What’s New in the Cigar World for 2017
Great Wall Cigar Legend No. 1
By Eric Piras
We’re starting the Chinese year of the rooster and there is a lot of cackling in the cigar world. With major shakes from FDA regulations in the USA, TPD2 and plain packaging implementations in certain European countries, and more stringent measures in markets that had been relatively spared so far, our world is evolving... or is ‘mutating’ a more appropriate word?
It seems that many governments are losing common sense when it comes to regulations. In Hong Kong a recent proposal at the legislative council is to increase the current graphic health warning label covering the pack, from 50% to 85%. Associations are lobbying by defending an exemption for cigars; Thailand, UK, and other EU countries have already applied such exemption. It’s already hard to miss the current health warning ominously stuck onto half of each box; do we really need to make it even bigger?
Uncertainty is hanging over the industry and few cigar makers are ready to launch major series or new brands until more is known about FDA requirements.
But it’s not all doom and gloom and we can look forward to some new products and events in Asia and elsewhere.
One of the changes we’re noticing is the ‘feminization of the aficionados’ world: it feels as if ladies no longer hesitate to be seen with a cigar. This is a positive move and we should all encourage it, not only because it is a new growing clientele but certainly because it adds a little bit of variety (not to mention different conversation topics) to cocktail parties and evenings spent in cigar lounges.
And what best start for our enumeration of new products than with Maya Selva cigars, the only female cigar maker? Maya was recently in Asia and launched her Flor de Selva Colección Aniversario No 20 in Hong Kong and Japan during consumers, press and trade parties that proved very successful. Sales of the Colección Aniversario are going strong and the Limited Edition Lancero has an impressive fan base; it’s even been voted ‘Cigar of the Year’ by L’Amateur de Cigare magazine.
Soon reaching our shores, the Flor de Selva Grand Pressé is a must-try: a box-pressed 6” x ø56 cigar, the Grand Pressé features a naturally-fermented Honduran Habano wrapper, Brazilian Mata Fina binder, as well as Honduran fillers, providing a well-balanced, medium to fuller-bodied cigar.
Maduro has long received a strong welcome in Asia and Flor de Selva Maduro is definitely a favourite of the Asian markets: with five vitolas in the range, there is something to please everyone, though the Robusto is seeing the strongest sales.
The Pacific Cigar Co. Ltd is celebrating its Silver Jubilee this year: 25 years of operations in Asia Pacific. They’re keeping it very hush-hush but we’ve been authorized to say that they will organize various celebratory events and will also release two much-awaited regional editions from Habanos as well as a very special blend from Vega Fina to mark the occasion!
And cruise lovers can rejoice: The Pacific Cigar Co. Ltd has recently opened its first Cohiba Atmosphere aboard the Genting Dream Cruise. In operation since November, Dream Cruise is homeported in China and cruises to Asian destinations. The Dream Cruise Cohiba Atmosphere is a glamorous affair and on-board dress code is eveningwear from 5pm with serious recommendations such as ‘never throw cigars overboard as the cigars may be carried by wind back into another stateroom and cause serious fire’.
Cohiba supply is forecast to be quite low this year but the positive effect is that it leaves some space for other brands, and we see a strong increase in demand for other countries of origin such as Honduras and Nicaragua, a few of which have recently received serious distinctions.
Neya F8 Patriot has been voted in the ‘Best Buys of the Year’ by Cigar Aficionado; sporting a Habano Ecuador wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and fillers, this is a blend that balances flavor and affordability.
Cigar Journal has voted Ashton Paradiso Quintessence Robusto their ‘Cigar of the Year 2016’. Marketed within the US as San Cristóbal and elsewhere as Paradiso for legal reasons, Paradiso has been created by Master blender José “Pepin” Garcia from Estelí in Nicaragua, with Nicaraguan tobacco and an Ecuadorean wrapper. In Asia, it is available in most Davidoff cigar divans, and is easily recognizable from its colorful parrots and gold medals on the ring.
And there are now more Davidoff shops: a retail concept store in Beijing’s Oriental Plaza opened late 2016 and in April a new store is opening in the ION Orchard shopping complex in Singapore.
As in previous years, Davidoff has been very active with its new releases. Some of our favorites are the beautifully packaged regional Davidoff City Editions for Taipei, Singapore, and Seoul as well as country editions for Japan and China. Another striking novelty is the Davidoff Royal Release. With a blue packaging not often associated to cigars, and tobacco aged for at least eight years in Royal Bales, it has been crafted by eight of the finest Davidoff cigar rollers and features a special Aromatica Dominicana wrapper not seen on any other Davidoff cigar. Additionally, the tobacco used for this Royal Release has been harvested separately from other crops. Available for a limited run only, Davidoff Core 702 is the result of a challenge by Davidoff’s master blenders to reimagine and reinvent their most iconic cigars – the Davidoff No.2, 2000, Special R, Aniversario No. 3 among others and give them an exciting twist in the form of a new 702 ‘Habano’ wrapper from Ecuador giving these classics a bolder, more intense edge.
Though some might be surprised, there is also a country of origin closer to us: China. Even if the association does not spring to mind, Chinese cigars (handmade and machine-made) are steadily but seriously improving their quality and we would recommend trying Great Wall Cigar Legend no 1 and Wang Guan (Guocui) or 1916 Great Century Cigars for a taste of the best. Having started much later than other countries, they’re not in the pinnacle of cigars yet but are seriously working on their production. It seems, however, that the constraints in the import of long filler tobacco limit creativity for the blends and therefore the complexity of the cigars. Most of the cigars are now of good construction but their prices outside China are not competitive. Our recommendation is definitely to try them during your travels in China.
As for brands new to our region, we have exciting news. Toscano, the iconic rustic-looking Italian cigar, will soon be available in Asia. Toscano is one of the world’s most popular brands, with a history starting in 1815 in Florence. Produced in Italy either by hand or machine, Toscano cigars are made with Kentucky tobacco grown in Italy. Toscano Classico is a cigar that can be cut in the middle, to smoke at two different times or to share with a friend. This practice became so common right after the Second World War in Italy that it was nicknamed ‘friendship cigar’. Toscanello is the same size as a Toscano Classico cut in half and comes in a whole range of flavours such as coffee, anise, Grappa etc.
As for this year’s trends... in addition to the feminization of cigar enthusiasts, we are still seeing affection for very dark wrappers such as Maduro, a fondness for newer countries of origin, and we’re experiencing a strong interest for big ring gauge such as 56 in most of the world and even 60 in the US.
Could this newfound interest for very large ring gauage be linked to the natural boasting of the rooster? Or are we going to be subliminally influenced by Toscano and start sharing our cigars with our friends, wives, and girlfriends? That would be interesting and perhaps welcome in our intense world.