In 1935, a Cuban entrepreneur named Alonso Menendez purchased his third cigar manufacturer and renamed it Montecristo. Legend has it that Menendez chose the name because someone read to the factory’s workers as they rolled the cigars every day, and the Alexandre Dumas classic was their favorite novel to which to listen. Over the next 25 years, the new Montecristo cigars company would rise in popularity, becoming a major player in the world cigar market.
Then Fidel Castro came to power and nationalized the Cuban economy, forcing Alonso Menendez to flee his home to the Canary Islands. Once there, Menedez founded his company a second time and gave it the same name. When the new Cuban government found out about this, they asserted that he was infringing on their trademarked intellectual property and forced him to dissolve his new company.
Finally, Menendez and his Montecristo cigars brand found a soft place to land in the US-controlled Dominican Republic–specifically in the city of La Romana. As far as the post-embargo US was concerned, Montecristo was Menendez’s intellectual property, and besides, there was no such thing as a Cuban trademark. Ever since there have been two unrelated, parallel brands of cigar called Montecristo: the original in Cuba, and the reincarnation in the Dominican Republic.
For the purposes of this review, we will treat the two companies as the same because–being founded by the same person–they produce cigars of similar quality, often calling them by similar and even identical names.
Whether Cuban or Dominican, Montecristo cigars may well be the most recognizable brand of cigars in the world. Their classic models like the No. 2 and the No. 4 are among the best-selling cigars globally every year and have been for many a decade. Since they are so known, Montecristo can source the best premium tobacco from whatever countries produce it, including producers such as their second home of the Dominican Republic but also Nicaragua, Peru, and Honduras. Some of the best tobacco that comes out of Honduras is licensed exclusively to the Montecristo cigars company.
A proper cigar has three main parts to its anatomy: the filler, the binder, and the wrapper. Earlier we spoke about some of Montecristo’s filler tobacco, but the wrapper is almost as important as what goes in the middle. Not only is its visual appearance important for stimulating that sweet anticipation, but a bad-tasting wrapper can ruin a good cigar. Conversely, the right wrapper can turn a great cigar into a classic.
Montecristo sources much of its wrapper tobacco from the Connecticut River Valley region in New England. That region has been growing tobacco since before the Europeans settled it in the late 17th century. It has been a vital tobacco-growing region for the West since at least the start of the 18th century.
The method of growing tobacco in the Connecticut River Valley, known as the “Connecticut Shade” method, began in the early decades of the 19th century. During that time, farmers and agricultural scientists found that although the Connecticut River Valley had quite the favorable climate for growing tobacco, the conditions could be improved by planting the crop in squared-off plots and shading those plots by hanging simple cotton sheets over them. The Connecticut Shade method hasn’t changed very much in the 120-or-so years since, although the shading sheets are now made of synthetic fiber instead of cotton.
The Montecristo cigars company makes a cigar (or ten) for every type of cigar smoker, from the enthusiastic amateur to the true aficionado. There are several Montecristo cigars in the classic $10 range. Now for many of us, a $10 cigar is already a plenty-premium, very-special-occasion, luxury cigar. It’s the type of thing we proudly included in a bundle of gifts for my groomsmen.
However, the portfolio of Montecristo cigars is as diverse as it is respected. If you are willing to spend $20 to $30 per cigar, you truly could experience some of the finest, most highly esteemed premium smokes in the cigar industry.
There are plenty of Montecristo cigars between the two extreme price points mentioned above. We recommend clicking on the Retailers button on the Montecristo cigars website and consulting the expertise of those professional sellers in person. But for those puffers who live too far away from such brick-and-mortar sellers to tap their knowledge, there are many websites that can serve: cigarsinternational.com; cigars.com; finestcubancigars.com; bestcigarprices.com; cigarsofcuba.co.uk.
How do Montecristo cigars stack up against other high-end smokes? Below, we will compare three premium cigars against one of the Montecristo brand’s most classic editions. First, the Montecristo benchmark:
Flavors of leather, cinnamon, and nutmeg. A tangy wood finish.
Country Of Origin Cuba And The Dominican Republic
As mentioned above, the filler tobacco for the No. 2 comes from many countries, and so does the wrapper tobacco. However, a large percentage of the No. 2’s filler tobacco comes from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Much of the wrapper tobacco comes from the Connecticut River Valley in the US.
The No. 2 was Cigar Aficionado Magazine’s 2013 Cigar of the Year. In their review, they call it “the undisputed king of torpedos,” comparing it to other similarly shaped cigars, both Cuban and otherwise. The No. 2 has been produced since 1935 and is a best-seller to this day. Cigar aficionados love this one, and so do newer, less-dedicated cigar smokers.
This is the only light-bodied cigar on our list and as such, is possibly the best one with which to introduce a non-cigar smoker to cigars. It is no novice’s cop-out, however; even the most seasoned, sophisticated cigar aficionado has bushels of respect for the Montecristo No. 2.
- Bright, accessible, delicious flavors and aromas.
- Extremely context-versatile.
- One of the oldest still-produced recipes. Every year, this cigar sells more units than almost any high-end cigar.
