Special Report: 2019 Year in Review – Cigar Aficionado

Not to be confused with Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25 list, this year-end review is a comprehensive analysis of all the cigars rated in 2019 by Cigar Insider, the semimonthly newsletter that focuses on (but is not limited to) new cigar releases and vertical brand tastings. We compiled all of the year-end performance data and examined it from different angles: by score, by country, by brand, by size and by price.

Caches of data like this offer not only invaluable insights into the handmade cigar industry but also highlight trends in the market. All the data here is based on our blind tasting process. As always, the cigars reviewed by Cigar Insider were purchased at retail, stripped of their identifying bands and assessed with no prior knowledge of brand, price or country of origin.

We rated 252 cigars in Cigar Insider this year, many of which were released in 2019. The brands here come from all the major cigar-producing countries: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua, with a few made in the United States, and reflect all aspects of the current premium market. The cigars range from small brands by boutique companies to large-scale brands with wide distribution. In addition to the new releases, the year-end review also includes some older, well-established mainstay brands that are omnipresent in cigar store humidors and continue to sell. 

Average Score By Country

Country Cigars Rated Avg. Score
1. Cuba 19 Cigars 90.4
2. Honduras 24 Cigars 89.4
3. Nicaragua 149 Cigars 89.1
4. Dom. Rep. 54 Cigars 88.2
4. U.S.A. 6 Cigars 88.2

Our tastings have found the quality level of these cigars to be quite high, as 107 of the 252 cigars (43 percent) scored 90 points or higher. And 72 cigars scored 91 points or higher, earning our highest accolade of Humidor Selection. Every major cigar-producing country has cigars on that list, though 46 of the cigars in this elite segment hail from Nicaragua.

If you’re looking for a 90 pointer, you’re more likely to find it from Cuba than any other country. Out of the 19 Cuban cigars we rated this year, 12 of them (63.2 percent) scored 90 points or higher, a larger percentage of 90s than any other cigar-producing country. The Cubans we rated this year are a combination of core brands, new releases, Edición Limitadas and a few Regional Editions.

With 24 cigars rated from Honduras, 13 broke the 90-point barrier (54.2 percent). Nicaragua ranked third, with 67 of its 149 cigars (45 percent) reaching or surpassing 90 points. The Dominican Republic was a distant fourth, as 14 of the 54 Dominican cigars (25.9 percent) made it to 90 points.

Top Scores of 2019

The United States had the least impressive performance, with only one of the 6 cigars we rated making it to 90 points (16.7 percent) but the small sample size makes it statistically irrelevant. American-made cigars are a rarity in today’s cigar market, with production at very low levels.

The highest scores this year came from three different brands from three different countries, all scoring 94 points: The Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua Maestro, Illusione Epernay 10th Anniversary D’Aosta, and Punch Double Corona.

Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua Maestro is made in Nicaragua by A.J. Fernandez for Rafael Nodal, who owns the Aging Room brand in partnership with his wife, Alina; Hank Bishoff; and José “Jochy” Blanco, a Dominican cigarmaker and tobacco grower

The Illusione Epernay 10th Anniversary D’Aosta was made to celebrate the 10-year benchmark of the Illusione Epernay line. While other Illusione cigars are produced in Nicaragua, Epernay is the only Illusione still made in Honduras at Raices Cubanas. The core Illusione line used to be produced at Raices as well, but brand owner Dion Giolito moved it to Nicaragua.

Where The Top Scorers Are Made

Country Cigars Rated 90 Points or Higher Percent
Cuba 19 12 63.2%
Honduras 24 13 54.2%
Nicaragua 149 67 45.0%
Dom. Rep. 54 14 25.9%
U.S.A. 6 1 16.7%

The Punch Double Corona was our top-rated Cuban of 2019. At more than 7 inches, it’s a long cigar, but unlike the other top-scoring smokes, the Punch Double Corona isn’t new. It’s been on the market for decades and scores consistently well in both Cigar Insider and Cigar Aficionado.

