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|| News Item: Posted 2000-10-31

The Count on Cigars: Great Cigars & Wine in Sydney
Good stuff in Sydney, cutting and lighting and cigar web sites

By Eric Risberg

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This month, I'll answer some of the questions I've been asked most recently: How do you cut and light a cigar? What cigars go best with Vegemite? And, more important, do you drink white or red with kangaroo?

Before you besiege me with e-mails, I'm just kidding about the last one - sort of. I just returned from covering the Olympic games in Sydney and finally have time to reflect on my experiences, while I sit outside enjoying one of the few remaining days of daylight savings time and puffing away on a very rich robusto, coupled with some dark rum and Coca-Cola. America is a great place, indeed.

First, the cigars and wine. Any time I get the chance to travel outside the country, I get excited about the prospect of chasing down some fine Cuban cigars that aren't available in the U.S. I had high hopes for Australia, but realistically didn't figure I would find much since that country, until recently, had a ban on the sale of Cigar Aficionado magazine. Also, I knew I'd be so busy that I wouldn't have time to sniff out the best cigar places.

Lucky for me, I hit gold on my first outing: a steak place with a humidor just inside the entrance and a cigar bar downstairs. Here at Kingsley's Steak House and Cigar Lounge near the Darling Harbour, I found not only great food, but a humidor holding a nice stack of oily Montecristo Number 2 torpedoes with dark chocolate-colored wrappers, about $18 apiece. The Monte 2 is one of the toughest cigars to find, and to get a good one with a dark wrapper is even better.

Other than one other tobacconist, I found it was pretty tough to find any cigars in Sydney. On a subsequent visit to Kingsley's, I picked up a few more Monte 2s to take home - and, as always, I later wished that I picked up a few more. I thought perhaps that there might be a good buying
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opportunity on the way out of the country at the airport, but the duty-free shop had a limited selection and high prices. It also looked like many of the cigars had been stored there for some time in less than optimal conditions. (Most duty-free shops throughout the world are notorious for not having the best-humidified conditions.)

But the real find in Australia was the wine. Australian wine that sells here for about $6 to $7 a bottle sells for about $4 to $5 Australian. While I was there, the Australian dollar was equal to about 53 cents U.S., making the wine quite a value. Not only that, but I discovered that less than a third of all Australian wines even make it to the U.S., so what we have in the U.S. isn't really representative of everything that Australia produces.

Needless to say, I was able to try a number of wines that are not available here that I have never tried before. Among my favorites were the wines by Peter Lehman and Rufus Stone, and as far as wine regions go, I was most impressed with the wines from the Barossa.

And I'm not sure about what wine to serve with kangaroo, although I suspect a mellow, light red - one of my dinner companions who ordered it as an entrée reported it was a bit gamy. I stuck to the crocodile, which, since it tasted like chicken, went well with a crisp, dry Aussie white.

Cutting and Lighting

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One thing that doesn't change from continent to continent is how to cut and light a cigar. And how not to: Don't lick a cigar before lighting it. This is something from the old days when cigars weren't properly humidified, and no longer needs to be done.

There are three kinds of cuts that can be made to cigars before lighting. First is the guillotine cut, which is a straight across slice taken off the head of the cigar. Second is the "V" cut in which a "V" shaped wedge is cut into the head. Third is the pierce, where a hole is punched through the center of the head of the cigar.

While many consider the "V" cut best, there are only few "V" clippers available, and they aren't large enough for bigger cigars. The two that are most practical are the guillotine and the pierce, both of which are my favorites. The guillotine exposes a large surface, allows a draw of the most flavor and is very easy to use. When using one, you need to be careful to just cut off the cap of the cigar so that a Churchill does not become a robusto. Inexpensive guillotines with a single or dull blade can also mangle and ruin a cigar. The best guillotine for the money that I have seen is the one made by Davidoff that sells for around $50.

The pierce is easy to use, but some say it creates a tunnel through which excessive heat makes the smoke unpleasant and bitter. To avoid this problem, if I have a larger ring gauge cigar, I pierce it in a couple of places. A favorite piercing tool is the Avo Uvezian model (sold by Davidoff) that fits on my keychain and sells for about $60.

Cigar-related web sites

As fall settles in, here are a few cool cigar-related web sites to check out:
The most complete all-in-one site that can lead you to a few hundred more cigar sites. I found a great end table humidor here.
The Philadelphia retailer affiliated with the makers of Fuente, Opus and Ashton.
Perhaps the biggest mail order discount cigar seller in the country with some of the best prices.
Frankly, I enjoy this web site more than reading the magazine. The magazine recently underwent a redesign and has less information than ever about cigars. If you want to read about celebrities, expensive watches, golf destinations that none of us could ever afford and exotic cars, then stick with the magazine, which should just be called Aficionado since it pretty much skips the cigar part altogether.

Happy surfing!
The Count.

(Eric Risberg ("The Count") is a staff photographer with the Associated Press based in the San Francisco Bay Area.)

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