Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011

For the first release in Mexico’s regional program they created a truly interesting cigar in the Edmundo Dantes el Conde 109. It was from a new brand, Edmundo Dantes, a sort of faux-Montecristo created for the occasion, and had all the trimmings of that in its unique packaging; it was also a beautiful size, a 109, an old classic size from the distant past that is no longer present in any current production, recent examples existing only in the most exclusive of special production humidors (it has since appeared in a few other regional editions, but Mexico got it first). Based on this alone the collector’s market would have sold out as much as they could produce, but on top of everything it was also a great smoke.

So what of the sequel? How do you follow up a classic like the el Conde 109? Perhaps with something bold, like a Montecristo Culebras? Perhaps reach into the archive and bring back the Montecristo No. 7, something like that? No. For the second release in their regional program they chose to do another cigar from Edmundo Dantes, this time the Conde 54, a 54 x 164mm Sublime, a size that was invented in 2004 to fulfil what demand I can’t say, an by 2011 had already appeared in five regional editions and two limiteds.

Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011 unlit

For reasons I’m not totally clear on, I’ve decided on this pleasant morning to hang up the hammock, and to subject myself to the unique set of physics problems one encounters when trying to balance a small fire, a full cocktail and a laptop (not to mention my ungainly frame) in a sack hanging between two trees. Access to additional rum and ginger beer are also important considerations: they’re on the ground next to me, at a height where reaching for them will take me right to the edge of my centre of gravity.

The cigar takes a while to light (I can’t keep everything steady enough), but once it’s going it begins very well, light tobacco over a gentle, herbal spice and alfalfa sprouts. Draw is a little modern (read loose) for my taste, but perfectly workable.

I used to associate at one point with a man named Job, a nine fingered deviant of the highest order, who would occasionally travel to Mexico on business. He told me that before each trip he would pack a large cleaver in the outer pocket of his checked baggage, withdrawing it immediately upon picking up his bag from the carousel. This, he said, was an important security measure that would give him enough of a weapon to get through the arrivals hall to meet his driver, who would offer him a gun before a handshake.

Job was in liquor, and perhaps the tequila factory towns that he frequented were more dangerous Mexico City, where I spent the entirety of my two visits to that country. I never felt in danger, staggering through the dimly lit streets, drunk as much on altitude as the 1L bottles of Corona I bought for less than a dollar at every 7-11. It’s definitely a dangerous city: cops carry automatic shotguns and wear bandoliers, whether they be on beat patrol or horseback riding lawmen in elaborate sombreros… but day to day? Violence on the streets? I don’t know, seemed safe enough to me.

Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011 half smoked in a hammock

With the second half gone the cigar has become woody, not cedar, oak maybe. It’s definitely thicker, anyway, and there’s a little peaty whisky in there. I wish I could say that the predominant flavour in this cigar was chorizo and agave, but alas, much as the German regionals rarely evoke flavours of beer and sausage, the Mexican ones taste only of Cuba. I suppose the Swiss ones do occasionally have some chocolate.

The Lucha Libre, Mexico’s acrobatic masked wrestling code, is held at a colosseum in Mexico City. The cheap seats are in the dress circle, where a cyclone wire dome above the ring prevents the screaming fans from falling onto the mat below. The beer seller quickly clocked my friends and I as foreign party-boys out for a good time, and kept the five peso (50c) plastic cups of Sol in ready supply. My favourite wrestler was Mr. Mexico, who looked like Freddy Mercury in silver pants; I hoped that at the end he would be revealed as the President of Mexico performing a publicity stunt, and perhaps he was: my Spanish is mediocre at best, and my knowledge of Mexican politics even worse.

I remember that on the walk back to our hotel my friend observed that the streets were very dimly lit, and that the guidebooks had characterised this area as “rough.” He suggested that we had best be on our guard. I also remember that we stopped at a street vendor for chorizo tacos, and that those tacos were more or less the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. I’ve ordered chorizo tacos at every opportunity since then, but have never been able to recreate the experience.

Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011 final third

In the final inch the nicotine begins to catch up with me, a slight wooziness and pain around the temples – one should never underestimate the amount of leaf getting burned in these fat boys. I also have a huge crick in my neck from trying to type in a hammock. It ends well, not nearly as bitter as I’d expect, with final notes of grass, wood, and a sweet herbal tang.

At the risk of drawing a very long bow, I’d say that like Mexico City, the Conde 54 is a safe cigar, and more or less indistinguishable from many similar regional editions (major metropolises). Perhaps it’s in the countryside that you find the real Mexico, the dangerous, beautiful, crazy Mexico; the El Conde 109 Mexico.

Overall the Conde 54 falls somewhere at the upper end of good, not as good as it’s predecessor, but better than a Monte 4, many of the collector’s humidors, and the more lacklustre LEs.

Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011 nub

[Note on hammocks: I debated making this article entirely a blow by blow journal of things falling out of my hammock, but decided ultimately that writing about Mexico would be more interesting for the reader. Suffice to say that after I spilled my cocktail on my crotch for the third time, I went and dragged over a seat on which to rest my various apparatus. From there, the following steps repeated ad nauseam:

1)      The cigar would blow off the seat where it was resting.

