Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109, Edición Regional Mexico 2007 (possibly)

This cigar is a 109, the classic bullet tipped double corona, and currently it has no band. It was sent to me in late 2009 with no explanation, and when I enquired I was told that “it may be an Edmundo Dantes that I took the band off, but I do recall being sent a 109 but I forget what the storey was.  I think it was some sort of special.”

There are eleven possible cigars that this could be, and straight away I can eliminate the Romeo 130th Anniversary 109s, as while these are supposedly a 109 size, they lack the bullet tip that 109s traditionally have (more on these later). I also think I can eliminate the old Ramon Allones Gigantes 109, as that was discontinued in 1976, and this cigar seems fresher than that. It seems fresher to me too than either of the Partagas 109s from their 1995 and 2000 anniversary humidors, but I can’t outright dismiss them. My source has a predilection for removing unique or unusual bands, a habit that certainly fits with the two Partagas and the Edmundo Dantes, but not so much with the other remaining 109, the 2009 German regional.

Therefore, I conclude that this is probably an Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109. Or possibly a Partagas anniversary. Or perhaps a custom, or a Partagas mafia special (more on these later). Heck, maybe it’s a Nicaraguan. Do they make 109s? (humour).

Perhaps over the course of this review my finely honed aficionado pallet will be able to provide an answer?

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109, Edición Regional Mexico 2007 unlit

It’s an odd duck, the Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109, and caused quite a stir on its release. Traditionally when commissioning a regional release the distributors are allowed to choose from the second tier brands: no Cohiba, no Romeo, no Upmann, and no Montecristo (and rightly so, as were this restriction not in place I’m certain that the regional release program would quickly degenerate into a dozen or so Cohiba giant perfectos being released every year). This cigar, of course, is not a Montecristo, but an Edmundo Dantes, a new brand with bands and packaging almost identical to that of Montecristo, and named after the central character in The Count of Montecristo, the same namesake as the Montecristo Edmundo. I have heard no official explanation from Habanos S.A. as to why Mexico was allowed to release a regional faux Montecristo, although I’ve seen “copyright reasons” bandied about as the reason for the Edmundo Dantes brand (an excuse that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, as I’m fairly sure they sell normal Montecristo cigars in Mexico). The reviews though have been universally excellent, and it’s a sought after collectors cigar for both its quality and novelty.

The cigar begins beautifully, velvet full cream milk from the first breath. Really wonderful, the best beginning I remember from a cigar in years. It’s viscous that cream note, raw full fat. Honestly it overpowers even the taste of the tobacco. There’s the slightest spice on the back pallet.

I’m on the deck at the Groom compound, and it couldn’t be nicer. A full open blue sky and just a whisper of gusty sea breeze. I am wearing a shirt, but not one button is buttoned. What a glorious day for a glorious cigar.

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109, Edición Regional Mexico 2007 somewhat burnt

I have a beer by my side, steadily warming in the sun, and honestly I’m loath to open it as I don’t want to contaminate my pallet. It’s a Matilda Bay Fat Yak pale ale, probably the beer that has benefited most from the trend toward a higher class of beer that has been seen in Australia (and worldwide) in the last five years or so. When I were a lad we drank Carlton Draught, pure and simple, or perhaps a Coopers if you were deep in the heart of bohemia. Nowadays Fat Yak flows from every tap, and much else besides, and it’s not unusual that I enter a pub and am confronted with a slew of beers I’ve never seen before. I rail against connoisseurism in beer; beer to me is a working man’s drink, a simple low alcohol relaxant to sip on after work in order to remove a few stresses from the day and stop you going home to beat your wife. Real drinkers, real connoisseurs, and indeed, real wife beaters, should distil beer to its essence, to whiskey, if they want to be serious about something. Even as far as beers go I don’t care too much for Fat Yak (it’s too hoppy), but it’s hard to argue that it’s not an improvement on Carlton.

I didn’t bother to bring out an ashtray, and have been resting the cigar on the table edge, or the bottle cap, or whatever other detritus happened to be at hand, and the occasional gusts of wind have frequently sent it rolling (to my great distress). That is until I realised the great advantage of the 109’s unique conical top: it sits perfectly in the neck of a beer bottle.

