Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007

When a stranger first learns that I am the proprietor of the world’s leading resource for collectors of Cuban cigars,* they quickly probe the economics of the thing.

“Do you get paid?” They ask.
“No, not really. A donation here and there. It doesn’t cover the cost.”
“So you must love it.”
“Well, cigars, sure, but there’s not too much love to be had in website administration.”
“Then why do you do it?”
“Well, mostly because it opens a lot of interesting doors.”

Today I am in Hong Kong, and the door that has opened leads to a private smoking lounge. I am a guest of the owner, with whom I had exchanged perhaps 150 words of email before he suggested I stop by next time I was in town. I should think of his humidor, he told me, as my humidor. He said he had “some good stuff.”

He wasn’t wrong. After a brief tour of the club, he opened the door to the walk-in, and told me to pick out anything I liked. The spread on offer contained fully two per cent of the world’s supply of original Behikes, along with a 1492 humidor, and most any other Cuban treasure one would care to name. Respectful of my host, I didn’t want to reach for either the top or bottom shelf, and finally settled on the Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007: a $150 cigar, but humble in this company.

Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007 unlit, with a Katana cigar scissor.

As you’d expect from one wearing the GR band, the cigar is perfectly constructed, and once a pair of hand-beaten Japanese cigar shears has circumcised the cap, the draw is a perfect Cuban. Lit, there are notes of medium tobacco of the highest quality, with yeasty bread up front and chocolate out the back. There is a little woodsmoke. Chocolate chip damper.

Another door opened in 2012 when Nic Wing first reached out to me. At the time he was working as a publicist for a cigar store in London, but on the side he was putting together a walking tour of the local “historical cigar sites.” He wondered if I wouldn’t mind putting a link to his tour somewhere on my website. Ever a jealous guardian of my SEO juice, I replied thanking him for his email, and asked after some mutual acquaintances, but ignored his request. We exchanged gossip for a few weeks, and he promised to send me some pictures of some fancy old bands, but never did, and eventually the thread dropped off.

I suppose he forgot the exchange, because in 2015 when he emailed me next, he reintroduced himself. By this time though, he was well known to me. I’ve always dreamed of being Hugh Hefner in 1957, the slick magazine publisher in the sharp suit, smoking cigarettes and drinking whisky over next month’s layout book. Nic evidentially shared that dream, and unlike me, he had done something to actualize it. He had started a magazine earlier that year, and it was doing well with the aficionado set. UK Cigar Scene was a good read, with interviews, reviews and gossip, and wasn’t swamped by puff pieces for the non-Cuban advertisers like every other cigar periodical. (My version would have included fiction, hard-hitting investigative journalism, and a centrefold, but you can’t have everything).

Nic wanted to do a piece about Cuban Cigar Website, and in service of that we exchanged emails regularly for a few months. I even suggested at one point that perhaps he’d like to reprint the odd Dusky Beauty in his magazine – a proposition he politely ignored.

Six months after my piece ran, UK Cigar Scene quietly stopped releasing new issues, and four months after that I learned that Nic had died, the loser in a short fight with the dragon cancer, at the age of 58.

We think of the internet as a gorgon that never forgets, and in a sense that’s true. If you know what you’re looking for, there are archive websites that still host the most bestial of my teenage slash fiction. In any practical sense though, the internet forgets you the minute you stop paying the bill. For Nic, the domain of his magazine now hosts a vape blog, no doubt bought cheap by a Chinese store looking to exploit the SEO juice of Nic’s hard-won link exchanges. His walking tour, which existed only behind a paywall that archive websites could not breach, is down, and presumably lost forever.

Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007 with one quarter smoked.

Most notable about the Lusitania is the smoke, heavy and blue, which curls from the lip. It’s a good cigar for blowing smoke rings. Halfway through, the tobacco has mellowed a little and coffee notes dominate the foretaste. The chocolate is still around, as is the yeast, but best of all is that there is something of the lactic note familiar from the very best of the Partagás Aniversarios in the back palate.

When Simon Chase first reached out to me in 2014, he gave a humble introduction: “I don’t know if my name means anything to you” he wrote, “but I’ve been kicking around the Havana trade for a few decades.”

Of course I knew him. Simon was the author of some of the best books on the minutiae of Cuban cigars, and countless column inches. He was the closest thing we ever had to an investigative journalist; when something took his interest, he would probe the archives held in the deepest vaults of the UK importers, and fly to Havana to interview the Cubans, and eventually produce a treatise, well written and funny, and usually presenting facts that differed vastly from the common mythos. Over the years we went back and forth many times, him reaching out to me to correct some error on the site, and I to him to ask a question, the answers to which he would seek out like a terrier, coming back with an essay as well written and researched as any of his columns.