Twelve cigars this year scored 93 points, and eight of them came from Nicaragua, which exports more handmade cigars to the United States than any other country. The cigars in this small grouping range in blend, body and even price. On the more expensive end, the Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series Diplomatico (Natural) was one of the pricier cigars to score 93 points. It should come as no surprise to see a Padrón on the upper echelons of this list. The company’s cigars consistently achieve high scores in Cigar Insider, and the 1964 Anniversary Series is another example of excellence from Padrón.

My Father Cigars in Nicaragua is responsible for creating two cigars that scored 93 points, the Tatuaje Nuevitas Jibaro No. 1 and the La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor Churchill. Both are contract brands (the Nuevitas is made for Pete Johnson of Tatuaje and the La Aroma de Cuba for Ashton Distributors Inc.), and both come from the same factory, but their stark difference in style proves the versatility of the My Father Cigars operation.

2019 Best Buys

The Dominican Republic produced two 93-point cigars. The Arturo Fuente Rosado Magnum R Vitola “Forty-Four” is certainly a long name, but it’s a fantastic cigar from the rolling tables of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia. This small smoke is a consistent high performer with an impressive track record. It’s always scored 91 points or above, and has even made the Cigar Aficionado Top 25 list.

Also from the Dominican Republic is the San Lotano Dominican Torpedo, a 93-point collaboration between José “Jochy” Blanco and A.J. Fernandez. It’s a relatively new smoke that was released earlier this year. The Dominican tobacco from the blend was grown by Blanco, which the Nicaraguan tobacco grown by Fernandez.

And speaking of Fernandez, he had a hand in two more cigars on the elite, 93-point list, and they were for the two largest tobacco companies in the premium cigar business. Fernandez produces the Punch Diablo Scamp for General Cigar, and the H. Upmann 175th Anniversary Churchill for Altadis U.S.A.

Average Score By Size

Size Cigars Rated Avg. Score
1. Double Corona 1 Cigar 94.0
2. “A” 1 Cigar 91.0
2. Petit Corona 1 Cigar 91.0
4. Churchill 22 Cigars 89.8
5. Robusto 54 Cigars 89.4
6. Toro 88 Cigars 89.1
7. Figurado 34 Cigars 89.0
7. Panetela 8 Cigars 89.0
9. Grande 23 Cigars 88.3
10. Corona 8 Cigars 88.1
11. Lonsdale 5 Cigars 87.4
12. Miscellaneous 7 Cigars 87.3

Two 93-point smokes came from Cuba: the Punch Duke, a new Regional Edition cigar made exclusively for Mexico (it debuted in January), and the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2, a classic Cuban smoke whose flavor profile seems to never go out of style.

Also from Nicaragua, the Herrera Esteli Habano Edicion Limitada Lancero is made by Drew Estate and is named for its creator, Willy Herrera who holds the title of master blender with the company, which is owned by another tobacco giant, Swisher International.

Erik Espinosa operates on a much smaller production scale. His namesake cigar, the Espinosa Habano No. 4 is made in Nicaragua at Espinosa’s La Zona factory. It’s named after the Ecuador Habano wrapper that covers this high-scoring robusto.

The final cigar to score 93 points this year also comes to the U.S. market by way of Nicaragua from Alec Bradley, Project 40 06.52. What makes it most unique among the other cigars in this segment is the cost. This cigar has a suggested retail price of only $5.50. Calling it a bargain would be an understatement. It’s the best price-to-score smoke rated by Cigar Insider in 2019.

2019 Humidor Selections

For a broader perspective, we’ve organized the 252 cigars of 2019 by brand. The highest average of any cigar brand with more than one cigar rated during the calendar year came from the Cuban Punch, which averaged an impressive 92.5 points for its four cigars.

The Nicaraguan Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua line averaged 91.5 points over four cigars, an impressive outcome for this fairly young line. The Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series, a Nicaraguan cigar brand that always seems to do well in our taste tests, averaged 90.6 points over a five-cigar sample. The Arturo Fuente Rosado Sungrown Magnum R from the Dominican Republic averaged 90 points for six cigars.

