The past 12 months have been quite literally plagued with a pandemic and all manner of uncertainty. There were lockdowns and natural disasters, including powerful hurricanes hitting Central America. Despite the grim state of 2020, there’s still some good news: cigarmakers continued to produce high-quality smokes and somehow managed to get them to the U.S. with only minor disruptions. This year in review by Cigar Insider represents a data-driven reflection of the premium cigar industry and how it performed in a most disorienting 2020.
The report is a by-the-numbers compilation and analysis of all the cigars rated in 2020 by Cigar Insider, the twice-monthly, companion newsletter to Cigar Aficionado that keeps the cigar community up to date with ratings of new releases, current-production smokes and vertical brand tastings. This is a recap of the year in ratings, and an examination of performance when looked at by score, country, size and by price. All scores that were used to generate these averages come from our blind tasting process, which has always been the foundation of our rating system. (Note that this analysis is quite different from Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25, which is a contest among the highest-rated cigars from both Cigar Insider and Cigar Aficionado.)
We rated 267 cigars in Cigar Insider this year, many of which were released in 2020. The brands here come from all the major cigar-producing countries: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico with a few made in Brazil, and 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 ratings for older, well-established mainstay brands that are still produced and continue to sell in cigar stores across the U.S. and the globe.
Average Score By Country
|Country||Cigars Rated||Avg. Score|
|1. Cuba||24 Cigars||90.5|
|2. Mexico||5 Cigars||90.0|
|3. Nicaragua||148 Cigars||89.0|
|4. Dom. Rep.||58 Cigars||88.6|
|5. Honduras||28 Cigars||88.4|
|6. Brazil||4 Cigars||86.5|
These ratings indicate a high level of quality throughout the cigar market, as 109 of the 267 cigars we rated (41 percent) scored 90 points or higher. And 66 cigars scored 91 points or higher, earning our accolade of Humidor Selection. Every major cigar-producing country contributed cigars to that list, though 30 of the cigars in this segment hail from Nicaragua. Currently, Nicaragua exports more premium cigars to the U.S. than any other country, and its proliferation of high ratings speaks to both the high quality of tobacco on the agricultural end as well as meticulous cigar production on the industrial side.
If you’re looking for a 90 pointer, you’re more likely to find it from Cuba than any other country. We rated 24 Cuban cigars this year, and 16 of them (66.7 percent) scored 90 points or higher, a larger percentage of 90s than any other major cigar-producing country. (Though 80 percent of the Mexican cigars rated this year scored more than 90 points, we only tested five cigars, so the sample size is too small to have any statistic importance.) The Cubans we rated this year are a combination of core brands, new releases, Edición Limitadas and a few Regional Editions.
Out of the 148 cigars rated from Nicaragua, 59 broke the 90-point barrier (nearly 40 percent). The Dominican Republic ranked third, with 22 of its 58 cigars (37.9 percent) reaching or surpassing 90 points. Honduras came in at fourth, as eight of the 28 Honduran cigars (28.6 percent) made it to 90 points. Brazil had the least impressive performance, with none the four cigars we rated making it to 90 points, but the small sample size makes it statistically irrelevant. Brazilian-made cigars are a rarity in today’s premium market, with relatively low exports to the U.S.
Top Scores of 2020
The highest scores this year came from four different brands from three different countries. Four scored 94 points, but one achieved an astounding 95 points, rising to the magnificent level of Classic on our 100-point scale: the Padrón Family Reserve No. 44 Maduro.
Cigars with scores as high as the Padrón Family Reserve No. 44 do not come around very often. This Nicaraguan cigar in particular wasn’t always commercially available. Once only offered at private events, the Padróns eventually released the Family Reserve for the general public—and it’s one of the most consistently high-rated smokes on the market.
At 94 points, the Fuente Fuente OpusX PerfecXion A is made by the Fuentes in the Dominican Republic, and it’s made solely from Dominican tobacco. It’s rare for more than reason: few cigars on the market are made with only Dominican leaf, OpusX cigars are made in small quantities; and this nearly 10-inch cigar is one of the last “A” size cigars in production.
Also scoring 94 points were two “exclusive” cigars—the Cuban Juan Lopez Punto 55 Exclusivo Francia and the Villiger 2020 TAA Exclusive Toro. The Juan Lopez is a Regional Edition made just for the French market while the Villiger was made just for retail members of the Tobacconists’ Association of America. It’s not only the first time Villiger made a TAA-exclusive cigar, it’s also the first time the company collaborated with Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, who produced the cigar for Villiger at his factory in the Dominican Republic. Both smokes were made in limited quantities.
Where The Top Scorers Are Made
|Country||Cigars Rated||90 Points or Higher||Percent|
Eight cigars this year scored 93 points, and two of them came from Nicaragua, the leading exporter of handmade cigars to the U.S. The cigars in this small grouping range in blend, body and even price. On the lighter end, the Joya de Nicaragua Antaño Connecticut Robusto was one of the milder cigars to score 93 points. It comes from the oldest premium cigar factory in Nicaragua, which has a reputation for turning out stronger smokes. The Warzone is a collaboration between giant manufacturer General Cigar and smaller producer Espinosa Cigars. Through General’s inventory of tobacco, brand owner Erik Espinosa found the right Cameroon wrapper at the right price and put it around this 93-point blend of Honduran, Nicaraguan and Colombian tobacco. It’s made by Espinosa in Nicaragua but distributed by General.
Answering Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic has two 93-point cigars of its own—the Fuente Fuente OpusX Double Robusto made at Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., and the E. P. Carrillo La Historia E-III, another cigar made by Perez-Carrillo at his La Alianza factory. While both are rolled in the Dominican Republic, they couldn’t be more stylistically different. The OpusX is made of only Dominican tobacco whereas the La Historia doesn’t have any Dominican leaf at all.
Cuba produced three cigars that scored 93 points. The H. Upamnn Magnum 50 started out as an Edición Limitada in 2005 only to return as a regular-production smoke a few years later. The Romeo y Julieta Churchill is one of Cuba’s most iconic cigars, and one of the few Churchills remaining in the entire portfolio. A year late to market, the Ramon Allones Allones No. 2 was 2019’s Edición Limitada, and it didn’t appear until late 2020.
2020 Best Buys
Rocky Patel reminds us to not forget Honduras with his Number 6 Corona, a slim, 93-point smoke made in Honduras with mostly Honduran tobacco, including the Corojo wrapper.
For a broader perspective, we’ve organized the 267 cigars of 2020 by brand. The highest average of any cigar brand with more than one cigar rated during the calendar year came from the Padrón Family Reserve, which averaged an impressive 91.6 points for its five cigars.
A tenth of a point behind is the Fuente Fuente OpusX, which averaged 91.5 points over six cigars. These averages are quite telling of the quality and consistency of both brands, as the sample sizes were quite significant. Year after year, both brands tend to score well in our ratings, and 2020 was no exception.
Average Score By Size
|Size||Cigars Rated||Avg. Score|
|1. “A”||1 Cigar||94.0|
|2. Panetela||7 Cigars||89.7|
|3. Petit Corona||10 Cigars||89.6|
|4. Churchill||15 Cigars||89.5|
|5. Lonsdale||3 Cigars||89.3|
|5. Robusto||50 Cigars||89.3|
|7. Toro||103 Cigars||89.0|
|8. Figurado||37 Cigars||88.9|
|9. Corona||7 Cigars||88.4|
|10. Grande||21 Cigars||88.3|
|11. Miscellaneous||13 Cigars||87.6|
This year, E.P. Carrillo launched its Pledge line, a Dominican-made brand that consists of only two sizes. Though the series is small, it is excellent with a brand average of 91.5 points as well.
A partial vertical of three cigars from De Los Reyes’ Saga Short Tales line averaged 91 points. Located in the Dominican Republic, the De Los Reyes factory is owned by the Reyes family and operated by Nirka Reyes, who created the brand.
Two Romeo y Julieta brands also performed notably well: the Cuban Romeo y Julieta line and one of its non-Cuban counterparts, the Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Nicaragua, which is made by A.J. Fernandez. Six Cuban Romeos averaged 90.2 points while four of the Nicaraguan Romeos—the entire line—averaged 90.5 points.
