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Sudden Stardom For A Moldy Oldie

Tasting and grading surprising Gispert and Cigar Boom survivor Caballeros!
Los Angeles, June 6 – "This very old brand is scarcely marketed nowadays and survives uniquely for the pleasure of a few connoisseurs."
That was about all the noted Swiss retailer Vahe Gerard could say about the Cuban production of the old Gispert brand way back in 1990 in his book, The Connoisseur's Guide to Havana Cigars. Then still made in a couple of handmade shapes, the brand survives today as a strictly machine-made cigar manufactured in Havana in just a single size.
Reportedly introduced in Cuba in 1940, Gispert certainly wasn't a brand that anyone other than dedicated enthusiasts even knew about and although Altadis U.S.A. owned the American rights to the trademark, so what?
That changed quickly when Altadis U.S.A. introduced Gispert as a handmade, value-priced brand, made in its Flor de Copan facility in Honduras in 2003. Its combination of handmade quality and modest cost made it a favorite very quickly and is today spoken of by retailers as one of the 20 biggest-selling brands in America.
We gave both of the Gispert styles – in natural and maduro wrappers – a try and the reasons for the brand's sudden and unexpected popularity became obvious.
Gispert – Natural wrapper:
[Honduras: available in 6 sizes]
The natural-wrapped version of the Gispert line features an Ecuadorian-grown, Connecticut-seed wrapper and has an elegant red band with gold trim. It's medium-to-full in body and has a spicy aroma.
Although there's a spicy element at the start, this blend offers primarily a light, creamy and slightly caramelized taste. Very well constructed, it burns evenly and is quite relaxing. A spicy note, mostly on the finish, returns in the second half and becomes the leading feature toward the end. However, an enjoyable balance is always maintained.
This blend debuted in 2003 and its appeal becomes clear once its quality of construction and agreeable taste is matched with its prices. At suggested retail prices of $2.80 up to $3.70 each (not including local tobacco and sales taxes), in boxes of 25, this cigar is a bargain.
Altadis U.S.A. further underscores the value proposition of Gispert by offering only the most popular shapes, four of which have ring gauges of 50 or more. The 5-inch by 54-ring Robusto is an undeniable value at $2.90 each! There are also two shapes (Corona and Toro) which are offered in glass tubes in boxes of 20.
Overall grade: A-: Excellent.
Gispert – Maduro wrapper:
[Honduras: available in 6 sizes]
The natural-wrapped version of the Gispert line was such a hit that a maduro-wrapped edition was sure to follow. However, Altadis U.S.A. didn't simply add a new wrapper.
In addition to using a Mexican maduro wrapper on this blend, it also applied a rigid square-press to the maduro line and changed the band just slightly, trimming the primarily red band in silver. All of the six maduro-wrapped shapes are offered in boxes of 20 rather than 25.
Introduced in 2005, the Gispert maduro blend is medium in body and has a spicy aroma. But the flavor is much richer than in the natural-wrapped version and it offers the sweet, caramelized taste that one hopes for in a top-flight maduro cigar.
Extraordinarily smooth from start to finish, the Gispert maduros burn evenly and will not tire you. The intensity of flavor recedes a bit in the second half, but the balance is perfect and never gets grassy or tart.
Even more impressive is the value in this line: the six shapes have suggested retail prices which range from $2.85 for the Corona (5 1/2 x 44) up to $3.75 for the Churchill (7 x 54). Any maduro lover, or simply any cigar smoker with a sweet tooth will become a Gispert enthusiast right away; it's that good.
Overall grade: A: Exceptional.
How would have expected the Gispert line to be so good? While we were at it, we also checked out a little-known brand, Caballeros, which has been marketed quietly for almost 15 years by James Norman, Ltd. of Englewood, New Jersey.
[Dominican Republic: available in 6 sizes]
Introduced in 1993, the Caballeros line features a Connecticut-grown wrapper and Dominican-grown binder and filler leaves and has remained steady since the earliest days of the Cigar Boom of the 1990s.
It's medium in body and has a spicy aroma at the start and offers the light, slightly caramelized taste that marked so many Dominican-made cigars of the 1990s. There's a spicy note on the finish and while the flavor calms in the second half, a pleasant balance is maintained throughout and the approach is consistent.
Caballeros is a nice cigar, well made and is reasonably priced from $3.60 up to $5.00; all six sizes are offered in boxes of 25.
Overall grade: B+: Very Good.
Caballeros Vintage:
[Honduras: available in 2 sizes]
This second version of the Caballeros line debuted in 2004 and was originally called Caballeros Aniversario, but the name was changed later to Caballeros Vintage.
Like the standard Caballeros line, this blend has a Connecticut-grown wrapper, but both sizes in the brand are box-pressed. The blend is medium in body and there's a toasty aroma.
The flavor is rich and caramelized and there's a spicy finish, too. The intensity of this taste recedes in the second half and the spiced elements come to the fore. This is a well-made cigar with an even burn and easy draw.
The Vintage will be more in line with the tastes of today's smoker as the depth of flavor is stronger than that in the original Caballeros. Offered in boxes of 20, the Rothchild (5 x 50) has a suggested retail price of $4.75 and the Toro (6 x 54) is priced at $5.50 each.
Overall grade: B+: Very Good.
While the Caballeros blends were interesting and enjoyable, the two Gispert lines a revelation, especially the maduro with its bright and intense caramelized flavors. It's clear now that for at least this one marque, the U.S.-marketed version of an old Havana brand is clearly a bigger winner than its predecessor.

Source: Cigar Cyclopedia