Most telling of quality, however, is the Illusione Epernay from Honduras. We conducted a vertical brand tasting of 12 cigars—everything from a diminutive petit corona to a massive “A” size—and it achieved a very impressive average of 90.3. It was by far the largest vertical brand tasting of the year.

When examining Cigar Insider’s ratings by country, Cuba had the highest overall average of 2019 at 90.4 points, with 19 cigars rated. Insider rated 149 Nicaraguan cigars this year—considerably more than any other country—and they had an average rating of 89.1 points, a very strong indication of quality and consistency given the large number we tested. 

Average Score By Brand

Brand Rating
Herrera Esteli Habano Edicion Limitada, Nicaragua (1 Cigar) 93.0
H. Upmann 175th Anniversary, Nicaragua (1) 93.0
Punch, Cuba (4) 92.5
Fuente Fuente OpusX, Dom. Rep., (1) 92.0
La Relatos, Nicaragua (1) 92.0
Nestor Miranda Collection 75th Anniversary, Nicaragua (1) 92.0
Saint Luis Rey, Cuba (1) 92.0
Vegueros, Cuba (1) 92.0
Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua, Nicaragua (4) 91.5
Alec Bradley Fine & Rare, Honduras (1) 91.0
Camacho Liberty, Honduras (1) 91.0
Cohiba, Cuba (1) 91.0
Espinosa Habano, Nicaragua (4) 91.0
Hoyo de Monterrey, Cuba (3) 91.0
Plasencia Alma Fuerte, Nicaragua (1) 91.0
San Lotano Dominicano, Dom. Rep. (4) 90.8
Rocky Patel A.L.R. Second Edition, Nicaragua (3) 90.7
Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series (Natural), Nicaragua (5) 90.6
La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor, Nicaragua (6) 90.5
Alec Bradley Project 40, Nicaragua (4) 90.3
Black Label Trading Co. Last Rites, Nicaragua (3) 90.3
Illusione Epernay, Honduras (12) 90.3
Plasencia Alma del Fuego, Nicaragua (3) 90.3
Arturo Fuente Rosado Sungrown Magnum R, Dom. Rep. (6) 90.0
Bolivar, Cuba (1) 90.0
Diesel Hair of the Dog, Nicaragua (1) 90.0
H. Upmann, Cuba (1) 90.0
H. Upmann by AJ Fernandez, Nicaragua (1) 90.0
Joya de Nicaragua Cinco Décadas, Nicaragua (2) 90.0
La Flor Dominicana, Dom. Rep. (1) 90.0
Quai d’Orsay, Cuba (1) 90.0
Tatuaje 15th Anniversary Rosado Oscuro, U.S.A. (2) 90.0
Tatuaje Nuevitas, Nicaragua (3) 90.0
Aganorsa Leaf Signature Selection, Nicaragua (4) 89.8
Punch Diablo, Nicaragua (5) 89.8
Viaje Exclusivo Nicaragua Leaded, Nicaragua (4) 89.8
Eiroa Dark, Honduras (3) 89.7
CAO Session, Dom. Rep. (3) 89.3
Rocky Patel Olde World Reserve Maduro, Nicaragua (3) 89.3
Southern Draw Kudzu, Nicaragua (7) 89.3
New World Cameroon Selection, Nicaragua (6) 89.2
The T, Nicaragua (5) 89.2
Timeless Panamericana, Nicaragua (7) 89.1
Davidoff Winston Churchill, Dom. Rep. (1) 89.0
Diplomaticos, Cuba (1) 89.0
E.P. Carrillo La Historia, Dom. Rep. (1) 89.0
San Cristobal de la Habana, Cuba (1) 89.0
Serino Taíno, Nicaragua (3) 89.0
La Barba Ricochet Crü Oscuro, Dom. Rep. (4) 88.8
Romeo y Julieta 1875 Nicaragua (4) 88.8
La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro, Nicaragua (3) 88.7
Tabernacle Havana Seed CT No. 142, Nicaragua (5) 88.6
Villiger La Meridiana, Nicaragua (5) 88.6
Ashton Virgin Sun Grown, Dom. Rep. (5) 88.4
Montecristo Espada Oscuro, Nicaragua (3) 88.3
Micallef Grande Bold Maduro, Nicaragua (5) 88.2
Intemperance BA XXI, Nicaragua (8) 88.1
601 La Bomba, Nicaragua (1) 88.0
Cohiba Connecticut, Dom. Rep. (4) 88.0
La Flor Dominicana 1994, Dom. Rep. (5) 88.0
My Father La Gran Oferta, Nicaragua (5) 88.0
My Father La Promesa, Nicaragua (5) 88.0
Partagás, Cuba (1) 88.0
Rocky Patel A.L.R., Nicaragua (3) 87.7
Trinidad, Cuba (3) 87.7
Herrera Esteli Brazilian Maduro, Nicaragua (5) 87.4
Alec Bradley Magic Toast, Honduras (3) 87.3
Cohiba Macassar, Dom. Rep. (3) 87.3
The American, U.S.A. (4) 87.3
La Aurora Preferidos Hors D’Age 2017, Dom. Rep. (1) 87.0
La Palina Bronze Label, Honduras (4) 87.0
Oliva Serie V Maduro, Nicaragua (4) 87.0
H. Upmann Connecticut by Grupo de Maestros, Dom. Rep. (4) 86.8
Vega Magna, Dom. Rep. (3) 86.7
La Aurora 1985 Maduro, Dom. Rep. (4) 86.3
E.P. Carrillo Inch Ringmaster, Dom. Rep. (2) 86.0
Timeless TAA Exclusive, Dom. Rep. (1) 86.0
Guardian of the Farm Nightwatch, Nicaragua (4) 85.5
Villiger La Flor de Ynclan, Dom. Rep. (1) 85.0
Undercrown Shade, Nicaragua (1) 83.0

Why did we rate so many cigars from Nicaragua? The answer lies in the export numbers. Last year and the year before, Nicaragua exported more handmade cigars to the U.S. than any other country. Considering the import data for 2019 so far, it looks like Nicaragua will be the leader this year as well. 

Nicaragua’s market dominance can be immediately seen in many tobacconists and cigar shops across the United States. The Central American country has a strong presence in many retail humidors. There’s no denying that Nicaraguan cigars are very popular right now, and the city of Estelí (the country’s epicenter for handmade cigar production) is in the midst of a boom that’s showing no signs of slowing. And the cigars of Nicaragua are growing in popularity outside the United States, typically a region dominated by Cubans.

In addition to the high export numbers, the quality is there as well. Nicaragua’s relatively high average is convincing evidence that the country can continue to produce high quality and still meet large U.S. demand. High-performing brands like Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series, Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua, Espinosa Habano and Rocky Patel A.L.R. Second Edition all had brand averages in the 90s, helping to bolster Nicaragua’s year-end average despite the high volume.

Now the second largest supplier to the U.S., the Dominican Republic had an average score of 88.2 points for its 54 cigars of 2019. Top-scoring brands from the Dominican Republic include the San Lotano Dominicano and Arturo Fuente Rosado Sungrown Magnum R. It tied with the U.S. for lowest average score by country.

Cigar Insider only rated 24 cigars from Honduras, which ranks third in imports to the United States. But Honduran cigars proved their mettle in our tastings, with the second-highest average of 89.4 points. Honduras scored only 0.3 points higher than Nicaragua, despite the fact that Insider tested more than six times as many cigars from Nicaragua.

Scores this year were up for nearly every country compared to 2018. Cuba rose from 89.7 points in 2018 to 90.4 in 2019. Honduras was up nearly two points from last year’s 87.6, to 89.4. And Nicaragua rose 88.9 to 89.1 points. The U.S. rose as well, up 1.8 points from 2018. The only country to have gone down a bit was the Dominican Republic, from 88.3 points in 2018 to 88.2 in 2019, but the difference here is negligible.

