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Stogie Commentary: The ‘Cigar Aficionadoization’ of Cigars

30 Dec 2008

Not long ago I heard a radio interview with famous wine critic Robert Parker. Parker’s influence is so great that wines rated above 90 in his Wine Advocate, and particularly above 95, can increase in value many times because of the rating. According to one Bordeaux shipper, “The difference between a score of 85 and 95 [for one wine] was 6 to 7 million Euros” and a “bottle rated 100 can multiply its price fourfold.”

Cigar AficionadoBecause of this extraordinary influence many people have bemoaned what is called the “Parkerization” of wine. Some winemakers, including in the famous Bordeaux region of France, reportedly blend wines to Parker’s palate—which is described as favoring robust, fruit-forward wines. The huge influence wielded by Parker has resulted in stories of him being offered sexual favors of the daughters of two chateau owners, and also being attacked by a winemaker’s dog in response to a poor rating.

With such a singular palate exerting such influence over the wine industry, one can’t help but wonder might there exist a similar “Parkerization” of the cigar industry?

If there is, surely the source of such influence is Cigar Aficionado. By far the most widely read cigar magazine, CA is widely cited as one of the driving forces for the cigar boom of the 1990s that brought premium cigars back into popular culture and drastically increased the number of smokers.

One well-respected industry source told me that he thinks that some cigar makers actually design cigars with the preferences of Cigar Aficionado’s tasters in mind. And there is no doubt an extremely high rating in CA can drastically increase the demand of a cigar. One retailer told me the 95 rating for the Rocky Patel Decade earlier this year led to a serious shortage of the cigar, as consumers scooped up the highly-rated smoke.

But such influence isn’t necessarily bad if it accurately reflects the good and the bad. The problem is that cigars are so subjective. One must wonder if a tasting panel of a handful of people can rate cigars without their personal biases effecting the rating. My own take is that CA seems to place too much value on bold, forward flavors while discounting the subtlety that I believe differentiates the best cigars.

This subjective nature of rating cigars means that it is unwise for someone attribute much to the difference between an 88 and a 90-rated cigar. And quite frankly I’d feel sorry for the person who only smoked 93 and up rated cigars as determined by CA, as they would be missing out on so many fantastic smokes.

So whether reading our reviews, Cigar Aficionado‘s, or any other publication’s ratings, it is important to use the ratings only as guideposts—not gospel. Identifying a truly poor cigar isn’t all that hard, but separating the good from the exceptional is not nearly as easy and is far more subjective. We try and deal with that here at StogieGuys.com by giving not just a cigar’s name, a sentence or two, and a numerical rating, but by providing the depth that gives an insight into our thinking about the cigar we’re reviewing. (We also attribute every review to a specific writer so, over time, you might learn how a particular reviewer’s palate and tastes corresponds to your own.)

Ultimately, there’s a reason we have a saying around Stogie Guys: “The best cigar is the one you like best.” And to find the cigars you like the best, there’s no substitute for educating yourself about cigars, being willing to try new smokes, and learning not only what you like, but why. Cigar Aficionado may be a piece of that puzzle; making that publication the only piece, however, does the true cigar aficionado a disservice.

Patrick S

photo credit: Cigar Aficionado

Drew Estate

15 Responses to “Stogie Commentary: The ‘Cigar Aficionadoization’ of Cigars”

  1. Clark Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 8:00 am #

    Patrick,

    I love the analogy here. Great post and you're right on…use CA and other resources (like this great blog!) to help guide decisions…but at the end of the day, it's about what you like and what makes you happy. I'll link to you guys shortly, I just found the blog and love it!

    Best,

    Clark

  2. Matt Caruso (The Dai Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 8:58 am #

    would he be the same Robert Parker who wrote the "Spencer: For Hire" novels?

  3. cigarfan Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 9:09 am #

    Normally I can ignore CA and go on my merry way, but I was recently annoyed when they gave my trusty Padron Ambassador maduro a 91. They flew off the shelves and in some cases the price jumped 20 percent. Marvin and the boys should stick to their luxury cigars and leave my daily smokes alone…

  4. George E. Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 10:59 am #

    For a fascinating look into the rise and influence of Parker in the wine world don't miss "The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste" by Elin Mccoy. Even if you have little interest in wine itself, I can almost guarantee you enjoy the book and its many insights.

  5. Travis Lindsay Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 11:40 am #

    You're absolutely right. Cigar smokers should read CA and other cigar mags as well as read blogs and frequent message boards in order to get the most well rounded analysis of cigars. Great article.

  6. Travis Lindsay Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 2:43 pm #

    Guys,

    I’ve got to tell you the truth here; I don’t know if I would be smoking cigars if not for CA. I had been reading it for about a half a year before I smoked my first cigar and I’m glad it was there because smoking cigars has become an important part of my life.