When examining Cigar Insider’s ratings by country, Cuba had the highest overall average of 2020 at 90.5 points, with 24 cigars total. Mexico was second with a country average of 90 points, but Insider only rated five Mexican cigars.
2020 Humidor Selections
Far more telling is the 148 cigars from Nicaragua that were rated this year. Nicaragua had an average rating of 89 points, a convincing confirmation of quality and consistency given the large number we tested.
The high quantity of Nicaraguan cigars in the market (and therefore tested by Cigar Insider) is a recurring theme. For the last three years, Nicaragua exported more handmade cigars to the U.S. than any other country. And judging by the import data for 2020 so far, it looks like Nicaragua will lead this year as well.
There’s no denying that Nicaraguan tobacco is trending, but the trend is justified by the high quality. For another year, the country proves it can still meet high U.S. demand and maintain a high level of quality. One only need look at brands like Padrón, Oliva, La Aroma de Cuba, Joya de Nicaragua, Highclere Castle and all the high scores that have come along with them. As mentioned before, nearly 40 percent of Nicaragua’s cigars scored 90 points or higher this year, which is an impressive show of comprehensive excellence.
As the second-largest supplier to the U.S., the Dominican Republic had an average score of 88.6 points for the 58 Dominican cigars rated in 2020. High-performing Dominican brands such as Fuente Fuente OpusX, E.P. Carrillo Pledge and Saga Short Tales helped to bolster the country’s overall average.
Average Score By Brand
|Juan Lopez, Cuba (1 Cigar)||94.0|
|Villiger, Dom. Rep. (1)||94.0|
|Ramon Allones, Cuba (1)||93.0|
|Luciano, Nicaragua (1)||92.0|
|Micallef Herencia Maduro, Nicaragua (1)||92.0|
|Montecristo, Cuba (1)||92.0|
|Oliva Serie V Melanio Maduro, Nicaragua (1)||92.0|
|Padrón Family Reserve, Nicaragua (5)||91.6|
|E.P. Carrillo Pledge, Dom. Rep. (2)||91.5|
|Fuente Fuente OpusX, Dom. Rep. (6)||91.5|
|Casa Turrent 1880 Claro, Mexico (1)||91.0|
|Casa Turrent 1880 Maduro, Mexico (1)||91.0|
|Diplomaticos, Cuba (2)||91.0|
|La Sirena Aniversario Especial, Mexico (1)||91.0|
|Micallef Herencia Habano, Nicaragua (1)||91.0|
|Punch, Cuba (2)||91.0|
|Quai D’Orsay, Cuba (1)||91.0|
|Saga Short Tales, Dom. Rep. (3)||91.0|
|Southern Draw Cedrus, Nicaragua (1)||91.0|
|Tatuaje, Nicaragua (1)||91.0|
|Trinidad, Cuba (1)||91.0|
|Warzone, Nicaragua (2)||91.0|
|Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Nicaragua, Nicaragua (4)||90.5|
|Romeo y Julieta, Cuba (6)||90.2|
|601 La Bomba, Nicaragua (1)||90.0|
|Casa Turrent 1880 Colorado, Mexico (1)||90.0|
|Diesel Delirium, Nicaragua (1)||90.0|
|Flor del Valle, Nicaragua (1)||90.0|
|Illusione, Nicaragua (1)||90.0|
|Joya de Nicaragua Número Uno, Nicaragua (2)||90.0|
|Tatuaje Monster Series, Nicaragua (1)||90.0|
|Undercrown Maduro, Nicaragua (1)||90.0|
|La Aroma de Cuba Edicion Especial, Nicaragua (6)||89.8|
|H. Upmann, Cuba (3)||89.7|
|Psyko Seven Nicaragua, Nicaragua (3)||89.7|
|Viaje Circa ’45, Nicaragua (3)||89.7|