Analysis By Country

Brand Cigars Average Score Average Price
Punch 4 92.5 £22.01
Saint Luis Rey 1 92.0 $17.00
Vegueros 1 92.0 £17.50
Cohiba 1 91.0 £36.30
Hoyo de Monterrey 3 91.0 £26.15
Bolivar 1 90.0 £33.70
H. Upmann 1 90.0 £23.60
Quai d’Orsay 1 90.0 18.30 euro
Diplomaticos 1 89.0 $22.00
San Cristobal de la Habana 1 89.0 11.90 euro
Partagás 1 88.0 £28.10
Trinidad 3 87.7 £33.40
TOTAL 19 90.37 £24.19
Dominican Republic
Fuente Fuente OpusX 1 92.0 $13.75
San Lotano Dominicano 4 90.8 $9.25
Arturo Fuente Rosado Sungrown Magnum R 6 90.0 $9.05
La Flor Dominicana 1 90.0 $12.00
CAO Session 3 89.3 $9.06
Davidoff Winston Churchill 1 89.0 $29.90
E.P. Carrillo La Historia 1 89.0 $11.50
La Barba Ricochet Crü Oscuro 4 88.8 $10.21
Ashton Virgin Sun Grown 5 88.4 $12.57
Cohiba Connecticut 4 88.0 $21.49
La Flor Dominicana 1994 5 88.0 $8.66
Cohiba Macassar 3 87.3 $26.99
La Aurora Preferidos Hors D’Age 2017 1 87.0 $20.00
H. Upmann Connecticut by Grupo de Maestros 4 86.8 $8.93
Vega Magna 3 86.7 $21.00
La Aurora 1985 Maduro 4 86.3 $6.00
E.P. Carrillo Inch Ringmaster 2 86.0 $13.50
Timeless 1 86.0 $14.50
Villiger La Flor de Ynclan 1 85.0 $11.00
TOTAL 54 88.24 $12.87
Alec Bradley Fine & Rare 1 91.0 $21.90
Camacho Liberty 1 91.0 $20.00
Illusione Epernay 12 90.3 $12.63
Eiroa Dark 3 89.7 $13.75
Alec Bradley Magic Toast 3 87.3 $9.57
La Palina Bronze Label 4 87.0 $9.62
TOTAL 24 89.36 $12.58
Herrera Esteli Habano Edicion Limitada 1 93.0 $12.46
H. Upmann 175th Anniversary 1 93.0 $18.00
La Relatos 1 92.0 $9.30
Nestor Miranda Collection 75th Anniversary 1 92.0 $19.00
Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua 4 91.5 $10.84
Espinosa Habano 4 91.0 $7.66
Plasencia Alma Fuerte 1 91.0 $18.65
Rocky Patel A.L.R. Second Edition 3 90.7 $14.00
Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series (Natural) 5 90.6 $13.10
La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor 6 90.5 $8.25
Alec Bradley Project 40 4 90.3 $5.68
Black Label Trading Co. Last Rites 3 90.3 $11.33
Plasencia Alma del Fuego 3 90.3 $16.00
Diesel Hair of the Dog 1 90.0 $10.00
H. Upmann by AJ Fernandez 1 90.0 $9.25
Tatuaje Nuevitas 3 90.0 $9.00
Aganorsa Leaf Signature Selection 4 89.8 $9.68
Joya de Nicaragua Cinco Décadas 2 89.8 $9.32
Punch Diablo 5 89.8 $7.93
Viaje Exclusivo Nicaragua Leaded 4 89.8 $9.32
Rocky Patel Olde World Reserve Maduro 3 89.3 $10.15
Southern Draw Kudzu 7 89.3 $9.78
New World Cameroon Selection 6 89.2 $6.25
The T 5 89.2 $11.40
Timeless Panamericana 7 89.1 $11.68
Serino Taíno 3 89.0 $8.48
Romeo y Julieta 1875 Nicaragua 4 88.8 $7.39
La Palina Nicaragua Oscuro 3 88.7 $8.66
Tabernacle Havana Seed CT No. 142 5 88.6 $11.35
Villiger La Meridiana 5 88.6 $8.22
Montecristo Espada Oscuro 3 88.3 $13.89
Micallef Grande Bold Maduro 5 88.2 $7.49
Intemperance BA XXI 8 88.1 $7.74
601 La Bomba 1 88.0 $10.99
My Father La Gran Oferta 5 88.0 $8.77
My Father La Promesa 5 88.0 $8.74
Rocky Patel A.L.R. 3 87.7 $14.00
Herrera Esteli Brazilian Maduro 5 87.4 $9.43
Oliva Serie V Maduro 4 87.0 $10.10
Guardian of the Farm Nightwatch 4 85.5 $9.34
Undercrown Shade 1 83.0 $9.60
TOTAL 149 89.15 $9.82
Tatuaje 15th Anniversary Rosado Oscuro 2 90.0 $20.00
The American 4 87.3 $18.00
TOTAL 6 88.20 $18.67

