Fuente Magnum R Vitola 58
The R stands for rosado, the reddish, flavorful, heavy center leaves of the tobacco plant. This sun-grown Ecuadoran wrapper, cultivated by the Oliva family of Tampa, Fla., has been aged for 10 years. The Dominican binder and filler are from the best farms around Santiago: Villa González and, of course, Chateau de la Fuente. The Magnum R, a semi-box-pressed pyramid shape measuring 5¼ x 58, normally is aged for six months, but the Vitola 58 was aged for more than a year while the company waited for its boxes to be made. “It’s going back to the classics,” says Carlos Fuente Jr., “the way my grandfather and father made cigars, and the way they taught me to make cigars. This is the perfect time to bring out a cigar like this. Five years ago would have been too soon; the public’s palate wouldn’t have been ready. This is a cigar that, when you’re almost finished smoking it, you want to light another one.” Medium rich and mildly spicy-sweet with elements of ginger, this cigar pairs well with El Dorado 21 Year Old rum. ($9) www.cigarfamily.com

La Gloria Cubana Serie N
The N stands for Nicaragua, and the cigar features a golden Connecticut-shade N-shaped cutout, which contrasts dramatically against the dark and oily Capa Escura Ecuadoran Sumatra wrapper. You might taste a hint of the Connecticut tobacco’s sweetness as you work your way through this heady smoke. The cigars are crisscrossed in a fire-engine-red hexagonal box that holds 24 sticks. It is an impressive presentation. Of the four sizes offered, our favorite is the JSB 5½ x 54. ($6–$7) www.lagloriacigars.com

A. Turrent Triple Play
You can taste hints of saddle leather and cedar and an underlying rugged sweetness in this unique maduro puro—a puro not in the sense that all the tobaccos come from the same country, but in the way that the wrapper, binder, and filler are all darkly fermented maduro leaf. Made by Alejandro Turrent, who traveled from his native Mexico to the La Flor de Copan factory in Honduras to create this cigar, the Triple Play consists of a San Andres Morrón wrapper, Connecticut broadleaf binder, and a Nicaraguan, Mexican, and Honduran filler. Five different shapes are offered. ($7.25–$8) www.altadisusa.com

IN RARE FORM
La Gloria Cubana Artesanos de Obelisco

In addition to round-bodied parejos and box-pressed cigars, cigar smokers now have an obelisk-shaped cigar. This 5 x 44 x 57 smoke, which is rolled at the El Credito factory in the Dominican Republic, was inspired by the tapered, four-sided Monumento de los Héroes de la Restauración de la República (Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration) in Santiago. Sweet, mild, and spicy, it is the perfect midday smoke. The cigar feels somewhat awkward in your hand but completely natural against your lips. It is packaged in a unique, half-moon-shaped box, which you will want to present to your guests if your party is ever in danger of becoming dull. ($9) www.cigarworld.com

Berger & Argenti Entubar Quad Maduro
This box-pressed cigar has an 8-year-old Nicaraguan Cuban-seed maduro wrapper, a Nicaraguan binder, and Nicaraguan and Dominican leaf filler that is rolled entubado style. But the cigar’s distinguishing feature is its dark ligero core, which runs the length of the cigar and extends three-eighths of an inch beyond the trimmed foot. For a cigar that looks like a stick of dynamite with a short fuse (the “warning label” urging you to toast the foot before lighting adds to the illusion), its dried cocoa powder flavor is surprisingly mild. The Quad Maduro comes in four different sizes. ($9.99–$12.99) www.bergerargenti.com

Macanudo Vintage Maduro 1997
The most striking element of this first vintage maduro from Macanudo is the packaging, which features a removable silver-and-gold ring crowning the head of the two shapes, a perfecto and a toro. This smoke is much more full-bodied than the previous nonvintage Macanudo maduro, yet even with 13 years of aging, it proves that maduros do not necessarily have to be strong. The Nicaraguan, Brazilian, and Dominican filler leaves contribute to the meaty, flavorful taste.  ($8.50–$9) www.cigarworld.com

Joya de Nicaragua Cabinetta No. 60
A perfecto gordo in the truest sense, this 6 x 60 behemoth is also big in terms of flavor. It features two different wrappers: a dark Nicaraguan Criollo from the head to the band and a Nicaraguan Claro from the band to the foot. The flavor starts out creamy, with a touch of citrus, and ends with a hefty spice and a long finish. Both the filler and binder tobaccos in this full-bodied puro are from Jalapa. Allow an hour or more to smoke this cigar, which comes in a box of 12. ($10.50) www.joyadenicaragua.net

Hoyo de Monterrey Reposado en Cedros
Cedar has long been a component of the cigar-aging process, whether it is used to line the walls and shelves of factory aging rooms or the interiors of humidors. But this limited edition comes in even closer contact with the wood. The cigars are immersed in dense beds of fresh cedar shavings for up to three months, adding even more of the wood’s flavor to the taste. Cedar shavings are also placed in the handsomely rugged wooden box with each cloth-wrapped bundle of 24 cigars. To complement all that cedar flavor, the cigar is made with spicier variations of the Ecuadoran Sumatra wrapper, Connecticut broadleaf binder, and Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Dominican filler leaves. The result is a pleasantly mild yet full-bodied smoke. Peppermint, sugar, and citrus lurk in the wrapper, and, of course, cedar permeates throughout. Three sizes are offered: a robusto, a Churchill, and, our favorite, the 6¼ x 54 Marco, a figurado.  ($6.50–$7) www.cigarworld.com

