The Habanos World Challenge Contest


The Habanos World Challenge Contest will celebrate its first edition in 2018 at the 20th Habanos Festival, which will be held in La Habana from February 26th to March 2nd, 2018. Teams representing different world countries will participate in the contest and demonstrate their best knowledge of Cuban cigars.

In this article we write about how the Habanos World Challenge was born, what the challenges of qualifying round and grand final include, as well as how country finalists prepare for the duels.

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The idea of the Habanos World Challenge was born from La Disfida. Habanos is now expanding and institutionalizing it across the world.

La Disfida was created by Nicola Pileggi (President of CCA Alto Salento Cigar Club, Italy) and is currently the event at which the preliminary local stage selections are made for Italy. The Italian teams were challenged on October 21st last and the finalists are Gianluca Sinisi (Ischia Cigar Club) and Francesco Ventura (Amicigar).

In fact, the dynamics of the worldwide contest include a preliminary local stage organized by the local Habanos distributor, a preliminary qualifying round with all finalists, as well as the grand final, both held at the Habanos festival in La Habana.

The Habanos World Challenge Contest

The challenges of the qualifying round will be:
– knowledge test of 30 questions in 5 knowledge areas: cultivation of the tobacco plant, making of a habano, cigar tasting and retail concepts, history of the brands and current as well as historical releases (20 minutes)
– blind tasting with identification of factory name, commercial name, brand and flavour (40 minutes)
– demonstration of the ability to cut and light the cigars in the pairing suggestion (10 minutes)
– pairing suggestion of a Habano with a drink, potentially also with an added snack.

The grand final will include:
– a duel of 25 questions
– the exposition of a theme in 5 minutes (with 3 minutes of team preparation)
– a blind matching where finalists need to identify factory name, commercial name, brand and flavour of the cigars, but also the type of the spirit or liquor, its making characteristics, origin and trademark.

Being Habanos Academy certified is a nice to have because it allows to start with bonus points, depending on the certification level. However, the contest is also open to cigar sommeliers or any Cuban cigar aficionado. The local stage requirements vary across countries.

In the UK, the preliminary local stage requires a Master of Havana Cigars by Hunters & Frankau. This is stated by Mike Choi – Master of Havana Cigars, winner of the UK Habanosommelier Competiton in 2013 and 2nd best International Habanosommelier in 2014 – adding that “all countries have adapted to the changes in the Habanos competitions”.

How do the country finalists prepare for the Habanos World Challenge Contest?

We have asked the Italian finalists.

Francesco, 27 years old, was also finalist at the Cigar Smoking World Championship 2016 Italian Stage organized by Cigar Club Mareva. His greatest coach is his girl-friend Emanuela, who “helps me memorize the many theoretical notions, prepares  a large number of blind tests and challenges me to constantly improve my knowledge”, he said. Of course, he can also count on the support of mentors and connoisseurs that he frequently meets.

Gianluca and Francesco purchased the entire catalog of cigars imported in Italy in 2017. They exercise together on blind tests and on comparative smokes (same sizes belonging to different brands), recording as many perceptions as possible. Gianluca’s advice is to “never just consider the wrapper, be methodic, well organized, not only test blind, but compare cigars”.

For the Habanos World Challenge Contest, supported by distributor Diadema SpA, they are obtaining the international material for the theoretical preparation and the cigars available outside of Italy.

The official resources to prepare for the contest are “El libro del Habano” and the Habanos website. As additional support, distributor Phoenicia T.A.A (Cyprus) L.t.d., representing more than 56 countries in Europe, Africa, Gulf and Middle East, created an iOS app.

Gianluca and Francesco also try various pairings with the objective to present to the jury something special, but at the same time easily repeatable, both because it is expressly required for the contest and because too many times one tends to focus on the rare pairing, forgetting that there is something extraordinary in the ordinary. At the preliminary local stage, the pairing they proposed consisted of Por Larranaga Montecarlos with a Muffato della Sala Marchesi Antinori. Gianluca is a professional sommelier.

The Habanos World Challenge Contest
Gianluca Sinisi (pouring wine), Francesco Ventura. Jury (from top): Giuseppe Elefante, Nicola Pileggi, Andrea Vincenzi, Antonio Peraino.


We wish all participants the greatest success!


– interviews: Francesco Ventura, Gianluca Sinisi, Nicola Pileggi, Stefano Minoia, Alejandro Fernández-Blanco, Mike Choi, Phoenicia Ltd.

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