Best of the Best 2002: Smoke: Best Cigars

For the Ages
First conceived in 1996, Davidoff’s Millennium Blend Series (Churchill, robusto, lonsdale, and petit corona) comprises its most full-bodied and flavorful cigars to date. The blend is a direct result of a trend toward a pithier yet balanced smoking experience, which began in the United States and is now taking root in Europe.

As with each preceding series, the filler and binder are grown exclusively on Davidoff’s Dominican plantations. The Millennium cigars, though, are made only with crops that have aged since 1995, resulting in a richer, refined, and less floral flavor.

The exceptional element, however, is the wrapper. Davidoff tested 27 combinations of a hybrid seed sun-grown in Ecuador before arriving at this exact formula. This is a notable departure for a company known to use only top-quality Connecticut shade wrapper. Double fermenting the leaf produces a sturdier, textured wrapper. These cigars, particularly the robusto, are noticeably sweet and aromatic, full of flavor without overpowering the palate. They burn evenly and easily, a pleasing surprise for all who lend them a light. —Mark Mormar

Davidoff, www.davidoff.com

Brute Strength
To paraphrase Dirty Harry, “This is the most powerful cigar in the world, and it can blow your head clean off.” Your first clue that the Partagas Black Label is no ordinary cigar is the absence of the familiar red Partagas band. A black label encircles an almost equally dark exterior, which resembles a maduro. Instead, it is a natural, sun-grown Connecticut shade wrapper known as Medio Tiempo (“half time” in Spanish). Accordingly, the leaf is left on the vines half again as long as is customary, resulting in a darker, heavier, and oilier leaf with a greater concentration of sugars and nutrients.

The binder is grown in the Dominican Republic’s La Vega Especial, one of the most fertile farms in the country. The Black Label’s finesse, how-ever, comes from the Nicaraguan and Dominican filler, which is the same blend used for the Cohiba XV. But it is the slow-burning Medio Tiempo wrapper that gives this cigar its bold, unparalleled strength—heightened by the large 54 and 60 ring sizes of its four shapes. —Richard Carleton Hacker

Family Matters
In recognition of patriarch José’s 75th birthday, the Padrón clan is honoring him with a special edition of cigars named for the numerals in his birth year: 1, 9, 2, and 6. As with all of their cigars, the Padrón 1926 is a Nicaraguan puro of only square-pressed, sun-grown tobaccos.

Fans of Padrón’s 1964 Anniversary Series (released in 1994) who have wished for a stronger blend will not be disappointed in the full-bodied and fragrantly balanced 1926. These delightfully stout smokes were four years in development, and the tobacco has been aged for five years—one year longer than the Anniversary Series.

Only about 150,000 cigars in the entire 1926 line will be produced. (Despite a production of nearly 500,000 units, 1964s have always been difficult to procure.) Once you taste one, you will understand why 1926 is a proper tribute to Señor Padrón. —Mark Mormar

Padrón, www.padron.com

Deceiving Looks
Although their wrappers are lighter than most maduros, Astral Talanga Valley Selection cigars are no lightweights. Don’t be deceived by the red-brown wrapper. Once you light one, you will taste the exotic spicy mystery, redolent of cloves and cinnamon, you expect from a maduro. You will also find an appealing smoothness not common in other, harsher maduros.

The hybrid wrapper seed was developed in part by Ramon Fuego, a fifth-generation tobacco grower from Cuba’s Pinar del Rio. The rich, sandy soil in Honduras’ Talanga Valley, where the Talanga Cubano wrapper leaf is grown under Fuego’s expert supervision, is remarkably similar to the red soil of Pinar del Rio.

After the leaves have been selected from the top priming of the plant, called the corona, they are fermented for 90 days and then aged for nine months. The filler is a blend of Dominican, Brazilian, and Nicaraguan tobaccos, providing bold, complex flavors with a distinctive sweet spiciness. The Mexican binder adds to the spiciness while assuring an even burn. —Nick Passmore

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