If you’re a cigar enthusiast, you probably already know that cigars are composed of the wrapper, the binder and the filler. It’s a product that represents a lot of tradition and artisanship, and is a 100 percent natural product made of organic whole leaf tobacco. You may not, however, realize that there are quite a few misconceptions about cigars and cigar wrappers in particular. We’d like to clear a few things up here, and hopefully you’ll be a little better equipped to go out and make the right call on a quality premium cigar.
The Darker the Cigar, The Stronger It Is
It’d seem that way, wouldn’t it? Actually, this is a pretty common idea about cigars, and it’s also absolutely wrong.
The flavor profile of any cigar comes from everything that’s in it – the wrapper, the binder and the filler. The filler alone might have up to four or five (or even more) strains of tobacco in it, and that’s not even thinking about the rest of the cigar. It’s the totality of the wrapper, binder and filler leaves that add up to the strength and flavor of the end product, and the color of the wrapper really has very little to do with it.
For natural cigars, the most prevalent kind of cigar wrapper is the Connecticut strain. Connecticut tobacco is then divided into two separate types:
- Connecticut Valley leaf is grown in the state of Connecticut under sheets of thin cloth. It’s a thin, elastic leaf that is a lighter, even sort of color after it’s cured. If it were grown under direct sunlight, the leaf would end up tough and coarse. Filtering the sunlight under the sheets means a more delicate, elastic end product, with a milder, mellower flavor. Connecticut isn’t usually associated with tobacco, but the region’s combination of soil quality, growing season, sunshine and rainfall are perfect for this strain of tobacco. As a result, Connecticut shade-grown wrapper leaf is one of the priciest agricultural products in the world. Interestingly, Connecticut Valley wrapper leaf seed has been transplanted to places like Mexico, Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, but growers have never been able to match the color, texture and flavor of leaves grown in the state of Connecticut.
- Ecuadorian Connecticut Leaf is an offshoot of Connecticut Valley tobacco. Ecuador’s valleys are misty and shady, negating the need for any kind of shade cloth. The result is a silky tobacco leaf that is oily in appearance and feel, and is a bit stronger in strength and flavor. These tobacco wrappers have a richer flavor profile, with a finish that is creamy and slightly on the nutty side. For cigars that have a bolder blend of filler, it’s the perfect complement that can add up to a medium or full-bodied cigar.
Now, Another Misconception About Cigars
Sometimes, you might hear cigar sellers or enthusiasts talk about “Maduro” wrappers. Maduro isn’t a type of tobacco or wrapper, however. The word just means “ripe,” and it can apply to about any strain of leaf tobacco. It’s a word that gets misused about as much as “Cuban cigar wrappers,” when the cigars aren’t really Cuban in origin.
Fermentation is a big part of the curing process for cigar tobacco, and it involves exposing the leaf to high temperatures and humidity. When the leaf is fermenting, its natural oils will migrate to the surface and the leaf takes on a darker color. Remember what we said about a darker-colored cigar not necessarily being stronger or harsher? A properly fermented leaf will appear darker but will actually become mellower and milder. That’s what “Maduro” means when you’re talking about cigar wrappers.
So, in the end, the wrapper, binder and filler leaves all determine the flavor and strength of any cigar. If you were to take a full-bodied ligero tobacco filler and put it inside a Connecticut valley shade-grown wrapper, you’d have a nice full-bodied cigar. If you took a Maduro wrapper and filled with seco tobacco leaves from the Dominican Republic, you’d have a lighter-flavored, mellower cigar.
Finally, there are other full-bodied wrapper leaves that are passed off as “natural” shade-grown leaves. A tobacco such as Corojo, Criollo, Habano or Sumatra may be lighter than a Maduro wrapper, but has an entirely different, more complex flavor and strength. Don’t just buy a cigar based on its color – you’ll need to think about the entirety of the cigar and its combination of tobaccos, as they all figure into how the cigar will taste and burn once you’ve got it going. Now…find a good quality cigar, pair it with the right drink and enjoy!