Of all the ghosts of the internet, these strangers that appear in my inbox with a few words about a shared hobby, Simon was one of the ones that I was fondest of. He died this March, aged 74, after a long walk with the self-same dragon.

Simon won’t be soon forgotten. For one, he was published in enough different places that a great many sites must go under to erase his oeuvre, and for another because he had more than one book in print, and widely circulated in the cigar world; dusty tombs for some young smoker to find when cleaning out his grandfather’s library. What is lost though, is his brain, which held uncountable titbits of cigar ephemera, and his letters, of which I’m sure I hold only the smallest fraction.

Cigar smoking is a hobby that attracts the gourmand. I know of few aficionados for whom tobacco is their only vice, and many who are just as enthusiastic about wine, rum, whiskey, brandy, cocktails and obscure French liqueurs. We also like Papuan coffee, roasted just right, with only the finest Swiss chocolates on the corner of a saucer, and Iberian suckling pigs in truffle sauce, and slow roasted goose, and bone-in rib eye steaks, and day smoked brisket, and house-made sausage, and much other decadence besides. Best of all, we like it when all these things are served at once.

At any cigar function I am the youngest by twenty years, and the lightest by thirty kilograms, and yet even I have regularly thrown up blood from excess for most of my adult life. Nic and Simon are just the most famous of my internet friends; when the others succumb, will I even learn their fates? Or will the emails one day simply cease? There are plenty of old correspondents who I haven’t heard from in a while… perhaps already they are lost.

And of course, myself. There will sometime come the day when my own sent box sees its last new message. What then?

To the cigar aficionado of tomorrow I have one request – put a watch on my domains, and if they ever expire, pick them up. If you can’t restore the sites, put up something of your own, or a simple tribute, or even leave them blank. Just as long as my hard won Page Authority doesn’t wind up going to some vape store.

Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007 final third.

The Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007 ends beautifully, not bitter for one instant, with notes of leather and freshly turned earth. The logic with the Gran Reservas is that they are a regular production cigar in its very best expression; I’ve not smoked enough Lusitanias to really comment, but if they can be this good then I’ll be reaching for them more often in the future. One thing I can say that it is unmistakably a Partagás. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Anniversaries, which remain among the best cigars I’ve ever had in this life, but it isn’t too far away, and is a truckload better than a PSD4.

*I refer, of course, to www.cubancigarwebsite.com, not The Harem, which deserves the antithetic title.

Partagás Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007 nub.

Partagás  Lusitanias Gran Reserva Cosecha 2007 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005

The theory behind the Grand Reserve series goes that once in a great while (a great while being every two years) an especially good tobacco harvest might produce a small amount of absolutely peerless leaf, leaf that will be aged for as long as it takes to perfect it and then rolled by the highest ranking torcedoras into cigars that are the best of the best; into cigars that are absolutely without compromise. The theory behind the Grand Reserve series goes that Habanos can charge six or seven times as much for them as they do their single banded analogues.

The cigar I consider today, the Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005, is the second release in the Gran Reserva series, following 2009’s Cohiba Siglo VI. The third instalment has been announced, but has yet to surface: the Partagás Lusitania. Of the three the only one I really get is the Lusitania: to me, if you’re going to roll the best of the best for a given brand, it should be that brand’s flagship, which for Partagás is the Lusitania. The Siglo VI makes some sense for Cohiba, I suppose – while my Cohiba flag carrier will always be the Lanceros (or maybe the Espléndidos at a stretch), but I understand that it might be the Siglo VI as far as Habanos SA is concerned. Montecristo is a hard brand to pick a flagship for; you’ve got the A, which is their most expensive and impressive cigar, but is too big for even aficionados to smoke with much pleasure; you’ve got the Especiales No. 1, which is a beautiful, elegant thing, but I don’t think sells very well; you’ve got the Edmundo, but it only came out about five years ago… what else, the No. 1?

At any rate, it’s anything but the 2.

Perhaps they have no choice what Gran Reserva they roll? Perhaps the blenders say “no, no, this peerless tobacco is only suitable for Montecristo No. 2s.” I hope so. I hope in a few years they say “no, no, this peerless tobacco is only suitable for a Fonseca Cosacos.”

Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005 unlit

I’m joined this evening by my colleague Tybalt, and have issued him with a cigar to smoke alongside my Gran Reserva: a Montecristo No. 2, box code DEB OCT06. 2006 was the first year of Habanos’ new ageing policies – all leaf is aged for at least one year before rolling (certain varieties are aged for two and three years, but let’s not complicate things) – so a box date of October 2006, therefore, means that most of this tobacco comes from the 2005 harvest – cosecha 2005, if you will. The point is that these cigars are the same cigar, made of the same tobacco, aged for the same period of time (albeit one aged in a warehouse pre-rolling and one aged in a box after it). If any test can reveal whether or not the Gran Reserva is worth the premium, this is it.

And, to its credit, the Gran Reserva opens wonderfully, with notes of cream, and very, very smooth tobacco. We’re smoking outside, but the evening is perfectly still: both cigars lit effortlessly: we used separate matches, but could easily have shared one, as neither of us burnt more than a third of the wood.

We’re drinking a Grosset Pinot Noir 2002, which Tybalt informs me is a Very Good Wine. I’m not much of a wine aficionado, but judging this purely by the look of the label I’d put it in the $10 – 15 range. Tybalt takes a sip and grimaces, saying that it needs to breathe. He’s right: the opening nose is vinegar mixed with high fruit compost.

Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005 two thirds

An inch or so in we swap cigars for a few puffs, and, my main observation being that the regulation Monte 2 has a much tighter draw, I suggest to Tybalt that he take a few hairs’ breadth from the pyramid tip to open it up a bit. Flavour wise, the cigars are honestly on par; if anything the regular 2 is the more flavourful, if heavier on the tobacco. Tybalt describes it as “more sulphurous,” but I’m loath to pin such a loaded adjective on it as it really is an excellent cigar. Cedar predominates both, with a splash of cream and mild kidney bean.

We swap war stories for a while, and then, washing down a hearty guffaw with a drizzle of pinot down the back of my throat, I suddenly have what alcoholics refer to as a “moment of clarity”; it suddenly occurs to me that everything is excellent. The wine has opened like a lily to the light, a delicate, pungent fruit bowl that pays good compliment to the smooth, refined tobacco of the Gran Reserva. It’s sweet; earth, leather, coffee… the whole bag.

I spend a long moment absorbed in my screen writing this bullshit, and when I come to Tybalt suggests that I try both cigars again. I try the regulation 2 first, and am amazed at how good it is; a smooth, perfect 2. Next I try the Gran Reserva, and am shocked: it’s very good, but of the two, it is by far the rougher. I hem and haw a moment… this is the Gran Reserva, the hot tip to top the full ladder of Montecristo cigars that I’ll publish in a few weeks… how can I admit that a humble standard issue No. 2 is its better? As soon as I stammeringly articulate the thought Tybalt’s smirk betrays him: he has switched the bands on me. It’s a good test, that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is more to the Grand Reserva than the psychological bump from the fancy band, but it will sow a seed of doubt in me the rest of the evening, especially once we get down to the business end and the bands come off… am I smoking the cigar I think I’m smoking?

Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005 last inch

In the last few centimetres the regular No. 2 shows a quite a bit of tar, then the Reserva shows some, and then the tar dissipates from both. Neither cigar has required a relight or touch up, and they both get smoked till we burn our fingers.

The main problem with the Gran Reserva was the Monte 2 I put it up against. I don’t know what happened here – maybe 2005 really was a great year for Montecristo No. 2 tobacco – because this one was one of the very best I’ve ever encountered. The Reserva was better, don’t get me wrong, and if what you want is an absolutely flawless Montecristo No. 2 every time, then the Grand Reserva version is exactly what you should buy. If you were to shop around though, if you were to buy well reviewed box codes, and stock up during the good seasons… well, there are some flawless regular Monte 2s out there that don’t have the Reserva band, and there’s a lot of room for trial and error in that price margin. Also, when all is said and done, this is just a perfect Monte 2. If you have a little coin to drop and are looking for something that’s better than an average Monte 2, why not try a Cohiba?

All that said, I really don’t want to disparage the Monte 2 Gran Reserva at all; it is a flawless cigar that delivers everything that can be delivered within the scope of its responsibilities. It’s not the best cigar in the Montecristo line-up, but it’s in the top few, and it’s a lot better than a Monte 4.

Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005 nub

Montecristo No. 2 Gran Reserva Cosecha 2005 on the Cuban Cigar Website