|Partagás, Cuba (5)||89.6|
|Don Lino Africa, Nicaragua (5)||89.4|
|E.P. Carrillo La Historia, Dom. Rep. (5)||89.4|
|Nat Cicco Casino Real, Nicaragua (5)||89.4|
|Aladino Cameroon, Honduras (3)||89.3|
|Camacho Nicaragua, Honduras (3)||89.3|
|Días de Gloria, Nicaragua (4)||89.3|
|Four Kicks Capa Especial, Dom. Rep. (3)||89.3|
|Illusione Fume d’Amour, Nicaragua (6)||89.3|
|Viva La Vida, Nicaragua (7)||89.3|
|Rocky Patel Number 6, Honduras (5)||89.2|
|Aganorsa Supreme Leaf, Nicaragua (1)||89.0|
|Alec Bradley Black Market Estelí, Nicaragua (1)||89.0|
|Cohiba Royale, Honduras (3)||89.0|
|Cuevas Reserva Natural, Dom. Rep. (3)||89.0|
|E.P. Carrillo Encore, Dom. Rep. (2)||89.0|
|Henry Clay War Hawk Rebellious, Nicaragua (1)||89.0|
|Herrera Esteli Connecticut Broadleaf, Nicaragua (1)||89.0|
|Highlere Castle Victorian, Nicaragua (5)||89.0|
|Hoyo de Monterrey, Cuba (1)||89.0|
|JFR Lunatic Torch, Nicaragua (3)||89.0|
|Joya de Nicaragua Antaño Connecticut, Nicaragua (4)||89.0|
|La Aurora, Dom. Rep. (1)||89.0|
|La Coalición, Nicaragua (4)||89.0|
|My Father La Opulencia, Nicaragua (1)||89.0|
|New World, Nicaragua (1)||89.0|
|Plasencia Alma del Campo, Nicaragua (1)||89.0|
|Undercrown Shade, Nicaragua (1)||89.0|
|Alec & Bradley Gatekeeper, Dom. Rep. (4)||88.8|
|Plasencia Alma Fuerte, Nicaragua (4)||88.8|
|Fonseca by My Father, Nicaragua (6)||88.7|
|Rocky Patel World Championship, Nicaragua (3)||88.7|
|La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero, Dom. Rep. (5)||88.6|
|Romeo y Julieta 1875 Connecticut Nicaragua, Nicaragua (4)||88.5|
|Crux Epicure, Nicaragua (6)||88.3|
|HVC Hot Cake, Nicaragua (3)||88.3|
|Oscar Valladares Super Fly, Honduras (3)||88.3|
|Davidoff, Dom. Rep. (2)||88.0|
|Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask, Nicaragua (3)||88.0|
|JFR Lunatic Loco, Nicaragua (3)||88.0|
|New World Connecticut, Nicaragua (1)||88.0|
|Room101 10th Anniversary, Nicaragua (1)||88.0|
|Timeless, Nicaragua (1)||88.0|
|Espinosa Laranja Reserva Escuro, Nicaragua (4)||87.8|
|Gran Habano Blue in Green, Honduras (4)||87.8|
|Trinidad Espiritu, Nicaragua (5)||87.8|
|Diplomático by Mombacho Cigars S.A., Nicaragua (3)||87.7|
|Perdomo Reserve 10th Anniversary Sun Grown, Nicaragua (6)||87.7|
|Rocky Patel LB1, Honduras (5)||87.6|
|La Aurora 115th Anniversary, Dom. Rep. (4)||87.5|
|Villiger do Brasil Claro, Brazil (2)||87.5|
|Casa Turrent 1880 Oscuro, Mexico (1)||87.0|
|My Father The Judge, Nicaragua (1)||87.0|
|Yagua, Nicaragua (1)||87.0|
|Nub Cameroon, Nicaragua (4)||86.8|
|Quesada 1974, Dom. Rep. (4)||86.8|
|Paul Garmirian Gourmet Series III, Dom. Rep. (3)||86.7|
|H. Upmann Herman’s Batch, Dom. Rep. (4)||86.5|
|Avo Improvisation, Dom. Rep. (1)||86.0|
|La Galera Anemoi, Dom. Rep. (5)||85.6|
|Villiger do Brasil Maduro, Brazil (2)||85.5|
|Herrera Esteli, Nicaragua (1)||85.0|
|Alec Bradley Magic Toast, Honduras (1)||84.0|
Cigar Insider rated 28 cigars from Honduras, which ranks third in imports to the United States. It trailed the Dominican Republic by a razor-slim margin (with a brand average of only 0.2 percent less) but Insider rated about half as many Honduran cigars.