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109, Edición Regional Mexico 2007 somewhat burnt, in a beer bottle

It’s a good size the 109. Basically a Churchill but with a little bit of character. There were a lot more of them in the old days – the Partagas Lusitaniasused to be one – but they died out at some point. They’re on the way back in now, appearing from time to time as regionals or other limiteds, which brings us to our central question: is this an Edmundo Dantes or something else? Halfway through it is all mild, toasted tobacco. No spice at all, some earthy overtones, a little bean. It’s a first class cigar, that’s for certain, and certainly reminiscent of the better Monte ELs, the Grand Edmundo et al, but it doesn’t have what I would describe as the classic Montecristo flavour.

With two inches to go it goes out, and I relight it. The burn has been acceptable, but a little erratic the whole way through. This is the first extinguishment, but I’ve had to touch it up several times as the coal began to core. There is some ash and bitterness on the relight, but not much for a cigar this size. A great cigar. A classic.

What a way to spend a morning. I won’t lie; I removed my shirt some hours ago, and have been strutting up and down the deck like a pallid pasty lion, a hubris I’ll no doubt suffer for later on. Perhaps a gazelle more than a lion. I’m sorry, I’ve been reading Teddy Roosevelt’s book about big game safaris.

In the final moments the nicotine appears, although the tar is still very mild, with no bitterness. It has been more than two and a half hours since I lit up. I usually find that in the normal course of things I tend to smoke too quickly, and the cigar grows too hot, but when I’m taking frequent breaks to wax lyrical in these reviews it slows me down and the experience is much improved for it.

All good things must come to an end, and as the cigar begins to burn my fingers, I reluctantly heave the nub out into the highly flammable tea-tree.

Was this an Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109? Well, I wouldn’t bet money on it, but yes, I think it was. I’ll have to find another to compare.

Whatever it was, it was nonetheless an excellent cigar, and the better of anything I’ve smoked thus far for this blog; better than a Monte 4, better than a Monte Sublime, and better even than the Dunhill Selección No. 1. If you have the means I highly recommend you pick one up, whatever it is.

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109, Edición Regional Mexico 2007 nub

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico at the Cuban Cigar Website

Montecristo Sublimes Edición Limitada 2008

A handsome brute with lovely milk chocolate wrapper. A summer evening down at the Groom Compound, a pastoral holding in rural Victoria that has been in my family for several generations. I am about to enjoy this cigar with a friend and colleague. We’ll sit on the upper deck, looking out over the trees toward the ocean where in the distance the green lights of the shipping channel markers flash quietly to themselves. Flash, flash, flash, flash, pause. Flash, flash, flash, flash, pause.

Montecristo Sublimes Edición Limitada 2008, unlit and resting on a wine glass

Also visible in this picture: Ernest Hemmingway’s Green Hills of Africa (a cigar aficionado who reads Hemmingway? How unusual), a 10 count travel humidor I got free with a box of Cohiba Piramides EL 2005 (more on those later), the keys to the Groom Compound, resplendent on their fake Ralph Lauren Polo key-ring, and the Nokia 6300 (the be all and end all of mobile telephony). Not sure what the cord is from. The wine is a 2007 French cleanskin. I always find the more mild French wines very enjoyable after the brutish Australian reds that make up most of my intake. Just a nice, ripe, refreshing fruit on the pallet.

We head out to the deck and turn off the lights in the house so as to better appreciate the full sky of stars so alien to city boys like us. There will be very few photos. I try a few times, but it is just too dark, and the flash looks horrid.

I pluck the cap of the cigar with my nail, and give the cigar an experimental puff. Draw a little loose, is my first thought. It also occurs to me the second the thing touches my lips that 54 is just too thick. The Cohiba Sublime in 2004 was the first Cuban parejo to breach 52, following the Nicaraguans on their quest for higher and higher ring gauges, and since then there have to have been ten or twenty more. ELs, REs, lord knows those book Humidors seem to find room for another few points of ring gauge every year. It makes no sense to me. It’s just too big! It’s not comfortable in the mouth! Who enjoys these things? What possible advantage is there to them?

The first flavour that jumps out of this cigar is wet earth. If I had to be specific, I would say that it is the smell of the sandy soil of a peninsula when the rains are coming in downwind. It hasn’t rained in a week or so, but it’s been hot and blowy and the air is full of dust. The rains are working their way toward you, a kilometre or so off, and the air is carrying the scent of that freshly wet sandy soil to you in advance.

I remember when I first bought these cigars… not these examples, but others like them. It was February 2009, and I had a meeting in Brisbane early in the morning. By 11am I was done, deposited in the Brisbane CBD, a city I had visited only briefly once before, and some decades previous. I was spending the night with a friend, but she was working, and I wasn’t scheduled to meet her till 5pm. It was hot and sticky in Brisbane, as it often is, and I was uncomfortable in my woollen suit. I had a pie with mushy peas, a delicacy not often found in Melbourne, and admired the long tan legs that sat below the short shorts of the Queensland girls.

