As the year draws to a close, the cigar industry recovers from record highs of tobacco consumption. Cigar imports from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic and their resultant sales to the American market continue at 2020-2022 levels. Cigar Aficionado’s 2023 Year-in-Review article made a clear case for Nicaragua’s preeminence: 122 cigars released in 2023 rated as 90 points or higher; 65 of these cigars hailed from Nicaragua. Nicaragua is the industry’s workhorse, reaching almost 182 million imported cigars as of Q3 2023. The Dominican Republic and Honduras produced dozens of well-received brands, maintaining their reputation as cigar countries. This article lists the top 10 cigars of 2023 according to the team LM Cigars featuring Nicaraguan and Dominican handmade, long-filler cigars.
No. 10: El Baton Double Torpedo
El Baton is the newest Nicaraguan handmade cigar from J.C. Newman Cigar Co. Relaunched in 2022, El Baton established itself as a powerhouse of flavor in the Nicaraguan selection of the quotidian humidor. Made from finely aged Nicaraguan Jalapa and Esteli filler tobaccos, El Baton has bold tasting nates of leather, pepper, and hazelnut. Originally a nickel cigar made from inexpensive tobacco in Midwestern cigar factories, the modern El Baton is anything but a fly-over. El Baton Double Torpedo (6.25×56) has a balanced, medium-bodied smoke from the Ecuadorian wrapper tobacco with a spicy kick from its Nicaraguan filler. This cigar received multiple 91 ratings from Cigar Aficionado in 2009 and in 2023. This is a phenomenal cigar for a great price point, earning it the tenth spot on this list.
Alma del Fuego, meaning soul of fire in Spanish, is a bold Nicaraguan handmade cigar from Plasencia Cigars S.A. Released in 2019, this cigar is a medium-to-full bodied Nicaraguan puro with a spicy Jalapa sungrown wrapper. The Concepcion (6×54) pulls out all the stops: from sweet to peppery, from salty to tart, from acidic to meaty. The palate and nose experience a rainbow of flavors and aroma sensations. Cigar Aficionado rated this cigar a 93 in 2023 saying, “Once the cigar burns past the uncut foot, the smoke becomes much like a balanced shot of espresso, full of roasted arabica notes, dried fruit, a bit of spice and a sweet layer of caramel.” And all this carried by thick, creamy smoke. This cigar is a great pick for any Nicaraguan lover and the number nine entry on this list.
Since its unveiling at a tradeshow in 2012, Serie V Melanio is the most popular brand from Tabacalera Oliva S.A. Named after the Oliva family patriarch, Serie V Melanio is part of a 137-year-old tradition of Cuban tobacco farming. Today, Gilberto Oliva and his family own the second largest Cuban-seed tobacco farm in Nicaragua.
The figurado vitola (6×52f) of this brand is the recipient of dozens of high ratings: a 93 rating from Halfwheel.com in 2012, a Cigar of the Year nomination from Cigar Journal in 2017, and a 95 rating from Cigar Aficionado in 2023. Proving itself time and again, and earning the eighth spot on this list, the Melanio Figurado is a Nicaraguan handmade with a medium-bodied flavor profile. “Impressive in its opulence and complexity, this box-pressed figurado leaves clearly-pronounced impressions of nutmeg, walnut and leather on the palate. A rich, earthy undertone brings all the elements to a decadent level.”
A new brand with an old player, West Tampa Tobacco Co. was an overnight sensation thanks in no small part to the genius of Master Blender Rick Rodriguez. “Normally when I blend cigars, I don’t blend for what I like, I blend cigars for what my fans enjoy. Red will be a reflection of what I believe is the next piece to lay in the West Tampa puzzle, a full-bodied cigar that delivers the full flavor consumers have come to enjoy from West Tampa.”
At number seven, West Tampa Red is a medium to full-bodied cigar made from aged Mexican San Andres wrapper, Nicaraguan Condega binder, and Nicaraguan Esteli filler. Cigar Aficionado rated the West Tampa Red Robusto (5×50) a 93. The lush draw of this evenly-burning robusto imparts a smoke that’s rich with chocolate intonations from first puff to last. Tasty layers of nutmeg, hickory, molasses and leather also unfold before a mocha finish.