Of the four cigars from Brazil rated this year, none made it to 90 points. The country has an average rating of 86.5.
Compared to last year, most country averages hovered in the same numerical vicinity with negligible fluctuations. Cuba rose from 90.4 points in 2019 to 90.5 in 2020, while Nicaragua went down from 89.1 to 89 even. The Dominican Republic climbed a bit from 88.2 last year to 88.6 this year. Honduras saw the biggest drop at an entire point from 89.4 to 88.4.
It’s obvious by looking at these tables that finding a great cigar in 2020 wasn’t a problem, but finding a great cigar at a bargain price wasn’t as easy. Of the year’s 31 highest-scoring cigars (92 points or higher) only 10 of them retail for less than $10 (widely considered the “sweet spot” price of premium cigars). The rest of the top scores are quite expensive, and some are exceptionally pricey with MSRPs exceeding $30. A premium cigar is, after all, a luxury item.
Analysis By Country
|Brand||Cigars||Average Score||Average Price|
|Villiger do Brasil Claro||2||87.5||$9.25|
|Villiger do Brasil Maduro||2||85.5||$9.25|
|Hoyo de Monterrey||1||89.0||£30.90|
|Romeo y Julieta||6||90.2||£28.59|
|Cuevas Reserva Natural||3||89.0||$9.93|
|E.P. Carrillo Encore||2||89.0||$16.63|
|E.P. Carrillo La Historia||5||89.4||$13.07|
|E.P. Carrillo Pledge||2||91.5||$11.38|
|Four Kicks Capa Especial||3||89.3||$9.32|
|Fuente Fuente OpusX||6||91.5||$16.78|
|H. Upmann Herman’s Batch||4||86.5||$9.73|
|La Aurora 115th Anniversary||4||87.5||$10.25|
|La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero||5||88.6||$9.42|
|La Galera Anemoi||5||85.6||$10.15|
|Paul Garmirian Gourmet Series III||3||86.7||$15.60|
|Saga Short Tales||3||91.0||$6.13|
|Aladino Corojo Reserva||1||88.0||$10.00|
|Alec Bradley Magic Toast||1||84.0||$9.25|
|Gran Habano Blue in Green||4||87.8||$9.20|
|Oscar Valladares Super Fly||3||88.3||$10.33|
|Rocky Patel LB1||5||87.6||$9.77|
|Rocky Patel Number 6||5||89.2||$10.59|
|Casa Turrent 1880 Claro||1||91.0||$20.00|
|Casa Turrent 1880 Colorado||1||90.0||$20.00|
|Casa Turrent 1880 Maduro||1||91.0||$20.00|
|Casa Turrent 1880 Oscuro||1||87.0||$20.00|
|La Sirena Aniversario Especial||1||91.0||$19.00|
|601 La Bomba||1||90.0||$10.00|
|Aganorsa Supreme Leaf||1||89.0||$10.50|
|Alec Bradley Black Market Estelí||1||89.0||$9.85|
|Días de Gloria||4||89.3||$10.50|
|Diesel Whiskey Row Sherry Cask||3||88.0||$8.99|
|Diplomático by Mombacho Cigars S.A.||3||87.7||$12.62|
|Don Lino Africa||5||89.4||$9.30|
|Espinosa Laranja Reserva Escuro||4||87.8||$10.35|
|Flor del Valle||1||90.0||$12.95|
|Fonseca by My Father||6||88.7||$9.51|
|Henry Clay War Hawk Rebellious||1||89.0||$9.60|
|Herrera Esteli Connecticut Broadleaf||1||89.0||$12.46|
|Highlere Castle VIctorian||5||89.0||$14.00|
|HVC Hot Cake||3||88.3||$8.13|
|Illusione Fume d’Amour||6||89.3||$9.87|
|JFR Lunatic Loco||3||88.0||$9.69|
|JFR Lunatic Torch||3||89.0||$10.33|
|Joya de Nicaragua Antaño Connecticut||4||89.0||$8.96|
|Joya de Nicaragua Número Uno||2||90.0||$15.80|
|La Aroma de Cuba Edicion Especial||6||89.8||$8.44|
|Micallef Herencia Habano||1||91.0||$12.00|
|Micallef Herencia Maduro||1||92.0||$12.00|
|My Father La Opulencia||1||89.0||$12.20|
|My Father The Judge||1||87.0||$11.00|
|Nat Cicco Casino Real||5||89.4||$5.69|
|New World Connecticut||1||88.0||$8.00|
|Oliva Serie V Melanio Maduro||1||92.0||$15.00|
|Padrón Family Reserve||5||91.6||$27.06|
|Perdomo Reserve 10th Anniversary Sun Grown||6||87.7||$8.79|
|Plasencia Alma del Campo||1||89.0||$17.00|
|Plasencia Alma Fuerte||4||88.8||$20.41|
|Psyko Seven Nicaragua||3||89.7||$8.99|
|Rocky Patel World Championship||3||88.7||$9.75|
|Romeo y Julieta 1875 Connecticut Nicaragua||4||88.5||$8.09|
|Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real Nicaragua||4||90.5||$9.27|
