Punch ManTua: Cuban Cigars with Serious Oomph
by Ken Gargett
I have previously discussed the plethora of programs put in place by Habanos for special release cigars ad nauseum. As well as the Limited Editions, we have Collections, Selections, Exclusives, Reserves, Grand Reserves, Millenium Reserves, Aged Habanos, Commemorative releases, Special Event releases, and more. It is, however, the Regional Edition Releases (Edición Regional) that have perhaps proved the most ubiquitous.
This program commenced in 2005, and in the intervening years we have seen hundreds of releases. Habanos controls the promotion, distribution, and export of premium Cuban cigars worldwide. The series works by regional distributors for Habanos commissioning special and exclusive cigars for their district. So, if say the Mexican distributors felt their market was keen for double corona from a particular brand, they could submit that and it would be prepared for them, although that is a most simplistic description.
It is then up to Habanos as to whether they accept the recommendation. The order must be for a minimum of 25,000 cigars and the cost of production is paid upfront by the distributor. The distributor can arrange speciality packaging, although two bands has become traditional. One will be a silver and red band, noting Exclusivo, and the name of the region. The other will usually indicate the brand.
If Habanos agree to produce the recommendation, they will prepare three prototypes. The distributor will make the choice as to which of these three they prefer and production will commence. The distributor can arrange for a second run of the same cigar the following year. One of the most highly regarded releases was the Ramón Allones Estupendos which was prepared for the Asia Pacifico region in 2006, yet there were also many others released from 2007.
The first release of these Regional Editions in 2005 consisted of five cigars, two Punch, and three Ramon Allones. Two were for Italy, two for Switzerland and one was described as an ‘Exclusive Release’. 2006 saw six releases – two Bolivar, and one each from Juan Lopez, Por Larranaga, Punch and Ramon Allones. They were two each for Germany, France and the Asia Pacific. And so it goes. Often a release will be attributed to a specific year but not be actually released until the following year, or even later.
Originally, the self-imposed rules restricted the brands available for selection to those outside what are termed the Global and Niche brands. The Global brands include Cohiba, H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta, Hoyo de Monterrey, Partagas, and Montecristo. The Niche brand category was abandoned in 2019, allowing for further options, including Cuaba and San Cristobel.
Apparently, no decision has been made on whether Trinidad can be used for Regional Editions, but there has not been any offered from this brand to date. There have been discontinued and even new brands used. In addition, the cigars must be a standard current production factory size, not already available in that brand. In 2016, another rule was introduced. A cigar from the same brand cannot appear two years in a row for the same distributor.
Prior to 2012, the regional distributors were permitted to commission multiple cigars per year, however, this was altered to limit it to one cigar per region. Larger distributors can use an end-run around this by commissioning multiple cigars from different regions within their territory. While the cigars are exclusively for the specific regions designated, inevitably they bleed into others, and usually can be purchased on the net, so cigar lovers can enjoy releases not destined for their location. Hence, one of my very favorite Regional Editions was the Bolivar Simones, made for Canada.
In reality, the endless production of these cigars, sometimes up to two dozen different cigars a year, makes it largely impossible to closely follow all releases, but word will inevitably filter around the cigar world as to anything special. Or indeed, those that fall well short.
One which attracted considerable attention was the 2018 Italian Regional, Punch ManTua. Even though it was a 2018 release, it did not see the light of day until 2020.
The name links Italy and Cuba. Mantua is an Italian city but also a small town in the Pinar del Rio district. It was founded by Italians who were shipwrecked nearby, on the northern coast of the region, around the year of 1605, give or take. The ship was named the Mantua, under the direction of Captain Anatolli Fiorenzana. The shipwreck allegedly occurred because the Italian ship was fleeing the British, who had mistaken them for pirates and were doing their best to sink them. The town of Mantua in Cuba, to this day, has several residents with Italian surnames.
For reasons unknown, while the town does not have the ‘T’ capitalised, the cigar does. I have absolutely no idea why and have not been able to discover the reason.
The reviews of these have been largely positive and they have been highly sought after at both retailers and cigar auction houses like Bond Roberts. They come in cabinets of 50 (a wonderful size and if only there was more of them), and will cost somewhere north of US$2,000 a cabinet (the original price was €600 for a cabinet). But not all comments have been in favor. There are divergent opinions. To be honest, this didn’t bother me at all, as I doubted I’d ever get the chance to taste one. And then along came that very cigar (with the code of LMB 19).
The cigar is an el Laguito No 2 (el Laguito being the most famous factory of all), at 38 x 152 mm (six inches for the non-metric among us). Petit Lancero might be a more familiar description of the size. The second band in this case is an attractive black and gold, but it makes no mention of Punch, until you pull out a powerful electron microscope and there it is. Curious. Apparently, it relates back to Punch labels from the 1970s. 2,500 cabinets were produced. The ManTua has that thin ring gauge that many aficionados love but which seems so rare these days. It also boasts a small pigtail.
The cigar was immaculately constructed with a fine Colorado wrapper. It is obvious from the first puff that this is no shrinking violet, sitting at medium full for me, for the entire journey. The dominant flavor to begin is a lovely peanut note, which stays with it for the full length, in varying degrees. There are spicy notes, very gentle hints of pepper and a slight woody character.
Along with the peanut notes, coffee beans is the next most obvious flavor. The cigar has serious oomph throughout. Some find a slight sweetness but mine had no evidence of it. Dark berries and espresso coffee. A touch of dark chocolate. The cigar has considerable complexity and there is no hint of anything out of place or any of the awkwardness that sometimes afflicts younger cigars.
What did stand out was the impression that this will be a cigar for the long haul. Anyone putting a cabinet of these down for five, even ten years, will be very happy indeed. For me, 94. I understand that not everyone has enjoyed these as much as I did, but I have only good things to say about it.