Foto/Blog Gaspar, El Lugareño
And what would be lost? A certain cachet. Some memories. I learned to smoke on Cubans, two boxes I carried back to Washington from a visit to Havana in the late 1990s. It was good to start small—the Romeo y Julieta “Cedros”—and in the open air, to build up tolerance before moving on to the second box, Cohiba “Lanceros” so obviously counterfeit that the customs agent at the Dallas airport (“we just had a class on cigars”) handed them back to me, shaking his head. By the time I moved abroad, Havanas were about all you could buy in the duty-free humidors of the airports a foreign correspondent knows better than his own bed. I once expensed a box of Bolivar Gigantes after handing them out to help battle the stench on a Ugandan hilltop that produced not one but two mass graves; the accounting department put it through.
They also made great gifts, though it was a mistake not to tell a friend about the handful I’d tucked into his knapsack before driving him to the airport for his flight back to Los Angeles. A customs agent found them first and “cut them up there in front of me,” he reported later, not happy. He was a freelancer who wrote profiles for Cigar Aficionado, usually celebrities, some of whom would stay in touch after publication, calling him up when they got their hands on some Cubans. “The people who want ’em are getting them,” says Bill Sherman, grandson of the New York tobacconist who took in the owner of Partagás after he was driven out of Cuba. The Nat Sherman Townhouse sells its own brand, but a cabinet of 400 pre-embargo Partagás has pride of place in the members’ vault on 42nd Street in Manhattan, perhaps the largest stock in the U.S. of pre-Revolutionary cigars, a level of exclusivity that approaches either the effervescent or the ridiculous, depending. But there’s a reason for its following.
“What makes a Bordeaux from Bordeaux special?” Sherman asks. “You can’t take a Bordeaux seed and plant it in Napa Valley and get the same wine. It’s the soil, the sun, the climate.” Still, over the years, California has managed some superior varietals of its own, as drinkers grew more sophisticated and learned to trust their own tastes. Something like that may happen if Cubans hit the States.
“I gotta tell you, as a retailer, I’m ecstatic. We’ll be selling them,” Sherman says. But without the mystique of the forbidden, Cubans will have to earn their place in the pantheon. “You go to Spain,” he notes, “and Cuban cigars are less expensive than Domincans.” (Read full text at Time Magazine)