There was a cigar shop I’d dealt with online from time to time in Brisbane, and I thought to myself that perhaps I’d visit it, put a face to the name on my shipping label, and then find somewhere shaded to enjoy a long smoke while I waited for my friend. 2009 was well into the era of the ubiquitous smartphone, but I was still using a Nokia 6300 (although, much like the Sublimes this rambling anecdote is nominally about, it was a different example of the breed than the one pictured above), and so I phoned a friend who I thought would be sitting in front of a computer, and asked him to look up the address of the cigar store and give me directions from my current location.

It was not too far away, five kilometres or so, but I got lost several times (necessitating further phone calls), and the way was very hilly, so when I arrived at the store (more a mail order operation than an elaborate divan), in a suburban terrace house I was out of breath and absolutely soaked through with sweat. Nonetheless, I was ushered into the cool of the walk in humidor (after a moist and reluctant handshake), where I selected a then newly released cigar that was all the buzz of the moment, the Montecristo Sublime Edición Limitada 2008.

I found a café with an air-conditioned terrace down but the river, and enjoyed the cigar immensely. I later bought a box.

Three inches in the dusty wet earth has disappeared, and the classic richness of an EL is starting to come through. Full bodied premium tobacco. A hint of spice. A little salt. Slight bitterness. Could be burning too hot, it’s hard to shield the cigars from the sea breeze that is blowing in. My colleague says he tastes Chocolate, “that bitter 95% cocoa stuff,” but I don’t taste it. It is lovely though. An excellent cigar.

He disappears into the house, and comes back a few minutes later with toast, half a slice buttered and half with a little Dijon mustard. They both complement the cigar wonderfully. The Dijon is a revelation.

It gets bitter toward the end as you’d expect; a 54 ring is a lot of tar. I pinch the nub to suck out the last of the smoke, right to my fingertips. Perhaps that’s the point of 54 – they make good nubs. I flick the butt into the trees. A noble end to a first class smoke.

Better than a Monte 4.

Montecristo Sublimes Edición Limitada 2008 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Montecristo Dunhill Selección No.1

This is essentially a Montecristo No. 1 that has been banded as a Dunhill Selection. In the late 1960’s the Dunhill company reached a deal with the Cubans to produce a few brands for them and them alone, namely Don Candido, Don Alfredo and Flor Del Punto, as well as a number of cigars from other marques that were sold as Dunhill Selección cigars with special bands and boxes, of which this is one. All of these were discontinued in 1982 with the introduction of the Dunhill brand, and the Dunhill brand itself was discontinued in 1991 after a spat between Dunhill and the Cubans, but that’s a story for another day.

Montecristo Dunhill Selección No.1 unlit

Like many of my singles, this cigar was given to me a gift and I can’t speak for certain as to its age, however, given the discontinuation date, it must be at least 30 years old, and quite possibly older. The Dunhill exclusive brands have all gone on to become legendary cigars, much sought after at vintage cigar auctions, however not so much these selection cigars. I think you’d struggle to find someone with specific enough insider knowledge of the late 1970s Cuban cigar industry to say for certain one way or the other whether these cigars were the same blend as the regular production Monte 1s (and I lack the necessary 30 year old regular Monte to tell you myself), but my suspicion is that they are probably identical. The difference, if there is one, would come from superior quality control on Dunhill’s end.

I set this one on fire, and my first thought is that is has a lot of punch for a cigar this old. Strong, rich, toasted tobacco right through the nose. Draw is perfect. Wonderful. I’m pairing this cigar with Ron Zacapa XO, a fine old rum for a fine old cigar. Zacapa XO is a blended rum (which is to say, rum blended with quite a lot of sugar if you ask me), and their copy tells us that it is composed of rums aged six to twenty five years. To think, a quarter of a century ago this rum was sugarcane, this cigar was fairly fresh, and I was wearing short pants.

Montecristo Dunhill Selección No.1 partially burnt, with a Ron Zacapa XO bottle

An inch or so in and the flavour has mellowed out into something like what you expect from a very old cigar, but the cigar is having trouble holding its burn; I’ve had to retouch it several times. There is a gentle gusty breeze on the loose, and although I have moved the cigar into the lee of the Zacapa, it is nonetheless having trouble holding its ash. The ash itself is a dark, mottled grey, not the pure white that one often finds in elderly cigars like this.