Alec Bradley Tempus Maduro
Last year Alec Bradley introduced the limited-edition Tempus Magistri, a 6¾ x 54 perfecto in a maduro wrapper. It produced only 1,000 boxes, and they immediately sold out. The company has brought back the maduro-wrapped Magistri, along with four other sizes. What makes this cigar so noteworthy is that it is made using an old Cuban maduro-making technique that company president Alan Rubin resurrected. It involves a liquid mixture made from the fruit of the caña fistula tree that allows for a shorter, gentler fermentation process, yielding a rich, oily wrapper with none of the roughness often found in maduros. ($8.15–$10.90) www.alecbradley.com

Padrón 1926 Series 80 Years
The 80 Years, a 6¾ x 54 perfecto, is the company’s first figurado. It commemorates the 80th birthday of family patriarch José Orlando Padrón. Only one torcedor in the Padrón factory rolls this extremely limited-edition Nicaraguan puro, which comprises tobaccos that have been aged for five years. It is Padrón’s strongest-tasting cigar, offering notes of toasted rye bread and espresso. The cigar, which is available as a natural or a maduro, is packaged eight to a box.  ($30.75) www.padron.com

STORIED SMOKES
La Palina

Before William S. Paley created the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1928, he worked for his father’s cigar company, helping market its flagship brand, La Palina, which translates to “the female Paley” and was named in honor of his mother, Goldie Drell Paley. William S.’s son, William C. Paley, has reintroduced La Palina, but instead of being made in Philadelphia from Cuban tobaccos, as it once was, the new cigar is made in the Bahamas, by Graycliff, and made with a Costa Rican binder and a Nicaraguan and Honduran filler. The regular line consists of four shapes. The Babe and Pasha sport Costa Rican wrappers, while the Little Bill and Allison have spicier, sun-grown Ecuadoran wrappers. The line also includes a limited-production 1896, a name that refers to the year William C. Paley’s grandfather opened his cigar shop in Chicago. ($19–$23) www.lapalinacigars.com

K.A. Kendall’s 7-20-4
Originally produced from 1874 to 1963 by R.G. Sullivan in Manchester, N.H., the 7-20-4 was snuffed out by the Cuban embargo. The brand was named after the address of the factory, 724 Elm Street in Manchester, which is not far from the home of Kurt Kendall, who resurrected the brand. The cigar now is made in Honduras by Nestor Plasencia Jr., who uses a Brazilian Mata Fina wrapper, a Costa Rican binder, and a Nicaraguan, Honduran, Mexican, and Columbian blend for the filler. The cigar is full of curry and coffee flavors and comes in five sizes.  ($5.50–$8.95) www.7-20-4.com

Quesada Tributo
Family and heritage are all-important among most cigar makers, including the Quesada clan. Third-generation tobacco broker Manolin Quesada brought the family’s tobacco expertise from Cuba to the Dominican Republic, and he is among the family members and close friends honored by the new collection’s four shapes: the 6 x 60 Manolin, the 6 x 52 Alvaro, the 4½ x 40 Alvarito, and, our favorite, the 5 x 50 Julio. These cigars are made from a hybrid HCHS wrapper (Habano 2000, Corojo, Habano Vuelta Arriba, and Sumatra), a Honduran binder, and a Dominican and Nicaraguan ligero filler. Peppery grass and allspice dominate the taste of this richly flavored cigar.  ($5.25–$7.95) www.sagimports.com

UNCOMMON PLEASURES
EPC Cigar Company E.P. Carrillo Edición Limitada 2010

Ernesto Perez-Carrillo (aka EPC) used to make cigars for La Gloria Cubana, a brand his father created in the United States after the embargo against Cuba was imposed. When Perez-Carrillo’s contract with General Cigar to make this cigar in the Dominican Republic ended, he began producing his own boutique-brand cigars with his son Ernesto Perez-Carrillo III and his daughter, Lissette Perez-Carrillo. Their first cigar, the E.P. Carrillo Edición Inaugural 2009, was mild “just to show I could make a mild cigar,” he says. The latest is a well-rolled blend of Brazilian Habano wrapper, Domin­ican binder, and all-Nicaraguan filler. When you smoke it, tastes of honey and new-mown hay grasp your palate and do not let go. Only one size is produced, a 6 x 54, and the company is limiting production to 1,000 boxes of 10. The black lacquered boxes are suitable for gifting. ($15) www.epcarrillo.com

Camacho Liberty 2010
Camacho has been introducing a new Liberty cigar each year since 2002, annually producing a limited edition of 2,000 boxes, the cigars of which are each packaged in a smaller box known as a coffin. This year’s offering is a 6 x 48 x 54 with an Ecuadoran-Sumatran wrapper, Honduran Corojo binder, and Honduran Corojo ligero and Dominican filler. Unlike recent Liberty cigars, this one is potent. “The Liberty 2010 is what Camacho is known for: full-bodied cigars, not just strong but very complex and flavorful,” says Christian Eiroa, president and CEO of Camacho. “In my opinion, this is the best Liberty since 2005.”  ($16.50) www.camachocigars.com

My Father Cigars Limited Edition 2010
Don José “Pepin” Garcia, who once worked at the Habanos factories in Cuba, now makes some of the finest Nicaraguan puros, in his Estelí factory. For this limited edition, he created a blend of tobaccos from two of his three family farms, including an Ecuadoran Habano wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler. This cigar also uses Pelo de Oro tobacco, a leaf no longer grown in Cuba because of its susceptibility to blue mold. Don José himself rolled every cigar in the edition—all 24,000, in his spare time over four months—and his son, Jaime Garcia, did the bunching. Medium-mild with nuances of caramelized sugar, these 6½ x 52 cigars have been aged 200 days. The Limited Edition 2010 is sold by the dozen, and each of the 12 comes in its own box within a larger, numbered chest. ($240 per chest of 12 cigars) www.myfathercigars.com

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Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
Photo by Packshot Factory
Photo copyright by Laurence Winram studio
Photo by Cordero Studios