The most successful celebrity cigar collaboration to date, Blackened Cigars from Metallica’s James Hetfield and Drew Estate seized the cigar industry by storm with a series of positive reviews on Halfwheel.com, Cigar Journal, and Cigar Aficionado. All the Blackened vitolas received 90 or higher ratings from Cigar Aficionado. This earned the cigar its number six position on this list of top 10 cigars of 2023. About as maduro as possible, this cigar is a blend of Nicaraguan, American, and Mexican tobacco all rendered to a dark, oily consistency. The corona vitola (5×43) has an inky look with tasting notes of spice such as saffron, nutmeg and cinnamon atop a bready profile, possessing a touch of semi-sweet chocolate and an earthy finish. This cigar rightfully made numerous other top ten or twenty-five cigar lists for 2023.
Originally launched in 2021 as an exclusive cigar for member-retailers of the Tobacconists’ Association of America TAA, La Palina White Label is a sumptuous smooth-to-medium-bodied Nicaraguan puro handmade cigar from La Palina. Named for company founder Samuel Paley’s wife in 1896, La Palina cigars are a household name. The White Label brand surged to great success in 2022 and 2023, expanding to several vitolas and earning the number five spot on this list with its Churchill (7×50) size. This vitola earned a 91 score from Cigar Aficionado. Oils from the binder leaf seep through the light wrapper of this bumpy Churchill, which burns and draws easily. Smoking this cigar is like eating a bag of trail mix with notes of raisin, sweet granola clusters, nuts and honey which all recur on the pleasant finish.
At the number four position in this list, Ashton’s most popular Nicaraguan handmade La Aroma de Cuba line continues its reign with the high praise of the Mi Amor Belicoso (5.5×54f), recipient of a 95 score from Cigar Aficionado. An elegant, rich smoke that envelops the palate with uncanny notes of malted chocolate and mixed nuts. The sweet and savory elements harmonize beautifully with a salted peanut note, all of which recur on the long finish. The medium to full-bodied profile is terrifically versatile and sought-after by new cigar lovers and seasoned connoisseurs alike. Its decadent, complex finish is entirely original. Pepin’s signature Nicaraguan spices enchant in a savory and immeasurable presentation.
A sudden departure from Nicaragua’s domination of this list, the Dominican handmade Diamond Crown Julius Caeser cigar secures the number three position. Immensely popular since its release in 2012, the Julius Caeser is J.C. Newman Cigar Co.’s go-to medium-bodied Dominican handmade with tasting notes of cocoa, baker’s spices, and leather. Most recently, Cigar Aficionado rated the Julius Caesar Robusto (4.75×52) as a 91. This cigar is named after famed cigar maker and company founder Julius Caeser Newman. Dark and inky, this cigar produces ample amounts of smoke on the lush draw. It starts strong, but mellows to show notes of creamy chocolate, pecan, toasted coconut and a dried black cherry finish.
Another Dominican handmade, the Don Carlos No. 2 (5.75×55) earns the second spot on the top 10 cigars of 2023 for its overwhelming consistency and quality. Named in honor of its legendary creator and Fuente family patriarch Don Carlos Fuente, Sr., Arturo Fuente Don Carlos cigars are the world’s finest African Cameroon wrapper smokes. To create this masterpiece, Carlos Fuente, Sr. blended rare, vintage tobaccos that were hand selected and aged 10 years. Though there’s some resistance on the draw, this torpedo burns slow and cool, delivering a bold smoke with very well-pronounced notes of caramel and cocoa powder before the lasting fresh tobacco finish. Cigar Aficionado gave the Don Carlos No. 2 a 94 point rating.
No. 1: Padron Serie 1926 No. 2
As if there were ever any doubt, a Nicaraguan handmade cigar secures the ultimate spot on this list. The finest Nicaraguan cigar manufacturer in the world, Padron sells their cigars on reputation alone. Regardless of size or blend, a Padron cigar means phenomenal flavor and remarkable quality. The Padron Serie 1926 No. 2 (5.5×52) is a Nicaraguan handmade puro with finely aged tobaccos throughout, causing the cigar to brim with flavor. Earning a 94 rating from Cigar Aficionado, the earthy, toasty core of this box-pressed belicoso is beautifully accented by layers of chocolate-covered almond, concentrated dried fruit and pure milk chocolate before the spicy finish. Rich and complex. As with anything manufactured by Padron, this one is a sure bet. This is why it has won our #1 spot on our top 10 cigars of 2023.