Every now and again, word seeps out about a special cigar about to be released. The markets get very excited. Prices can be stratospheric, though pre-orders pour in. Everyone wants to be the first to try it. Everyone wants to make certain they have an allocation. Some are already making arrangements to flip their boxes to make an instant profit. Suddenly, the cigar has a “reputation,” despite few having ever tried it.

Often, these being special cigars by definition, they will live up to that reputation – or even exceed it. Occasionally they fall short.

That, of course, creates a problem for purchasers having paid big bucks for their boxes keen to move them on for even bigger bucks: the last thing they want is for the cigar to fail to live up to the hype.

Most of us have little sympathy for speculators of this ilk as they impact the market, driving up prices. But then they may be the only way we have of getting the sticks upon which we are so keen. A slightly necessary evil?

Anyway, the latest cigar to fall under this spotlight is the annual Chinese New Year release, this time for the Year of the Rat (though, who thought a rodent would be a good marketing tool?). The cigar is the Romeo & Julieta Maravillas 8.

Romeo & Julieta Maravillas 8

This is the third Chinese New Year release following the Cohiba Maduro 5 for 2018 and the Cohiba Robusto for 2019. For reasons best known to the Cubans, these Chinese New Year releases were only available in Spain. Go figure?

As always, the Maravillas 8 are limited, though “limited” can be a relative term and may still mean that there are extensive stocks. It is believed that production of this “limited” release is large enough that there will be boxes available for those who want them (or, should I say, those willing to pay the money).

One report suggested that there were 10,000 boxes, but as the same report listed them as boxes of ten I’m not sure that we should be taking too much notice.

There are a couple of things one immediately notices with respect to these cigars. First, they come in boxes of eight. Some have questioned this, but it is for Chinese New Year and as “8” is that culture’s lucky number, it is no surprise.

But we seem to be headed to a norm where there are ever fewer cigars in a box. The good old days of boxes of 25 and cabinets of 50 almost seem like ancient history. Sadly.

Next, there is an extra band at the foot of the cigar, a bizarre marketing tool, although it does help in ensuring that cracks in the foot are rare (as they should be when one is paying this sort of money). To me it really does look a bit ridiculous.

One suspects that we’ll see more of these, rather than less, in the coming years. Cue a long, slow, sad sigh.

Romeo & Julieta Maravillas 8

Finally, and possibly more relevantly, the size. With a 55 mm ring gauge and at 155 mm long these are whoppers! Definitely not my preferred size/shape for a cigar, but I accept that I am in the minority. The world, it seems, wants to shove the proverbial baseball bat into its mouth.

There has been a previous release of a similar cigar, the Maravillas No 3, a 2012 Limited Edition in the Montecristo range.

The tobacco for the wrapper, filler, and binder of the Maravillas 8 comes from the famed Vuelta Abajo region of Pinar del Rio. The box of eight is beautifully presented, all lacquered red and gold with an engraving of a rat.

I am no different to any cigar lover and was keen to try the new Maravillas 8 to see just how good it was (or wasn’t). So when a friend rocked up with a couple, we fired them up immediately.

Sadly, it was a particularly humid afternoon, which I do not find conducive to the best cigars. But the weather is one thing I can do little about. We soldiered on, taking it into account.

As I mentioned it is not a size that appeals to me, but the trend is to this size so I am in the minority. Many will be in raptures. The cigar started pleasantly and to be honest continued that way without ever moving from that too much. My friend felt his was more muted than mine. I felt it was more subtle and refined than muted.

If you ask for flavors, I am somewhat at a loss. A bit of spice, some tobacco leaf, some cherry. Cherry was probably the main note to come through, but even it was moderate at best.

One expected more. Even for a youthful cigar like this, one would hope that there was evolution throughout the journey, but sadly not so. It was simply more of the same, right through. And “the same” was fine, but surely in the very best cigars we look for more.

The construction was certainly exemplary and the burn consistent. It remained as a mild- to medium-bodied cigar throughout.

Thoughts? If a friend dropped by for a chat and a drink and pulled out a couple of these, we’d have an enjoyable afternoon but probably would not think a lot about the cigar. It was fine, pleasant and consistent, but there were no fireworks, nothing particularly special here.

For me, 89 to 90.

All that said, if one has the money and wants to try these I would not argue otherwise. They are certainly not a disaster by any means.

For the future? Nothing here suggested that this was going to turn into something above and beyond, but they should age well for five to six years, at least.

Romeo & Julieta Maravillas 8

The elephant in the room is the price. One British retailer had them at £562.80, which seems to be around the mark, and you can bet that would mean, with taxes, in Australia we’d be lucky to see them under AUD$150 a stick.

For that sort of money, it is impossible to smoke one without that nagging question hovering in the background “is it worth it?” For me, no. Others may feel differently. One could ask is any cigar worth that, but of course, as always, the market is whatever people will pay. And the people apparently want these, so expect there to be little resistance.

My concern would be that if the cigars we smoked were representative – and in all fairness, to make a judgement on one cigar alone is fraught with danger due to variations (I’m very hopeful of trying another in a month or so and if I can, will add thoughts to the comments section) – what happens when word starts to go around the traps that these are good cigars but certainly not worth such an elevated price? Suddenly, the secondary market starts to waver and people find they can’t get the prices they want.

May never happen, of course, and even if it does it will simply mean that some buyers get caught with perfectly decent cigars for which they paid too much. Worse things happen.

We look forward to the next super-cult, must-have cigar. It won’t be long.

For more information please visit www.habanos.com/en/noticias/lanzamiento-global-del-romeo-y-julieta-maravillas-8.

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