There has been a lot of talk over the past couple of weeks about the loosening of our embargo on Cuba. So let’s say you want a Montecristo #2 from Cuba, last year’s Cigar of the Year. That would set you back about $27 for one and it is a puro…all Cuban tobacco.. On the other hand you could buy three Montecristos—a Monte by Montecristo which was number 9 this year and uses tobacco from Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, a Montecristo Classic that uses Connecticut and Dominican tobaccos and a Montecristo Espada that has a blend of 5 vintage aged Nicaraguan tobaccos for abut the same price. I ask which is the better value?
In the popular press, much of the talk has been about now Americans can legally buy Cuban Cigars. Most of what has been reported is wrong. As a result people are coming into cigar stores and now asking where are the Cuban cigars? They are in Cuba. The reporters, seem to forget that the $400 limit of Cuban goods, with $100 for cigars and alcohol, was the rule up until August 2004 when then President Bush cut back on travel and the imports from Cuba.
Back in the early 2000s, Cuba kept pushing the U.S. by threatening to close the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (which in essence was our embassy there) and kept saying the U.S. was going to invade the island even though there were no plans for doing so among other things. The Cuban government wants the embargo, although they call it a blockade because it explains why the people have nothing. It is all our fault you see.
If you can remember back to the Clinton administration, there was a lot of talk about opening up relations with Cuba—until 1996 when the Castros shot down two or three civilian Cessnas that were operated by a Cuban-exile group that attempted to spot people fleeing Cuba on rafts. There went the talk of easing relations.
With the most recent announcement of setting up diplomatic relations with Cuba, there most likely will be more licensed trips available to Cuba. That is the key, for an American to legally buy Cuban cigars you must be on a licensed trip to the island. You must fly directly from the US to Cuba. Usually from Miami. But really so what?
Yes Cuban cigars are forbidden fruit, but if you look at Cigar Aficionado’s top cigars of the year for the past, say 5 years, the Montecristo #2 from Cuba was Cigar of the Year last year (2013) and the Cuban Cohiba Behike was number 1 in 2010 (cost about $45 in 2010). Other than that, it was the cigars made for our market that were the big winners. This year the best cigar, according to CA, was the Oliva Serie V Melanio. In 2013, the runner up was Aging Room Quattro F-55 only one point behind the Cuban (and about a third the price). And tied at number 3 was the Davidoff Nicaragua.
The point is that most of our cigars are being made by former Cubans who got out of the country and now are plying their trade in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras. Unlike Cuba, which is known for its tobacco, these exiles can use tobaccos from all over the world, except for Cuba. The thing is that honestly Cuban tobacco is not what it once was. The country has been over-farming the land for tobacco because it needs all it can get. The soil, though rich, is becoming depleted. Are there still good Cuban cigars? Sure. But there are many more non Cubans that are better cigars and better values.
Look at it this way, in Europe more and more tobacconists are looking to the exiles for their cigars as tastes change.