The Montecristo 520, Edición Limitada 2012: at the time of writing this is the most recently released special edition Montecristo; at the time of writing this is the last remaining true special edition Montecristo that this column has not reviewed. I’ve saved it till last for a reason: I’m preparing a ranking, a definitive ordered list of all the Montecristo cigars, and I wanted to save something till the end that might just cause a last minute upset. This cigar has a lot of competition to stare down: Edición Limitadas with a decade more age on them, the rarest of super exotics, and cigars made without compromise for just this kind of competition, and yet, if anything can upset the field I think it might just be the 520. Not many cigars have had the kind of rave reviews that the 520 has had.
It’s a sunny winter’s afternoon, 13 degrees in the shade, and I’m out in my backyard. I’m joined via satellite by an old smoking buddy, one of my first journeyman companions in the world of Cuban cigars. He has washed up as a clerk in a cigar store in Canada, and today he will be smoking a Montecristo 520 alongside mine; a herf just like old times, despite one third of the earth’s circumference being between us.
I light the 520 with a match (I ran out of liquid butane about three months ago, and have gradually exhausted the chambers of all the jet lighters that are scattered about my house. It really is getting to crisis point), fairly unevenly. The early notes have a strong oak flavour, with a little dry spice.
Construction is adequate, if a little on the loose side; the burn evens up nicely after my very irregular light. It does, however, suffer from the 55 ring gauge mouth feel. Aficionados object to the rise of the 55 ring gauge for a lot of reasons: the fatter cigars deliver a much bigger punch, fuller flavoured with more nicotine, which means they trend less elegant, less delicately flavourful; the fat boys are also a break from the ancient traditions that make up the mystique of Cuban cigars; and their rise has been indomitable, with many new fat cigars released at the cost of many thin ones discontinued. It also seems like with fat cigars Cuba is chasing the one market in the world that doesn’t sell their product: the USA. For me though, the main objection I have to the 55 is the mouth feel. I don’t know what it is, the difference between a 55 and a 52 is so small that I can’t see why I’d notice it, and yet I do. Those three extra sixty-fourths of an inch are a bridge too far. They make my jaw ache.
The old Mercedes 600 Grossers in the ‘60s had a three pronged star hood ornament that was twenty per cent larger than the one on the standard car, for no reason other than that the fastidious German engineers felt that the smaller size looked out of proportion atop that gargantuan grill. Typically a fat Cuban cigar will wear the same band as its more svelte brethren – it might be longer to accommodate the gauge, but the detail will be the same size. On this particular Montecristo cigar though, the crest itself is huge – I’d say about twenty per cent bigger. Perhaps they felt it was out of proportion atop this gargantuan ring gauge. It’s funny, because Cuban engineers are usually anything but fastidious.
Memories linked to smell and taste are the most powerful, and when a tang forms in the cigar one hits me like a truck. I was about eight years old, traveling with my parents. We had spent a few days staying with some friends in Singapore, and they’d given us a gift of a bag of lollies, presumably to keep my sister and I quiet on the flight. They were lemon sugar drop things, but coated in a white powder that gave the lolly an intensely sour taste for a few moments, before the sweet of the sugar relieved it. The powder was dusted on the sweets, and so a good deal of it collected in the bottom of the bag, such that when my father opened it, particles of the powder would become airborne, giving off a distinct, chemical lemon tang. That is the flavour I taste now in the Montecristo 520.
On the other side of the world my colleague tastes chocolate. I am all around it, but not there. There is cocoa, sure, and coffee, and some other beans, but it lacks the sweetness needed for me to call this chocolate. There is a bitterness one might confuse for a very pure chocolate, but to me it’s coffee, the bitter end of a Turkish cup.
As I burn into the final third the flavour of cream is present. The cigar is so mellow that I can barely taste the tobacco. Tar pokes through from time to time for the penultimate inch (quite reasonable for the business end of a large cigar like this), but as the coal crosses into the final one the tar dissipates entirely. It is simply sweet and creamy, with a hint of spice.
The final notes are of a well-used leather wallet. I smoke it all the way to the end. People sometimes ask me what the secret is to smoking a cigar all the way. “How do you not burn your fingers?” they say. “You don’t” I tell them. “The secret is not to care.”
So here’s the straight dope: the Montecristo 520 is a great cigar. You can still buy boxes if you’re prepared to look around for ten minutes, and you definitely should.
I can say with every confidence that in 2013, with less than a year of age on it, this cigar is better than the 2000 Robusto EL with thirteen. It’s also better also than the C, the D, the 2006 Robusto, and even the 2001 Double Corona and the 2008 Sublimes (although, interestingly, of these the Sublimes comes the closest).
There is, however, one Montecristo EL that the 520 is not better than: it’s immediate predecessor, the 2010 Grand Edmundo.
Why, I wonder, in 2013 are the three most recent Montecristo Edición Limitadas the three best Montecristo Edición Limitadas? Have the older ones peaked, and are on their way out? Do ELs not age well? My major complaint about all the old ELs was of an overriding bitterness, which is not usually a symptom of a cigar that is past its prime (usually quite the opposite in fact). Perhaps it’s just that the new ELs have been made to peak as they’re sold, and will fall off dreadfully in the near future.
Or perhaps those Cuban tobacco engineers have become a little fastidious in the last few years. Perhaps their hard work has paid off, and the cigars are simply reflecting that. Perhaps the Montecristo 520 is progress.