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Commentary: Check the Review’s Expiration Date

7 Feb 2013

I recently received an email offer touting a bargain price on a “94-rated” cigar. If you’ve ever purchased cigars online, you probably get similar offers emphasizing high ratings all the time.

watchCurious about this high rating on a cigar that I haven’t seen reviewed in years, I did a little digging. Turns out it received that 94 rating from Cigar Aficionado way back in 2001.

It’s also been rated more modestly three times since, and not at all since 2005. The “94” review said it was “rich and flavorful” while subsequent ratings describe “one-dimensional” and “sour” flavors. And that’s just how the description changed between 2001 and 2005.

I don’t mean to pick on this particular cigar (I’m not even going to mention it because I think many cigars are marketed in similar fashion), but it does raise a larger question: How much can any rating that old really tell someone trying to decide if they want throw down hard-earned cash? Even if you think the number “94” is noteworthy (personally, I’d be more interested in the description than the numerical rating) you can’t really think that it’s meaningful well over a decade later. Cigars change with time, and I don’t just mean due to years sitting quietly in the humidor.

The fact is, even with the most attentive cigar makers, blends can evolve with time. Changes in tobacco sources, quality control, palates, and just time mean that except for the band, there may only be a general resemblance between the “same” cigar rolled in 2000 and in 2012.

Much of the language and number system that cigar ratings are built on come from wine, but wine is made in (mostly) vintages and cigars overwhelmingly aren’t. Unfortunately, even box dates are still quite rare when it comes to non-Cuban cigars (but then Cuban cigars have box dates in part because most need a few years of aging before they are ready to be smoked).

That doesn’t mean cigar ratings don’t serve a purpose (we wouldn’t do them if we didn’t think they were useful), but don’t let a number be the be all and end all.

And remember: (1) Your palate is the final arbiter of whether or not you enjoy a particular cigar; (2) A review is just an evaluation of a certain cigar at a certain point in time by one particular person; and (3) A little skepticism of sales pitches never hurt anyone… especially when the pitch involves a review as old as a 7th-grader.

-Patrick S

photo credit: flickr

Drew Estate