Montecristo Dunhill Selección No.1 half left

I remember my first Monte No. 1. I purchased it for my 19th birthday, and took it to a very nice cocktail bar with some friends. There were four of us, with two cigars between us, and being 19 year old boys with a lot more knowledge of James Bond than of life, we ordered martinis (quite possibly my first martini), which were listed on the menu for a then exorbitant price of $15. “We usually make them with Tanqueray” the waitress said, “but I can do them with Tanq 10 if you like… it’s a little smoother.” “Yes, yes, of course” we enthusiastically replied, having no idea what Tanqueray or Tanq 10 were, but wanting nothing but the best. The drinks came, and being nineteen and more accustomed to vodka raspberry than anything else (I don’t think I was even drinking beer at 19), we found them disgusting, and when the bill arrived at our table, which of course included the upsell price of $25 for the Tanq 10, we found ourselves disinclined to order another drink. The Monte No. 1, however, is not a short cigar, and so we soldiered on. We were laughing loudly, I’m sure, like the young hooligans we were, and one of my non-smoking compatriots was tearing up a box of candy cigarettes he had in his pocket and throwing the pieces into the candle, which was burning like a small bonfire. Eventually the glass candle holder cracked and melted wax leaked all over the table, and moments later we were thrown out. I clipped the end from my Monte (of which three or so inches remained) and put it in a tube to smoke at a later date.

Two months later that very same pyromaniac (he came from a good Christian family), got married. It was an afternoon reception, and so, at 7pm, filled to the brim with boyish glee and free champagne, my friend Andrew and I found ourselves out on the town and ready to celebrate. We headed, of course, to a strip club; the dirtiest, and more importantly, the cheapest strip club we could find, and I produced from my pocket the remains of my Montecristo No. 1 (aficionado hot tip, people: cigars should not be half smoked and then stored in a tube for two months). I can’t image how it tasted, but I loved it, and in we plunged, taking two seats, right up against the main stage. We were there for 45 minutes or so, and turned down all the girls who asked us if we wanted a private dance. Eventually one came up with a jug full of money and explained that they were having a lesbian show on the stage in 5 minutes, and requested that we contribute. Being a diplomat above all else, I gave her a token amount, $5, but Andrew, he waved her away. “No thank you”, he said. In increasingly forceful tones the girl explained that we were sitting right on the stage, and had been for some time, and that he really had to contribute some money or cede his seat. At this, Andrew defiantly withdrew a five cent coin from his pocket (the smallest unit of Australian currency) and tossed it contemptuously into the jug.

Suffice to say, we were thrown out shortly after. I don’t remember what happened to the cigar. I suppose I left it in the ashtray.

Two thirds in, this cigar is delightful, an aged, creamy elegance, with just a touch of spice. A little tar on the back palette is easily dissolved by the rum. I take it down till it burns my fingers, and it grows a little bitter, but not very, the age has taken away a lot of the tar. In the last few puffs something strange materialises… a tangy herb… cilantro, maybe? Perhaps the bite of a nasturtium? It’s interesting, but it lasts for only a moment. A wonderful, elegant cigar.

Better than a Monte 4.

Montecristo Dunhill Selección No.1 nub

Montecristo Dunhill Selección No. 1 on the Cuban Cigar Website.

Montecristo No. 4

My years of involvement with the Cuban Cigar Website (the world’s best online Cuban Cigar encyclopaedia), my travels, and the generosity of my friends and benefactors, has given me a diverse and interesting collection of exotic cigars. They are singles in the main, many taken from commemorative humidors and the like, and at first I saved every one that came into my possession, either for my collection or perhaps to enhance some significant life event in the future. As the stack grew I began to wonder why. What was I saving them for? One can only have so many 50th birthdays and give birth to so many masculine children.

I have decided, therefore, to smoke them, and so they don’t burn entirely in vain, I’ll journal the process and publish the result. The cigars I will smoke here are rarities and exotics, things one only rarely sees reviewed, and while I don’t pretend to have the palate to offer any valid criticisms (and besides, what’s the point, as in the main they’re not things you can rush out and buy based on my recommendation), perhaps from time to time I might be able to offer a little insight.

All of which brings us to this, the first smoke of the journal, the Montecristo No. 4.

Montecristo No.4 unlit

Alright, I concede, it’s not the most exotic of cigars. It’s not a Montecristo No. 4 from the 21st Century Humidor (more on that later), or a Compay Segundo Monte 4 (more on that later), or some other strange beast, no, this is instead the humblest of creatures, purchased from a liquor store. I couldn’t see the dial on the hygrometer, but I’m fairly sure it would have read the same as the ambient humidity.

