The Anatomy of a Cigar - Advanced - Cigar Wrappers
Lets take a deep dive into cigar wrappers. Lets get cigar nerdy! The wrapper is the main flavor of the cigar, but its intricacies are fascinating. Understanding the cigar wrapper and its many different types will enhance your appreciation of a premium hand rolled cigar.
The color and sheen of the exterior wrapper are the initial attributes a smoker notices when looking at a cigar. The wrapper provides an important marketing platform for the manufacturer and simultaneously informs the consumer as to the content and quality of the cigar.
Also, a cigar’s wrapper leaf can determine anywhere from 60% to 90% of the cigar’s overall flavor. A good trick to identify the significance of the wrapper is to cut an inch of wrapper leaf off the bottom of a cigar, stripping it much. This shows the filler and binder leaves only. This portion of the cigar will taste much less flavorful, and reveal the true importance of the wrapper.
The wrapper is often an attractive sales pitch for a cigar, much like an appealing album or book cover. At the very least, the wrapper is a message saying, “smoke me.” And though a quality wrapper often indicates a superior smoke, it usually affects the cigar’s composition and aesthetic more so than the entire flavor. In short, it introduces the cigar to the smoker and may or may not affect the taste and seasoning.
The ideal wrapper must have few to zero blemishes and larger than other leafs to properly wrap the cigar. This means that it usually comes from the lower levels of the cigar tobacco plant, where bigger (and often more flavorful) leaves grow. Also, it usually has a distinct sheen created by specific oils from aging process. Finally, the wrapper’s flavor is carefully cultivated and protected by cigar growers in order to provide the optimal taste and experience.
Wrappers range from light tan to dark brown. Furthermore, each shade is associated with a type, the name of which being principally determined by the region from which the seed originated, where it was actually grown and how. All in all, there are over 50 named wrapper leafs; many are mixes or “tweeners” of two different origins. Sometimes such hybrids are named because the seed was from one region but cultivated in another, such as an Ecuadorian Connecticut.
Candela wrappers, sometimes called Double Claro, are somewhat uncommon; they have a recognizable green tint to them, and have a very fresh, leafy aroma. The green color is achieved by picking the tobacco leaves before the plant has fully matured and drying the leaves quickly. This ensures that the chlorophyll content of the leaves is retained, thereby giving the wrapper its distinguishing color. Tasting notes associated with Candela wrappers typically include grass, cedar, and pepper with a little bit of sweetness. Depending on what type of tobacco leaf is used, they can break out of the mild zone, but typically remain pretty smooth and manageable.
Connecticut wrappers, which are sometimes interchangeable with Claro wrappers, are shade-grown from Connecticut seed, usually either in the U.S. or in Ecuador. Shade-grown refers to the process of being grown under giant sheets of cheesecloth, which keeps the leaves from being exposed to too much sunlight; this ensures that they have a milder flavor. Depending on how long they are aged, their tasting notes can include grass, cream, butter, black or white pepper, coffee, cedar, and many others. Many Connecticut wrappers give a cigar a spicy, ammoniac aroma, and this is due to the fact that tobacco leaves naturally contain a lot of ammonia. The aging process removes some of this ammonia, though lighter wrappers generally tend to be a bit peppery. Connecticut wrappers tend to have a bit more of a “dry” taste than darker wrappers, as they usually don’t have very high sugar content.
Natural wrappers are also referred to as “English Market Selection.” The term English Market Selection is a term used in Cuban cigar manufacturing, which refers to the designated quality for the UK market. They are typically a bit darker than Connecticut wrappers due to the fact that they are more mature when picked, and are sometimes not shade grown. These tend to be just a bit sweeter with a fuller spice profile and some additional notes of cedar, coffee, bread, and sometimes earth. Identifying these by color can be tricky, as many other wrapper shades have a similar color. Additionally, some companies use Natural as a blanket term covering Connecticut, Claro, and sometimes many others.
And now for some of the middle-ground of wrapper shades—Corojo, Criollo, Sumatra, and Habano. This is for smokers who tend to like spicier cigars and are curious as to why they have that distinctive bite. Or on the other hand, if you can’t stand fuller-bodied smokes, it’s always good to know a bit about what you don’t like.
Corojo tobacco was originally grown in the Vuelta Abajo region of Cuba—since the mass exodus of tobacco farmers from the country in the 1970’s, Corojo tobacco is principally grown in the Jamastran region of Honduras. Due to the strain’s susceptibility to mold and disease, many disease-resistant hybrid Corojo strains have been engineered. Corojo leaves tend to have a spicy, robust taste with notes of black pepper, earth, leather, cocoa, and cedar. They tend to be very oily and have a distinctly reddish-brown color, though they can be dark enough to make it easy to mistake them for a Maduro. Generally, if you’re not a fan of fuller-bodied smokes, you’ll want to stay away from Corojo-wrapped cigars.
