Montecristo is one of the most recognizable cigar brands in the world. Even nonsmokers are able to identify the brand’s iconic logo—six golden rapiers that form a triangle around a centered fleur-de-lis. Like many Cuban cigar brands, there is both a Cuban version and a non-Cuban version of Montecristo sold in cigars shops throughtout the world. (Read “What’s In A Brand Name?” for more.) In 2015, Montecristo turned 80 years old, a milestone that was honored with special cigars from both Cuba and the Dominican.
It’s not that old.
Compared to brands like H. Upmann (created in 1844), Partagás (1845) and Romeo y Julieta (1875) Montecristo is a relative youngster. The brand was first rolled in 1935 in Havana. Today, it’s one of the world’s most popular cigars.
It was born via acquisition. In 1935, Alonso Menendez acquired Cuba’s Particulares Factory and created a new cigar brand. Cigar rollers would be read books and stories by a lector while they were working, among them the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. As legend goes, Menendez named his new brand after the book—turning Montecristo into one word, rather than two—and decorating the box with a triangle of rapiers, an homage to the swords referred to in the novel.
When in doubt, buy a Montecristo No. 4.
The Montecristo No. 4, a petit corona that measures 5 1/8 inches long by 42 ring, was the most popular Cuban cigar for many years. (It has been overtaken by Partagás Serie D No. 4s, but it remains immensely popular.) You can find them just about anywhere, and they’re remarkably good despite being produced in immense quantities, and in more than one factory. Going back five years in our ratings, the cigar has not scored lower than 89 points, and has scored as high as 93. You can buy them in boxes of 25, or in handy five packs. They’re reasonably priced: $6 in Cuba, and £13.20 ($17) in London.
They used to be made exclusively at the H. Upmann factory.
About one year after creating Montecristo, Menendez created Menendez Garcia y Cia., which quickly bought the H. Upmann factory (and the brand with it). They turned it into the largest in Havana, with more than 1,100 workers. The factory rolled Montecristo and H. Upmann cigars.
There was an intentional knockoff.
When the Menendez family lost the brand to Cuban nationalization in September 1960, they left Cuba, virtually penniless. In 1961, Benjamin Menendez (the son of Alonso, who owned Menendez Garcia) opened Compania Insular Tabacalera S.A. in Las Palmas, Canary Islands and began making Montecruz. Alonso was an investor in the company. It was a near-copy of Montecristo and became one of the better-selling cigars in the United States.
The 1972 lawsuit Menendez v. Faber, Coe and Gregg Inc.—the latter an importer of Cuban cigars—was the landmark case that established the right of the cigarmakers in exile to market their versions of the brands they used to make in Cuba. The lawsuit led to the creation of Cuban Cigar Brands NV, which owned the trademarks H. Upmann, Montecristo and Por Larrañaga. The 1970s saw the creation of the non-Cuban Partagas and H. Upmann brands. In 1990, Consolidated Cigar Corp. (which eventually became Altadis after mergers) began making Montecristos for the American market.
It has a dizzying array of varieties.
The Montecristo brand has at least 15 sub-brands made in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. In Cuba, you can choose from the core Montecristo, plus the Montecristo Open (which went on sale in 2009) and Montecristo Línea 1935 (a brand-new version that began shipping last year). Some consider Cuba’s Montecristo Edmundo cigars (Edmundo, Double Edmundo and Petit Edmundo) as a brand within the brand. For non-Cuban Montecristos, there are at least a dozen versions, ranging from the mild Montecristo White to the strong Monte by Montecristo AJ Fernandez.
It’s the only Cuban brand with a surviving “A” size…
Romeo y Julieta Fabulosos, Sancho Panza Sanchos and Davidoff 80 Aniversarios are long-gone “A” sizes from Cuba, but the Montecristo “A” remains. The 9 1/4 inch smoke is the longest made in Cuba today on a regular basis.
…But it was slow to get on the robusto bandwagon.
The most popular cigar size in the world is a robusto, and it has been for decades. But up until quite recently, the Cuban Montecristo brand didn’t have a regular-production robusto size. The Montecristo Robusto appeared first in 1998 in a limited-edition Millennium jar, then as an Edición Limitada in 2000. For regular-producton smokes, the new Montecristo Línea 1935 Dumas (5 1/8 inches long by 49) is the closest to a robusto format. It hit the market last year. The non-Cuban line has long had several robustos, including the Montecristo Nicaragua Robusto, Cigar Aficionado’s No. 10 cigar of 2018.
Old ones can be quite valuable.
There once was a Montecristo B, a cigar that was discontinued years ago. It measured 5 3/8 inches by 42 ring. A box that was only partially filled (it had 30 cigars) once sold for £6,500 ($8,500) at a Christie’s auction, or £216 pounds ($284) per cigar. There were also a Montecristo No. 6 (4 7/8 by 36) and Montecristo No. 7 (6 7/8 by 28), but they are long gone.