|Room101 10th Anniversary||1||88.0||$10.00|
|Southern Draw Cedrus||1||91.0||$9.99|
|Tatuaje Monster Series||1||90.0||$13.00|
|Viaje Circa ’45||3||89.7||$12.80|
|Viva La Vida||7||89.3||$12.67|
Note: All Cuban cigar prices have been converted into British pounds for sake of comparison.
On the whole, great cigars were not found at bargain-basement prices, but there were a few. Of the 267 cigars we smoked this year, nine were classified as Best Buys, which means they have a suggested retail price of $6 or less and scored 87 points or higher. The Nicaraguan Nat Cicco Casino Real Double Toro topped the small Best Buy list, scoring 92 points and retailing for only $5.79.
Smokers on a budget will most likely do best with cigars made in Nicaragua. The average suggested retail price for the 148 Nicaraguans we rated was $11.04. Although the lowest average retail price of the year came from Brazil at $9.02, that average was generated from only a four-cigar sample which doesn’t give us enough of a pricing picture. The average price for cigars coming out of Honduras was $11.47, with the Dominican Republic only 63 cents higher at $12.87. Cuban cigars showed the highest average retail price at £26.67 (about $35.15).
Veteran smokers may remember a time when the market was full of something they longingly refer to as “traditional sizes” like coronas, petit coronas and lonsdales. Cigar Insider only rated a relative few this year, as was commensurate with the market. That’s not to say that these slim smokes are of poor quality. In 2020, Insider tested seven panetelas, which averaged 89.7 points, second only to the single, uncommon “A” size we rated at 94 points. The 10 petit coronas averaged 89.6 points and the seven coronas had an average of 88.4. In between are the more popular sizes.
Demand for Churchills might be waning in the market as well, but Insider rated 15 of them and they averaged quite well at 89.5 points. We rated more than three times as many robustos, 50 in total, yet the average was only 0.2 points behind at 89.3. Toros (also called corona gordas) performed quite well, especially considering it was the largest category by volume. This year, we rated 103 toros, which averaged 89 points, but keep in mind the high number of toros directly correlates to the market. It would be quite difficult to find a premium cigar brand without a toro in the portfolio.
The figurado category was only a tenth of a point behind, averaging 88.9 points over 37 cigars. Figurados can be torpedos, belicosos, perfectos or any shaped cigar with a point, curve or taper.
Our definition of a grande is any cigar with a thickness of 60 ring gauge or higher. Cigars that thick used to be considered novelties, but are now quite common. Cigar Insider rated 21 grandes, which maintained an average of 88.3 points.
The lowest average belongs to the miscellaneous category, which came to 87.6 points for 13 cigars. This grouping is made up of oddly shaped cigars that are either too thick, too short, too skinny or too unusual to fall into any other category.
If this report points to anything, it’s that the general standard for premium cigars is quite high across the board and no single country has the monopoly on excellence. Cigar styles vary from producer to producer, and like wine, the character of tobacco is dictated by soil, seed and climate, but the overall character of the finished product is determined by the expertise and creativity of the maker.
This year, cigar fans wanted the same thing that they’ve wanted any other year: superlative smokes. Despite the difficulties of 2020, the premium industry fulfilled that wish. And the year-end numbers prove it.
Data compiled by Thomas Pappalardo.