Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Montecristo No. 4

Origin: Cuba
Format: Mareva

Ring Gauge:
12.90 cm / 5.0 in
Weight: 8.46 gr.

Info: The Montecristo brand was created in 1935 by Menéndez, García y Cía, then the owners of the popular H. Upmann brand of cigars. Having just purchased the H. Upmann marque from J. Frankau & Co., Menéndez and García decided to produce their own subset of the regular H. Upmann line, called the H. Upmann Montecristo Selection.

The name for the brand was inspired by the Alexandre Dumas, père novel The Count of Monte Cristo, which was supposedly a very popular choice among the torcedores (cigar rollers) in their factory to have read by the lector on the rolling floor.

On the insistence of the John Hunter firm of Great Britain (which would later merge with J. Frankau & Co. to form Hunter & Frankau, Britain's sole importer of Cuban cigars to this day), the name was shortened to simply Montecristo and a new logo was designed for it: the yellow and red "crossed swords" logo the brand still bears today.

Through the efforts of Alfred Dunhill, Ltd., the Montecristo brand became incredibly popular worldwide and to this day accounts for roughly 50% of Habanos SA's worldwide cigar sales, making it the most popular Cuban cigar in the world. After the Cuban Revolution and the nationalization of the cigar industry in Cuba in 1961, Menéndez and García fled to the Canary Islands where they re-established the brand, but were later forced to quit due to copyright disputes with Cubatabaco. In the mid-1970s, the operation was moved to La Romana in the Dominican Republic and released for the US market, where Cuba's rights to the brand weren't recognized due to the embargo. Menéndez, García, y Cía is now owned by Altadis SA, who controls its distribution and marketing in the United States.

The original line had only five numbered sizes, with a tubed cigar added during the 1940s, but otherwise remained unchanged until after nationalization. With Menendez and Garcia gone after 1959, one of the top grade torcedores, José Manuel Gonzalez, was promoted to floor manager and proceeded to breathe new life into the brand. In the 1970s and 1980s, five new sizes were added: the A, the Especial No. 1 and 2, the Joyita, and the Petit Tubo. Three other sizes, the Montecristo No. 6, No. 7, and B, were released but subsequently discontinued, though the B can occasionally be found in very small releases each year in Cuba.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, Montecristo continued to rise in popularity among cigar smokers and firmly entrenched itself as one of Cuba's top selling cigar lines. The Montecristo No. 4 is, itself, the most popular cigar in the world market.

In 2004, another new edition to the regular line was made with the Edmundo, a large robusto-sized cigar, named for the hero of Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantès.

Montecristo is also regularly chosen to be featured in Habanos SA's annual Edición Limitada selection of cigars with a darker vintage wrapper and there are numerous limited edition releases of special Montecristo cigars for special occasions, anniversaries, the annual Habanos Festival, charities, etc.

Montecristo also produces three machine-made cigarillos: the Mini, the Club, and the Purito.

Appearance: Alas, not every cigar can be a beauty queen, and that was the case with this cigar. Rustic and toothy looking, this cigar kinda reminds you that this is an organic, handmade product. The wrapper was a nice medium brown color and there didn't seem to be any veins to it. That said it wasn't a particularly smooth or even looking cigar.

Pre-Light: This cigar smelled exactly as a Habano should, with wafts of that classic "barnyard" earthiness. Clip was easy and flush and beautiful, with the Credo. Prelight draw was a bit tight, and yielded more of that earthiness, and some smoky woodiness.

Burn/Draw: Before getting into this I have to say that more than almost any other cigar (and definitely more than any other Habano), the construction on the Monte 4 can be a bit of a crap shoot. I have probably smoked about a box worth of these cigars over the years, and about half of these have had a noticeably tight draw. A bigger concern is 4-5 of the Monte 4s I have smoked were outright plugged. I don't know what the deal with these cigars is, but they can be a construction issue. That said, the draw on this particular stick was noticeably tight as well, to the point where it affected the burn. It was not horrible to the point where the cigar was unsmokeable, but the cigar did require several touch ups. The funky burn and draw did not seem to affect the smoke to adversely, as with a bit of effort the cigar produced a fair amount of white billowing smoke.

Flavors: This cigar makes a good entry point for the new smoker into the world of Habanos. The dominant note down the whole length of the stick was that classic Cuban earthiness that carried over from the pre light. There was also that nice smokey woodiness, and some peppery spiciness at the end. This is the workman of Cuban stogies, where it finds the notes that suit it well and does not deviate from them much. That is okay though, the flavors are good ones. Another thing that should be noted is that this cigar comes across as rather muted in strength as compared to some of the other major players (PSD4, Epi2, etc.) of the Habano world. Still flavorful but it wont't knock you for a loop like some other sticks will. Overall this is one of the staples of Cuban cigars, and good to have around, especially if you are new to Habanos.


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