While it was easy to find a great cigar in 2019, more than half the top-scoring smokes retail for more than $10. Some of them were exceptionally pricey, with suggested retail prices of $20 and $28.50 going all the way to £36.30 (about $48) per cigar. Bargains and steals weren’t exactly plentiful. Of the 252 cigars we smoked this year, only nine were classified as Best Buys, which means they have a suggested retail price of $6 or less and scored 87 points or higher. Alec Bradley’s Project 40 topped the small Best Buy list, scoring 93 points and retailing for only $5.50.

Frugal smokers are most likely to find the lowest retail prices with cigars made in Nicaragua. The average suggested retail price for the 149 Nicaraguans we rated was $9.82, the lowest of the survey. The average price for cigars coming out of Honduras was $12.58, with the Dominican Republic a mere 31 cents higher at $12.87. Cuban cigars showed the highest average retail price at £24.19 (about $32.12).

For at least the last decade, the market trend has moved away from smaller, thinner traditional sizes and toward thicker heavier ring gauges—and our ratings reflect that trend. Cigar Insider rated few coronas, lonsdales or panetelas this year, and even fewer double coronas, “A” sizes or petit coronas. Those last three sizes happen to have the highest averages of the year (94, and 91 points, respectively), but because we only rated one size each, they don’t really give any meaningful insight. 

Churchills followed with an average of 89.8 points for 22 cigars. We rated more than twice as many robustos, 54 in total, yet the average was only 0.4 points behind at 89.4. Toros (also called corona gordas) performed quite well, especially given the fact that this was the largest category by volume. This year, we rated 88 toros, which averaged 89.1 points—an impressive average considering the large amount. The high number of toros directly correlates to the market. One would be hard pressed to find a premium cigar brand that did not have a toro in its portfolio. 

The figurado category was only a tenth of a point behind, averaging an even 89 points over 34 cigars. Figurados can be torpedos, belicosos, perfectos or any shaped cigar with a point, curve or taper. Panetelas tied figurados with the same average, but at a much smaller sample: only eight cigars.

Grandes are defined as any cigar with a thickness of 60 ring gauge or higher. It’s a fairly new size category that’s become quite common in the industry. Cigar Insider rated 23 grandes, which maintained an average of 88.3 points. 

Slimmer sizes like coronas and lonsdales averaged 88.1 points and 87.4 points. We rated only eight coronas and five lonsdales. The lowest average belongs to the miscellaneous category, 87.3 points for seven cigars. This grouping is made up of oddly shaped cigars that are either too fat, too short, too thin or too unusual to fall into any other category. 

Examining the year-end results, one thing is clear: the market is quite crowded with Nicaraguan cigars. Some are expensive, others more affordable, but currently, Nicaraguan cigars occupy considerable shelf space in retail humidors and this was reflected by the high number of Nicaraguan cigars we rated in 2019. Market domination alone, however isn’t Nicaragua’s only achievement. As the scores show, quality is being upheld despite the big demand for Nicaragua’s cigars. 

While Nicaragua is currently in the spotlight, our year-end review shows that you can still find plenty of top-scoring smokes from other countries. Cigar-producing nations like Cuba, Honduras and the Dominican Republic still have a strong tradition of fine tobacco and excellent cigars.