2)      I’d lean over to get the cigar, and the cushion that was doing a very lacklustre job of preventing neck pain while using the laptop would fall out.

3)      I’d pick up the cigar and place it on the bench, then go for the cushion.

4)      While dusting off the cushion, the hammock would start swinging, and I’d knock the cigar back onto the ground.

An ashtray really would have helped. You don’t even want to know the process involved in balancing the cigar on the edge of the hammock for the photos.]

Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 Edición Regional Mexico 2011 on the Cuban Cigar Website

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007

Mid-May, readers, and I’m exactly where I was four months ago: the Groom compound, shirtless with a dark and stormy. What a summer! (For the foreigners, shirtlessness in Melbourne typically ends in March, or at the absolute latest, with Daylight Savings in April). Today I’m smoking an Edmundo Dantes el Conde 109, a cigar regular readers may recall from earlier in the season. That one was an unbanded single, an Edmundo Dantes only in my mind; this is the real deal. Will my hypothesis hold up?

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007

The opening photo from that issue showed the Dantes on a table, wet and glistening in the sun. Nobody enquired as to why my cigar might be wet, but nonetheless I’m about to tell you: my name is A. T. Groom, and I am a rinser.

The rinsing technique did the rounds of the cigar aficionado community a few years ago, and we divided pretty firmly along the lines of ‘people who’ve tried it and sort of believe in it’ and ‘people who thought it was a joke.’ I’m not sure who started it, but it got a big boost when Min Ron Nee, the author of the definitive work of Cuban cigar aficionadoism, An Encyclopaedia of Post-Revolution Cuban Cigars, came down firmly in favour (so much so that since then it is usually referred to as “Min Ron Nee’s Rinsing Technique”, even though he is plainly not the progenitor) . The technique involves running the cigar head first under a tap for a few moments immediately before lighting. The oils in the wrapper repel most of the water, but that last minute dose of moisture supposedly helps the cigar burn cooler and more evenly throughout. I haven’t been too scientific about it, but I can confidently say that if it doesn’t help it at least does no harm. Well, not much harm: if you handle it roughly while it’s wet the wrappers are a bit prone to tearing, but that’s on you. At any rate, rinsing is fun, and while I don’t do it with every smoke, I do do it when it’s convenient and when I remember. I did it with that cigar, and I did it with this one.

The Dantes begins excellently, low-medium tobacco with a hint of spice and cream. Throughout the first inch the cream grows, and although it never quite reaches the velvety decadence of the possible Dantes 109, it is nonetheless excellent. There is a very strong sweet undertaste that is just delicious. Reminds me of a pavlova, a sweet mess of sugar and cream. And, y’know, fire and tar and whatnot.

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007 a bit less than half smoked

Now that I think about it, I nearly discovered the rising technique by accident six or so years ago when I was smoking a Monte 4 in a Jacuzzi and the cigar fell from my lips during a particularly uproarious guffaw. I fished it out immediately and was surprised to discover that the cigar was still lit, and appeared to have suffered no damage from the experience. It had also had enough heat in it to singe my chest hair underwater. I didn’t think to note whether or not the flavour was improved post-dunking, but in retrospect I’m sure that it was.

Into the second half the draw tightens considerably and grows a bit tar flavoured  although I’ve no idea how that’s possible. The tightness of a cigar’s draw is a product of its construction: how tight the leaves are rolled together, and how much smoke can pass between them. I don’t see any way that a cigar can grow tighter as it burns – if anything it should grow looser as the tightly bound portions are combusted – and yet this one has. The only solution I can offer is that perhaps only a portion of the cigar is burning, and I am having to puff harder to fan the smaller coal, although upon inspection that does not appear to be the case.

Curious, I take to the business end fairly vigorously with the bottom of the lighter, scraping out a lot of ash and messing the thing right up, but not finding a coal. The leaves are blackened, but not on fire. Is it smouldering? Although smoke still draws, I apply some flame, which improves things a little, although not as much as I’d hope. Perhaps the breeze is bothering it, or perhaps the proximity of the heat caused something lower in the cigar to expand, and tighten the draw.

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007 final inch

For a fleeting moment I wonder if perhaps the rinsing technique is the source of my troubles. Surely not. In the final third the cream has gone, and with it much of the sweetness. The flavour at this stage is a broad bitter coffee.

Whatever ever else has resulted, my physical abuse of the nub has removed a good deal of tar from the business inch, and the cigar ends quite lightly, bittersweet, with a murmur of cream and coffee.

This Edmundo Dantes was not nearly as good as the last one, although the flavour profile was similar enough that I’m willing to conclude that they were the same cigar, and chalk the differences up to storage, climate, mood, variation within boxes, how long before rolling the dusky torcedora had washed her hands, what I had for breakfast and so on.

It’s a good cigar: not the classic it can be when it’s on, but nonetheless excellent. Better than a Monte 4 and a great deal else, sitting somewhere at the upper end of the middle echelon.

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007 nub

Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 Edición Regional Mexico 2007 on the Cuban Cigar Website

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