    Magazines like CA, your great blog, and my blog all serve to talk about cigars and, hopefully, pique our reader’s interest in our passion. If you guys become the Parker of cigars I’ll be happy for you.

    In the end I’ll pay more for my cigars but that also means that the cigar makers will be getting more money and we’ll continue to get great cigars with a lot of variety.

  7. furious Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 3:09 pm #

    I remember that people used to flock to his Monkton, MD office (I worked in the area back in the early 90's) to catch the latest issue proof immediately before it went to press back in the early years. He was quite accessible back in the late 80's and early 90's; however, that all changed around the dot-com boom when prices really shot up.

  8. Patrick S Tuesday, December 30, 2008 at 3:38 pm #

    Matt-
    The novelist is Robert B. Parker. The wine critic is Robert M. Parker. (By the way, here is the radio interview with him that inspired this article.)

    Travis-
    I think many people first become exposed to premium cigars through CA, which is a great thing. I can say that the first box purchase I made was something I had first tried based on a high rating from CA.

    There’s nothing wrong with reading CA… I have a subscription. I just worry that for many people it is their only source of information, when they would benefit from other points of view.

  9. David Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 12:25 am #

    Great topic….I’m a chef and lived in france for several years, during that time I purchased every Parker book that was out and poured over every thing he wrote, he does know his stuff and his reviews provide great insight. Interestingly, the parallels between wine and cigars are tremendous. What I learned from wines and wine reviews…the fact that a persons enjoyment of a rich, fruity 15 dollar bottle of sangiovese doesn’t increase 10 fold when you pay 150$ for an equally fruity and much more exclusive bottle of pinot, this is an important reality, and one I apply to all cigar reviews I read. The information that runs through both these rating institutions has to be seen as potential only, especially with cigars which I believe to be more inconsistent than a vintage of wine. The real pleasure is in finding and stocking the mid priced wines/cigars that consistently supply great enjoyment. On a more base parallel, it’s like the concept my roomate in college taught me about picking up girls in a bar….first figure out who the best looking 5% are that nite(like the 60 year old precastro cubans that rate 98CA) and forget about them, every bonehead in the bar will be fighting over them and they probably have their head up their ass anyway. Then figure out which girls are in the next 5% these are the ones worth your effort, cigar reviews are kinda like that. Stay away from California chards, buy New Zealand ,Australian and Chilean and you’ll be fine.
    Cigars do change and procreate faster than wines, they’re both silly with numbers of varieties, and both a great pleasure to chase.
    …oh I’m crackin a Nicolas Feuillatte 95 cuvee speciale with a monte #2 in about 24 hours and i don’t even know what that wine rates in RP’s guides. I’ll be ok though….

  10. dmjones Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 6:00 am #

    Thank you for an intelligent and thoughtful article concerning the myriad issues, both good and bad, surrounding Cigar Aficionado. It's so easy for people to level the assertion that "the companies that buy the most advertising get the best reviews" and that seems to happen frequently on cigar blogs as well as the comments after postings. I did my own (highly unscientific) survey of a recent issue and found that to be complete bunk. The company that had paid for the most advertising in that issue was Ashton and as I remember, they had very few cigars even rated and none at the top of their categories. One of the companies that this conspiracy theory most revolves around is Altadis and how they pay for better ratings, but I have to say–not a single Altadis stick was in the top half of its category in that issue and most were at or near the bottom. Consistently, the cigars that rate in the top five of any category most frequently are the Cubans–and there are no advertisements for them at all!

    Perversely enough, there is a strong tie between "Cigar Magazine" and Altadis. Altadis would deny owning the magazine, but their corporate owner also owns the magazine, making them closely related. The one issue I saw of theirs was very heavy on Altadis reviews, whether good or bad.

    The bottom line is get opinions from a variety of sources and then try sticks for yourself. Enjoy the magazines for what they bring to the table or just don't buy them. Friends and novice smokers ask me frequently "what's a good cigar for…" and I can come up with my favorites, but I always have to add the caveat that it's up to an individual's tastes. What I like, you might not, and vice versa: for instance, many people love Davidoffs, but I find them to be extraordinarily mild, underflavored, and overpriced; I love La Flor Dominicana's Ligero and Double Ligero lines, but would never recommend them to a novice smoker because they would never want my advice again. I think both were probably fairly highly rated by Cigar Aficionado, though.

  11. CWS Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 7:20 am #

    As we all agree, taste is subjective. However, it pays to do your homework. I smoked cigars years ago and had an affinity for the full bodied, heavy smoke. After a long hiatus, my tastes have changed dramatically. Before every purchase, I research – either through CA, the local shops and the internet.
    I like to read and see what’s out there in order to make an informed decision.
    However, I must say I am partial to the reviews on this site – you guys have hit the nail on the head on many of the cigar reviews.

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