I light up the cigar, and immediately inhale the smoke into my nose far too closely and deeply, burning the inside of my nasal passage. When I’ve recovered I take a few puffs. The first notes are acrid and bitter. It’s too hot, too soon after lighting, and the cigar itself is a little dry.

For decades the Montecristo No. 4 has been the most popular cigar in the world (although I heard once that the Partagás Serie D. No. 4 was catching up), and this is how they are smoked, from liquor stores and head shops. No aficionado bullshit here, this is the everyman cigar, the absolute most common cigar experience, and the bar to which the lofty exotics to come shall be compared.

My first cigar in life was some three dollar Nicaraguan piece of shit that came in a plastic tube.  I bought it for a buck’s night, and not having a cutter, I bit the end off with my teeth, removing about an inch of cigar in the process. Shards of tobacco came away from it whenever it touched my lips, and I found myself spitting after every puff, the flavour something akin to a rubber fire.

I don’t recall what I enjoyed about that experience, but I must have taken something from it, because a few months later I purchased a small plastic cutter and my second cigar in life, a Montecristo No. 4.

Montecristo No.4 three quarters remaining, balanced on a lighter

Oh what a difference, the flavours of Cuba, that delicious tang of finely toasted tobacco. Rich and spicy, bitter toward the end from the tar, but never that chemical rubber tang of an inferior smoke. There are echoes of that cigar in this one. There is certainly nothing unpleasant about it. The tobacco is slightly tannic, a little spice on the back pallet. Perhaps it’s all my talk of the everyman, but I feel that there’s a flavour of something rural that I just can’t quite put my finger on. It’s not the barnyard, or the earth, or the sweat of calloused hands, nor motor oil or sheep dip. Honestly, the more I try and pin it down the only thing I think I can taste is ketchup. Not sure where that’s coming from, but probably not the cigar or the glass of water that I’m pairing it with.

For years I kept a box of Montecristo No. 4 cigars in stock at all times, and presented them freely to anyone who was curious to try their first cigar. Once, in the early days of my habit I stumbled upon a website that seemed to offer prices well below those found in other online retailers. I bought a box, and as much as it hurt me to admit it at the time, I eventually had to face the fact that they were obviously fakes. Still, sunk costs are sunk costs, and so I mixed them one to two into my stock to hand out at parties. They were awful those fakes, real strips of tyre rubber, and I could tell more or less who had gotten what entirely by whether or not they ever asked for a cigar again.

More than halfway now and there’s a little tar, a little bitterness. A little nicotine too, no doubt. I include these photos to add some visual interest and because every cigar blog seems to do it, although I’m not entirely sure I see the point.

Montecristo No.4 half smoked, balanced on an Honest lighter

I remove the band, which comes away very easily. It’s embossed, which makes this cigar post-2006, although given its very dubious origins and storage history, I wouldn’t put a lot of stake in anything that can tell us. Here’s an aficionado tip: if you care about box codes, you shouldn’t be buying your cigars at liquor stores or petrol stations. Honestly though, this cigar has been pretty good. The burn has been dead even the whole way, no relights or touch-ups, and the draw is perfect, a good firm Cuban draw.

The bitter end; every puff leaves a tingle on my tongue and makes me salivate. I rinse and spit, but keep smoking. Perhaps it’s the nicotine, but while the end of a cigar like this is objectively unpleasant, I can’t help but love it. I find myself puffing deeper and more often at the end, making the cigar burn hotter and bitterer. I have a small head rush at the temples.

With a centimetre to go the cigar is burning both my fingers and lips, and shows no signs of extinguishing itself, so finally I make the call and toss it; it lands in a patch of wild mint that grows near the fence. Perhaps the mojitos of my future will take one some of the flavour of this Monte 4. I rinse the last puff from my mouth with the water, and the bitterness removed I am left with the aftertaste that follows the last swig of strong coffee.

I don’t have an especially well developed pallet, and honestly, I like everything, and so I don’t feel qualified to rate cigars at 94 out of 100 or anything like that. It is therefore my vague intention to rank all future cigars against this one (a device that I image will be discarded, perhaps as early as the next entry). One would hope, given the exotics that I plan to compare it with, that this cigar will remain perpetually at the bottom of the list, however, at this moment I feel like the bar has been set fairly high. A thoroughly enjoyable experience. I see why these are so popular.

Montecristo No.4 nub on wooden garden table

Montecristo No. 4 on the Cuban Cigar Website