I am leaving in 30 minutes for Pinar del Rio, the tobacco region of Cuba, to visit the world’s greatest tobacco grower, Alejandro Robania. The 84-year-old is to tobacco what Robert Mondavi is to California wine. And he is a salty old man, who makes me feel like I am spending time with my late grandfather. He's like family to me and he knows everything there is to know about tobacco and cigars. I think they are laying on a little fiesta for me today since it's my birthday. The drive is about two hours out of Havana.
I don’t want to bore you with all this, but the parallels between tobacco and wine are very interesting. What makes great cigars is what makes great wines. It is a question of raw material from places with special soils and climates--what the French would call terroir. Robania has the Romanee-Conti of plantations for wrapper tobacco (the stuff that goes on the outside of cigars). And his tobacco is used on some of the island’s most prestigious smokes, such as Cohiba and Trinidad.
Anyway, I am motoring there in a few minutes, down a long a bumpy road with very few cars but the occasional bus, taxi or truck. It’s like going back in time, as many of the vehicles are from the 1950s. But that’s another blog. Or I’ll tell you in person.
The cool thing is that I am bringing Alejandro a case of red wine as a present. His doctor told him that he should lay off the rum and cerveza and drink more red wine. Unfortunately, red wine is not easy to find out in the middle of nowhere. Many people don’t even have electricity or windows for their houses. So I bought 12 bottles of something simple, good and available in Havana--Torres Sangre de Torro of Spain’s Penedes region. I had a bottle in a tiny restaurant last night in Havana with some grilled ribs, rice and beans, and it did the trick nicely (after I chilled it a bit in the fridge).
You can’t drink super Tuscans and classified-growth Bordeaux all the time! And a simple bottle of hearty red is good just about anywhere...