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The Ten Things to Know About Cigar Wrappers

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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.

6. Sumatra:

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.

9. Claro:

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.

10. Cameroon:

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!

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About Matthew Rosen

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    While I am not a smoker, I’m glad Justene picked this post out for the editor’s list – it’s always interesting to to get an idea of where the jargon comes from!

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    Blogcritics’ editors liked this one. It’s a pick of the week. Congrats. Put the news up proudly on your site.

    Here’s a link to the rest of this week’s picks and the reason why.

  • http://www.dongabriel.net Gabriel Nogueira de Matos

    100% right, a nice wrapper makes all the difference when buying and smoking a cigar.

  • Richard

    I was recently enjoying a Romeo y Julieta Cigar wit my brother and he mentioned that they use cannibus as one of the ingredients in their cigars. I don’t believe this and there is noting on any website that indicates this. Can you close the book on this

  • Tony

    How can you (or any person) claim that the wrapper lends more flavor than the filler (or binder for that matter). You’d have to at least qualify that statement by saying which wrapper. You can’t possibly state a candela wrapper would impart 60% of the cigar’s total flavor. After reading that statement I quit reading this. It’s quacks like you / them that turn people off from trying certain luxury items (like cigars and wine).

  • high level summary

    There are many more reasons why people shade grow wrapper tobacco, you’ve only listed a few and not the more interesting (like sun spots and diffused versus direct light and what that does for photosynthesis, avoidance of tobacco blemishes, etc).

    People reading this article – please take it for what it’s worth: a snipet of a high level summary of techniques and knowledge that goes back 100’s of years. If you find this article interesting, please continue to research and learn and don’t just regurgitate this info.

  • sr

    I would think Monica Wolinsky would be the expert as the cigar aficonado. Is it better with or without a wrapper. Only Bill and Monica know. I love great cigar’s just like Rush does. Would hate to see a great smoke wasted on a hoe.

  • Tommyontime

    I agree with SR. Both of us think that Ms. “Wolinsky” could render a rather knowledgeable opinion about wrappers-better with one on or without? Here here to Monica and Bill. Could I freshen your drink SR? Anyhow, a simple test of wrapper influence to taste would be to cut the wrapper off of the first ½ inch of the cigar. Smoke it and note the difference when you begin to burn wrapper. I didn’t believe it either but it is true. I still think Monica should know better.

  • http://www.giftsguru.com/DiscountCigar.html discount cigars

    I had to agree you are perfectly right here. And the 10 things we should know about them are awesome and I agreed with every one of them. Keep posting like this and maybe it will have some impact on more people than just me.

  • hogwash

    i tried the wrapper test, makes no difference. wrapper is purely aesthetic

  • Cigar Smoker

    Let’s not be too harsh on the comments about the wrapper playing a major role in the flavors/tastes of a cigar.

    The thing to keep in mind when judging this type of feature of a cigar, especially in the case where you are cutting off a portion of the wrapper to compare the flavors of the cigar with and without the wrapper, is the binder and filler being used in teh cigar. Cigar parts are made in a variety of different ways. The Wrapper, Binder, and Filler may or may not be the same.

    To those who are doing this cut wrapper test, be sure you try this test with a variety of cigars before dtermining how much the wrapper affects the flavors.

    Another key thing to note is the ring size of the cigar. Quite naturally, the thinner then cigar is, the more the wrapper is going to dominate the flavors of the cigar. Conversely, the fatter a cigar is, the more the filler is going to dominate.

    Also keep in mind, no one is saying the wrapper makes up 90% of the flavor. This article says 60%. I have see others say as low as 40%. Basically, we are talking about half the flavor effect. And if you look at the cigar you are smoking… you should be able to plainly see that it is a mere matter of physics that the wrapper is going to play a significant role in the flavor of a cigar.

    Additionally, this article was 10 basic things to know about cigar wrappers. The topic of cigars can be as complex as you wanna make it. Especially now with cigar makers mixing and matching seeds, soil, sunlight, blends, so on and so forth. Don’t be too harsh on this article.

    In my opinion, it was good information. Definately gives you enough to continue on your journey for knowledge.

    Like anything, don’t take all your knowledge from one source. This is the internet… there is more out here on any topic than you could ever hope to absorb.

    kind regards,

    A Cigar Smoker

  • John Werner

    I know I’m not a professional in the industry, but for the percentage of the overall tobacco in a cigar it seems to me that the wrapper has an inordinately large effect on the overall taste. Does it make up 50%? Well, I taste the wrapper before I even light the stick usually unless it is so mild and bland that it approaches almost no flavor. That said, a great tasting wrapper with a lackluster binder and filler is not just a waste, but a marketing blunder since tasty beautiful wrappers tend to be the most prized and costly leafs used in a handmade cigar.

    I have enjoyed reading this topic and the responses; the overall importance of the wrapper is tantamount to the look and taste of a fine smoke in my humble opinion, but it must be expertly married to similar high-quality fillers to enjoy the wrapper properly.

  • swigar

    Well as stating that a wrapper is up to 60% of the taste of a cigar is certainly wrong !

    See first what amount of the ring gauge 34 or ring gauge 52 the leave is actually % off…
    For aesthetics sure it has an important impact, but if very fine the wrapper will show the veins of the Binder as well…

  • Gerry

    I went to a new cigar store today and walked out with my head spinning. Just too many options (Hand made, machine made, shade grown, sun grown, blah, blah. Finally concluded that cigars are like wine. You can go nuts with all the variables. I now just buy the cheapest cigar I can find that has a pleasant taste and draws easily. I’m done with $9.00 cigars that taste like crap. Don’t care if the wrapper is grown in the shade or in a swamp.

  • PH 1390

    Well-written, informative and well researched. Great article.

    Thanks Matthew