The cigar wrapper isn’t just one more component to a cigar — it carries the majority of the cigar’s flavor and nearly all of its aesthetic appeal. In fact, publications like The Cigar Encyclopedia and Cigar Aficionado suggest that the wrapper is responsible for 60% or more of the cigar’s flavor and value. With more diverse wrappers being released than ever before, getting a handle on their styles and terminology has never been more important. Fortunately, comprehending these subtleties is easy with a little effort. The following ten points will help you understand, identify and discuss the majority of cigar wrappers available today.
1. The Concept of Veins:
When blind tasting a cigar, aficionados will look at the veins in the wrapper. In the case of shade grown wrappers, the smaller and smoother these veins are, the higher the tobacco leaf quality. The wrapper should be appropriately thick and have an oily feel — suggesting that it is not dried out or brittle. As a rule, cigar wrappers are aged for at least a year or two, and the longer they age the smoother they will smoke.
2. Understanding Shade Grown vs. Sun Grown:
Tobacco plants that are grown specifically for wrappers beneath a shaded tent are called Shade Grown. The reason these leaves are grown in the shade is to keep their surface smoother and prevent the veins from becoming too large. Leaves grown directly in the sun, after all, are forced to become resilient to the heat and grow thick with more veins. In contrast to Shade Grown wrappers, tobacco grown in direct sunlight, called Sun Grown, produces a thick, dark wrapper. If grown correctly, Sun Grown wrappers will have more sweetness.
3. American Market Standard (AMS) Wrappers:
Once popular in the United States, these wrappers are light green and have a sour characteristic. They are sometimes referred to as Candela, Jade and Double Claro. Because of the off-color and sourness, they are out of favor with today’s tastes.
4. English Market Standard (EMS) Wrappers:
The English Market Standard has roots that go back to the 19th century and is the benchmark for most cigar wrappers manufactured today. It includes the term Claro, Colorado and Natural (in ascending order from lighter to darker). Wrappers in this group are grown in Cuba, Cameroon and Connecticut.
5. Why are Two Countries Sometimes Referenced?
As the number of creative cigar makers grow, experimenting with growing different tobacco seeds in different regions is becoming more common. It is not unusual to find a wrapper labeled Dominican Sumatra, or Ecuadorian Connecticut. In the case of Dominican Sumatra, it means that the seeds from Sumatran tobacco have been transplanted to Ecuador and grown there. The first country is always the place in which the wrapper was grown, and the second country is the origin of the seed.
Sumatra wrappers are grown in Indonesia and typically carry a milder, more neutral flavor. They are dark brown with a hint of spice and a sweet aroma.
7. Connecticut Shade Wrappers:
Perhaps the silkiest wrappers around, Connecticut Shade wrappers are recognizable for their light, golden brown color. They are mild and have remarkably unobtrusive veins. For more flavor, look for the seed grown in Honduras or the volcanic soil of Ecuador.
8. Broadleaf Maduro:
This sun grown leaf is grown in Connecticut, Honduras, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Brazil. As to be expected from the Maduro method, it is very dark with rich, sweet flavors and aromas. Though the wrapper will be thick and veiny, a well crafted one will have a texture like velvet.
These are synonymous with Jade wrappers. They are light in color and can even be a bit green. Becoming harder and harder to find, they are mild with a hint of sourness.
African-raised Cameroon wrappers are becoming increasingly popular among cigar makers, who are developing an appreciation for their spicy flavor and sweet aromas. They are dark brown and can be found in cigars made by Alec Bradley, Arturo Fuente, and La Aurora, among others.
To be sure, you will recognize many of the above terms from your experience with cigars to date. They are commonly used as part of a cigar’s name, and frequently referenced by cigar merchants and magazines. Now that you are equipped with this arsenal, you can more freely explore the wide range of tastes, aromas and visual aesthetics available in cigars, and perhaps more accurately describe your preferences. For those of you that are interested in exploring cigars for the first time, selecting several that each embody one of the above concepts is a fun and educational starting point!