Criollo tobacco is one of the original tobaccos used in cigar making, and according to some, it dates back to the late 1400’s; the term itself means “native seed.” Like Corojo wrappers, they tend to be very susceptible to disease, so most Criollo-wrapped smokes you will find feature hybrid strains like Criollo 98. Criollo wrappers tend to be slightly milder than Corojo wrappers, but still have a bit of pepper in the flavor profile. Other notes include cocoa, cedar, bread, nuts, and a bit of sweetness.
Originally hailing from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, this tobacco tends to ere on the sweeter side. A lot of Sumatra tobacco is grown from Sumatran seed in Honduras and Ecuador. Many infused cigars (like Acid and Maker’s Mark) use a Sumatra wrapper because it’s mild enough not to “argue” with the flavor infusion. Tasting notes include cinnamon, earth, floral notes, and a slightly sweet aftertaste.
Habano wrappers tend to be a bit darker than the aforementioned three, and are by far the spiciest. Habano refers not only to the fact that it’s generally grown from Cuban seed, but also to the fact that its spice level is comparable to that of a Cuban cigar. They can be grown in several countries, though a popular choice is Nicaragua, as the soil content there is conducive to producing some very strong leaves. Tasting notes include bread, intense spice, leather, cocoa, espresso, and cedar. The nicotine blast you’ll get from a typical Habano-wrapped stogie might not be the best introduction to cigar smoking. As a general rule, Habano smokes are better for more experienced smokers.
All of the above wrappers have at some point been labeled as “natural”—this simply refers to their contrast with the darker Maduro cigars in a line.
Maduro means “mature” or “ripe” in Spanish, and that’s exactly what these dark brown leaves are. The process of making a true Maduro wrapper involves a great deal of time. After the leaves are picked, they’re stored in a curing barn for up to 45 days, until their color turns from green to a rich brown. They are then aged for years to achieve an even darker color. The aging process also brings out the natural sugars in the tobacco leaves, giving darker cigars their distinct caramel sweetness. The leaves used for Maduro wrappers must be significantly thicker than the others, as they undergo a lengthy fermentation process that could make thinner leaves simply disintegrate.
Unfortunately, some companies will take shortcuts with the aging process like heating the leaves or sometimes even dying them. Luckily, however, the vast majority of manufacturers stick to tradition and age their Maduro leaves the honest, old fashioned way. Maduro wrappers can boast a myriad of tasting notes, including dark chocolate, coffee, brown sugar, caramel, molasses, black pepper, dried fruit, black cherry, and sometimes even a boozy taste, depending on how they are aged. The common sweetness in Maduro-wrapped cigars often earns them the designation of nighttime or “dessert” smokes.
Sometimes known as Double Maduro or Maduro Maduro, Oscuro wrappers are the darkest of the dark. They’re fermented for longer than Maduro leaves, which gives them deeper sweetness and often a stronger, richer flavor. Tasting notes in Oscuro-wrapped cigars include many of the same ones as Maduro-wrapped, with a bit of added strength and sweetness.
It’s important to understand that the terms Double Maduro and Maduro Maduro are often used to mean different things. While they can mean “extra dark” or “extra ripe,” the terms can also refer to Maduro tobacco being used in multiple parts of the cigar. For example, a Double Maduro cigar can have Maduro wrapper and binder. For example Triple Maduro cigar uses Maduro wrapper, binder, and filler.
Cameroon wrappers, as their name would suggest, originate from Cameroon, and are sometimes grown in the Central African Republic. The grain of the leaves is very recognizable, and is often referred to as “toothy.” Cameroon wrappers tend to be somewhat delicate and are not very oily, which makes them unlikely candidates for Maduro fermentation. Cameroon-wrapped cigars tend to be very rich tasting while remaining smooth and manageable. Tasting notes include butter, black pepper, leather, and toast.
One of the more uncommon wrapper shades is Rosado, which translates to “rosy” or “pinkish” in Spanish. These wrappers have a distinct reddish hue and are extremely difficult to grow outside of Cuba, which means that only a handful of companies are lucky enough to have a supply of this leaf. This makes Rosado-wrapped cigars rare and highly sought after. Typically, these cigars are very spicy with notes of cedar, coffee, earth, and pepper.
Without doubt, every single ingredient used to make a cigar adds complexity to its flavors. The wrapper is one of those components and the more you gain knowledge of each component the more you will learn to appreciate the craftsmanship that takes to make your beloved cigars.