- A bit on the expensive side, especially if you consider the other premium cigars on our list.
- Some more-seasoned cigar puffers may be looking to branch out from this ubiquitous classic.
- Fans of heavier, fuller-bodied cigars may remain under-stimulated.
Nutty, cedar, leather. A cider finish.
Country Of Origin Dominican Republic
The filler and the binder are both from the Dominican Republic; interestingly, the tobacco for this cigar’s wrapper was grown in Cameroon.
This cigar was Cigar Aficionado Magazine’s 2017 Cigar of the Year. Their review put it like this: “Simply put: we did not want this cigar to end.” It is especially interesting that the Arturo Fuente company is able to produce a cigar which is this good while charging so little for it.
Medium-full body. This cigar is heavy in the mouth and nose, though not extremely so. The heaviness is the only reason I do not recommend it for new smokers, at least not over the Montecristo No. 2.
- Low price.
- Extremely context-versatile.
- Arturo Fuente’s reputation is sterling because of cigars like this one.
- A medium-full body is too heavy for some smokers.
- Founder Carlos Fuente, Sr. passed away in 2016. Instead of precise recipes, Fuente, Sr. blended his cigars himself, by following his nose. Thus a true Fuente will never again be rolled.
Coffee, chocolate, nuts. A black tea/cherry finish.
Country Of Origin Nicaragua
All three elements were sourced from Nicaragua.
This cigar has been Cigar Aficionado’s Cigar of the Year three different times and has been the runner-up twice. Like Fuente’s, Padron’s reputation is bulletproof. This cigar is one of those many reasons.
Medium-full. Heavy in the mouth and nose, though not extremely so.
- Powerful as it is, complex, nuanced flavors still emerge to delight the palette.
- Like Montecristo, you can’t go wrong with a Padron no matter which of their cigars you select.
- A bit expensive.
- A medium-full body is too heavy for some smokers.
Earth, leather, spice. A delicately sweet, molasses-like finish.
Country Of Origin Nicaragua
All three elements were sourced from Nicaragua. The filler came from Nicaragua’s Jalapa Valley.
Like the other brands in our comparison, Oliva has a long history of consistently high quality. This quality has remained, even after being acquired by a larger company, J. Cortes Cigars NV. This is the most full-bodied cigar of the four, yet still manages to produce graceful, subtle flavors that any aficionado will appreciate. Beginners and amateurs may not enjoy this one as much.
Full-bodied. Very heavy in the mouth and nose.
- Highly attractive price. You almost wonder why they don’t raise it.
- This will delight full-body cigar fans. This one packs lots of power, but still yields delicate flavors.
- The full body of this cigar will overwhelm some smokers.
- Though they’ve managed their acquisition well thus far, Oliva is at the mercy of J. Cortes Cigars NV. Stay alert for material changes.
When it comes to a first-ever cigar, the Montecristo No. 2 is easily the best choice for a novice smoker out of these four because of its light body and bright flavors. The next-best first cigar has to be the Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Eye of the Shark for the price, exotic wrapper, and the scrumptious taste. After that, the new smoker should try the Padron Serie 1926 No. 2. It is the most decorated of any on this list, and as they say about Elvis, 50,000,000 fans can’t be wrong. All the hype is substantial–this cigar boasts extremely bold and complex flavors that are sure to please aficionados, as well as aficionados-to-be. Finally, the fourth-best cigar out of four is the Oliva Serie V Belicoso. Nine times out of ten, this cigar will prove to be an acquired taste, although any enthusiast pursuing a well-rounded cigar palette should acquire that taste.
On the other hand, a veteran smoker should first make sure he or she has experienced the Padron Serie 1926 No. 2. For a developed palette, this is the most interesting-tasting cigar on the list, and it deserves a try if just for all the prestige it’s won.
Next, the aficionado should make sure he or she has smoked an Arturo Fuente Don Carlos Eye of the Shark because it’s delicious. Experts enjoy cultivating their savvy, and there’s plenty of savvy about the Eye of the Shark to be enjoyed. But let us not forget that we smoke a cigar to enjoy it, and smoke an exotic cigar to find out if we enjoy it. This cigar has a special claim on oral pleasure, which presumably is why the testers at Cigar Aficionado Magazine enjoyed it in 2017 enough to make it their Cigar of the Year.
The Oliva Serie V Belicoso should be sampled by only the most seasoned and adventurous puffers. While its low price makes it attractive to any budget-conscious businessperson, the bold, heavy body makes it an ordeal for anyone who is not ready for it. Smoke with caution–but by all means, please do smoke this one along with your cigar-smoking journey.
Finally, the Montecristo No. 2 fits in any cigar smoker’s sampling schedule first, last, and anywhere along the way. No cigar survives so much turmoil over the course of almost one hundred years by declining in quality. This cigar should be experienced sometime early in the aficionado’s journey, but exactly when is anybody’s choice. Like so many other smokers, we are sure you will enjoy it. This cigar is at bottom likable, and however much you like your favorite niche cigar, we think nothing can really, permanently change how likable this cigar remains.