Cigar Wrappers: Judging a Cigar by its Cover
It may seem superficial, judging a cigar based on what it looks like on the outside. After all, we are led to believe that it is what’s on the inside that really counts. This may be true with some things - people, novels, Tootsie Pops - but when it comes to cigars, the outside is as important as the inside. You can judge a cigar, at least in part, by its wrapper.
The cigar wrapper, in simple terms, is made up of outermost leaves, composed from the broadest part of the tobacco plant. It is often the first thing people notice- a wrapper that is cracked or damaged will ruin a cigar’s reputation faster than Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office - and it plays a role in the flavor of the cigar: the wrapper also partly sets the tone for how the cigar is described.
Cigar wrappers are designated often by color, sometimes being labeled “dark” or “light” and sometimes being labeled by more specific terms. Overall, the most common cigar wrappers are as follows:
Double Claro - Grown in Connecticut, this cigar wrapper is very light with a hint of green. It is made from tobacco leaves that are picked before they mature and dried quickly. Sometimes Double Claro wrappers are also called American Market Selection, Jade, or Candela. They are typically thought of as bland wrappers, lacking much flavor and possessing little ability to affect the overall cigar experience.
Claro or Natural - Grown under a cheesecloth, used to place a barrier between the tobacco leaf and the sun, Claro or Natural wrappers are dried slowly, resulting in a tan-like color. The flavor produced is silky, delicate, pronounced, and smooth. Not overly demanding, the wrapper is still light enough that its flavor doesn’t overpower the tobacco inside the cigar.
Colorado Claro - Often grown in Cuba or the Dominican Republic - and not in Denver as the name insinuates - these wrappers are medium brown, sometimes with hints of red. Flavorful, these wrappers bring hints of spice and nut to the cigar.
Colorado - Easily recognizable, like a red-headed stepchild of the cigar industry, this wrapper is known to produce an exceptional and unique flavor with its red, oily wrapper. Like many wrappers, this one is also grown in Connecticut.
Maduro - Dark brown to almost black in color, these wrappers produce a sweet, full, and rich flavor. Made from tobacco leaves that are aged as long as possible, the Maduro wrapper is mature, full of oils and often visible bumps and veins.
Oscuro - Also called Double Maduro, these wrappers are black in color and have an oily appearance. Adaptable to many environments, they are grown in Connecticut, Mexico, Brazil, Cuba, and Nicaragua and produce rich, distinct, and spice-filled flavor. Like the Maduro, they often possess obvious bumps and veins.
There are exceptions, but most smokers agree that the lighter the wrapper the more mild the flavor; some very light wrappers may seem to have no flavor at all. On the other end of the spectrum, the darker the wrapper, the stronger and sweeter the flavor. This is usually because darker wrappers ferment longer, allowing for more sugars and oils to seep in. Still, even the darkest wrappers know their place; they will rarely stand up and overthrow the flavor of the filler tobacco in a quest to be heard or, rather, tasted.
Like anything subjective, the amount of flavor a wrapper adds to a cigar is not without controversy. Some cigar experts argue that the wrapper greatly affects the flavor, while others believe that it makes up for less than 20 percent of the overall taste. Not as dramatic as the Cuban Cigar dilemma, this lots of flavor versus less flavor argument succeeds in little more than wrapping people up in unneeded debate: taste, simply, is individually-based.
Whether you believe that wrappers plays a large role in a cigar’s flavor or no role at all, they are still important. If, for no other reason, it’s because something has to keep the guts of the cigar from escaping. And that, my friends, is a wrap…per.