More than fifty years ago, then-President John F. Kennedy had Pierre Salinger buy four dozen boxes of the now discontinued H. Upmann petit coronas the night before he signed the Cuban embargo into law, banning the import of Cuban products into the United States and devastating the tobacco tastebuds of an entire generation. In those days there were few acceptable alternatives.
As it happens, I have over the years come to favor coronas and petit coronas, foresaking larger cigars that simply take too long to smoke, particularly now that smokers of any kind are banned from so many temperature controlled environments. Fortunately, the world-wide cigar industry has made great strides toward producing cigars of the quality once found only in Cuba. I principally consume Dominican Arturo Fuente Don Carlos #3s, a 5 1/2" smoke that is spicy and full bodied. It is consistently rated 90 (outstanding) by Cigar Aficionado magazine and many people consider it the best of the entire highly regarded Fuente product line.
The grass, or tobacco in this case, always being greener on the other side of the fence, I recently audited an off-shore tasting of three Cuban petit coronas that are rated with or somewhat better than the Fuentes. Two of them, the Romeo & Julieta Cedro Deluxe #3 and the Montecristo #4 were 5 1/8" long, the standard for the size. The other, a Cohiba Siglo 1, is only 4" long - technically a tres petite corona - but the Siglo 2 that is the proper length could not be found on the appointed day.
The principal ratings differences of any of these cigars from year to year tend to be related to the quality of their construction rather than their flavor, and my colleagues certainly found that to be true this time. The Montecristo emerged as the favorite though not by a wide margin, with my Don Carlos unanimously rated fourth in this completely un-scientific test.
Unlike cigarettes, which are a health nightmare, cigars taken in moderation do not seem to have lasting effects that are as bad for the consumer as, for only one example, Coca Cola. Nonetheless, between politics and the anti-tobacco-in-any-form crowd, I expect the embargo will go on indefinitely, like the century-old California water subsidies that have us paying farmers to grow irrigated rice in the middle of a desert. But that is life.