When you are just starting out in cigars it’s common to think you can tell everything you need to know about a cigar by its wrapper. As with most things in life it’s actually a lot more complicated than that. Where was the wrapper grown, from what seed, and what were the soil and lighting conditions? The wrapper contributes a fair amount to the overall flavor of the cigar, but you can’t always tell what you’re going to get by appearances alone.
What’s more, the binder and the filler have a great deal to do with the end product. Blending cigars is a complicated and tedious job. Master blenders spend years perfecting their techniques, and they have to go through a lot of trial an error to come up with a blend that marries the flavors of each tobacco varietal in a favorable or desired way.
In short, wrappers are important. But everything else is important too. You have to find a blend that works in harmony to create something really special.
There have been all kinds of fancy wrapper types gaining popularity in recent years, too. Barber polls and other designs have been around for a while, but I’ve seen camo patterned wrappers, candela wrappers, wrappers that have candela leaf worked into the cap or the foot only, leaf designs, and more.
Wrappers Aren’t Everything, But They’re Still Pretty Important
The wrapper is the most expensive and often the oldest part of a cigar, so it is still quite important. I recently caught up to Riverside Cigar’s Jeff Mouttet to learn more about cigar wrappers.
How much does the wrapper of a cigar affect the flavor? Do people overestimate how much it will?
“Very good question and one that is hotly debated in cigar circles. Fifty to 75% is the consensus. The best way to find out? Find a line with the same blends, but different wrappers. RoMa Craft Intemperance is a good example. Smoke an Ecuador Connecticut then a Brazilian Arapiraca back to back. Same blend, different wrapper and assess for yourself.”
Do your customers tend to skew one way or the other toward light or dark in wrapper preference?
“Not really. While they tend to lean to Nicaraguan tobacco, our people haven’t shown a strong wrapper preference.”
Candela wrappers seem to be getting pretty popular. How does it contribute to the flavor of a cigar?
“I say this a lot, you’ve probably heard it before, but here goes: It’s different. Just like Nicaraguan, Cuban, and Dominican tobaccos taste different, candela tastes different than other wrappers. They’re cured with propane heat so the chlorophyll fixes in the leaf, hence the green color. For me, I get a lighter, vegetal (almost grassy?) flavor. Like most everything in cigars, they can be really well done, or not so good. Totally personal preference wins this one.”
So How Do You Choose A Cigar?
Generally, these are the notes you’ll get with the most common wrappers:
- Maduro wrapper leaf is fermented longer and has spicy, coffee, or chocolate notes
- San Andres wrapper has a dark color and a savory flavor profile
- Habano wrapper leaf is slightly lighter in color than maduro and typically tastes very spicy
- Corojo wrappers are medium in color but tend to be very spicy
- Connecticut broadleaf wrappers have a flavor profile that is sweet and toasted
- Connecticut wrappers are typically the lightest you’ll find and they taste of cedar and spice
Personal preference is, as Mouttet says, the biggest factor in what you will like. And you have to arrive at that personal preference through trial and error. When you smoke a cigar, keep a little notebook where you write down what it was, what the wrapper, binder, and filler are made of, and your general impressions. It doesn’t have to be serious science. Did you like it or not? What did you like or not like about it? After a while you may notice a pattern emerging. Or you may not. You won’t know until you give it a try.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl