Last year included a number of interesting new releases from Habanos SA, Cuba’s official distributor and marketer of cigars. For me, the best was the Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de Río Seco, not only because it is a superb addition to the popular brand and available around the world, but also because it smokes with wonderful balance – exactly what one expects in a Hoyo cigar. It mirrors many of the refined flavors of the forever brilliant Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 but delivers more punch and high notes due to the slightly thicker girth and length (140mm by 56 ring gauge).
The Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de Río Seco is my best Cuban Cigar of the year 2018.
I was excited to hear about the new release during the Habanos cigar festival in Havana last March mostly because of the name. Río Seco was historically one of the best tobacco plantations in the Pinar del Rio and in the municipality of San Juan y Martinez, one of the best areas for wrapper tobacco in Cuba. Years ago, I was given a list of the best cigar plantations in Cuba by late tobacco genius Heller Meerapfel, who was one of the key tobacco buyers on the island before the revolution. He and his family were tobacco traders for more than a century and later developed Cameron wrapper. I even visited Cameron with them in 1998. Río Seco was one of his favorite plantation areas in Cuba.
I recommend trying a Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de Río Seco. They come in cedar cabinets of 25 as well as boxes of 10 and tubos of threes. The later doesn’t appear to be in the market yet. The Le Hoyo de Río Seco is the second in the Serie Le Hoyo line after the Le Hoyo de San Juan.
Close at No. 2 is the Montecristo Petit No. 2 (Tubo). This cigar (120mm by 52 ring gauge) amazed me with so much flavor and character and a smaller size, making it a much more reasonable and quicker smoke than the archetypal No. 2 Monte. This is one of a number of go-to tubos I enjoy. I love how you can throw one in your backpack or pocket and not worry about it.
The new-in-2018 Montecristo Linea 1935 Leyenda was another power smoke on the market last year. And I think it needs another year or two of box age to mellow out. Yet, it’s still a wonderful smoke and highlights the glory days of Montecristo in the 1950s, when its cigars were full of flavor. The Linea 1935 celebrates the creation of the brand in 1935. The Leyenda is a big size (155 mm by 55 ring gauge) or the same as the Montecristo 80 Aniversario, which was launched in 2015. It’s my No. 3 Cuban Cigar of the Year.
No. 4 was also released in 2018, the next in line from Gran Reserva Habanos, which emphasizes that they are made with tobacco from a single harvest with five years of age. I am not always sure I detect the mature tobacco character in these reserva smokes but this one is a beautiful, classic smoke (178mm by 47 ring gauge). Only 5,000 cigars were made and come in black lacquered boxes of 15. The tobacco is from the 2010 harvest.
Some of you won’t be surprised by my No. 5 Cuban Cigar of the Year. It’s one of my favorites and is almost always in my list of the 10 best Cuban cigars of the year – Cohiba Siglo VI (150mm by 52 ring gauge). I am not completely sure that the current batch on the market is as good as some in the past but it still delivers fabulous flavors and balance with a gorgeous freshness and precision. Plus, the draw is always on the money.
Partagás Serie E No. 2 at No. 6 (140mm by 54 ring gauge) is a relatively new edition to the brand and delivers plenty of flavor with a great draw. Meanwhile, I chose a classic cigar for No. 7, the Romeo & Julieta Churchill (178mm by 47 ring gauge). The current batch are typical in flavor and style from years past. Similar could be said for the Cohiba Robusto (124mm by 50 ring gauge) at No. 8. It’s always a pleasure to smoke the flavorful and refined robusto of this great brand.
At No. 9 is the Montecristo Línea 1935 Dumas (130mm by 49 ring gauge), one of the three vitolas in the new Monte line extension. It’s a rich cigar and already seems more integrated and polished than the other two, although it has slightly less character than the Leyenda. And finally is the Juan Lopez Seleccion No. 2 (124mm by 50 ring gauge) at No. 10, which is another flavorful robusto – richer than I remember with the current batch – and delivers an excellent smoke for the money.
Overall, it tried to select 10 cigars for my list of the best of the year that are readily available on the market whether you are in a cigar shop in London, Toronto or Havana. The exception is the gran reserva Upmann, but I didn’t want to leave this out and I can find it in cigar shops in Hong Kong, where I live. I hope you enjoy the list and let me know what you are smoking and enjoying from Cuba in 2019.
1. Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de Río Seco: This shows a perfect draw with richness and harmony and wonderful texture. Lots of cedar and light, aged tobacco character. Creamy at the finish, which is clean and fresh. It is the best cigar I smoked in 2018. 99 points
2. Montecristo Petit No. 2 (Tubos): This small torpedo in an aluminum tube has always impressed me. It seems to be getting better and better with each year of production. The most recent is rich and flavorful with lots of tobacco, chocolate and spice character. It draws and burns beautifully. 98 points
3. Montecristo Línea 1935 Leyenda: A powerful cigar that shows a velvety texture and full body of tobacco, walnut and spice flavors. It draws perfectly. Needs a year or to come completely together. 97 points
4. H. Upmann Sir Winston Gran Reserva Cosecha 2011: A long cigar that shows a creamy and soft character with nut, almond and light coffee flavor. Intense and focused to the very end. Gorgeous now. 97 points
5. Cohiba Siglo VI: This benchmark cigar makes it nearly every year into my list of the best cigars I smoked. It has a draw with just the right tension and delivers so much flavor in a fresh and reserved way due to the triple fermentation of some of the filler tobacco. Lingering and truly satisfying aftertaste. 97 points
6. Partagás Serie E No. 2: Shows real Partagas character with decadent and spicy aromas and flavor and dried flower undertones. Big and rich. Love. 95 points
7. Romeo & Julieta Churchill: One of the classics from Havana, the Churchill always delivers lots of flavor with spice, nut and tobacco character. It’s fresh and focused with a long and intense aftertaste. This year’s release is a winner. 94 points
8. Cohiba Robusto: It’s always a pleasure to smoke this cigar. It remains a favorite due to its wonderful draw with rich yet fine flavors of cedar, dried violets and tobacco. 96 points
9. Montecristo Línea 1935 Dumas: A precise and cool smoke delivering fine tobacco and nut character with a smooth texture and fresh and refined nature at the finish. Clean and enjoyable now. 94 points
10. Juan Lopez Seleccion No. 2: This cigar really tastes like a Cuban cigar from the 1990s with its wet earth, spice, walnut and meaty character. It starts off a little rustic and then comes into its own about a third into the cigar. Smooth and delicious aftertaste. Reasonably priced too. 94 points