Anatomy of a cigar – Wrappers
Each cigar is a creation of three basic parts: the wrapper, the binder, and the filler. For each of these parts, there are a wide number of tobacco leaves from which to choose. Just like the ingredients in a great culinary dish, each element imparts its own distinct flavors to the finished smoking experience of the cigar. Master blenders know how to find and match the different leaves to create a great smoking, great tasting cigar.
When you inspect a cigar, the first thing you’ll notice is the wrapper. This is the leaf (or leaves) used to create the outside of the stick. It’s far more than just a way to hold the rest of the cigar together, though. The wrapper is arguably the most significant factor in the flavor of any cigar.
Sun Grown or Shade Grown?
Much like wine grapes, all of the elements from the soil, minerals, and water affect the quality and flavors of a tobacco leaf as it grows. Perhaps no element affects the leaf as noticeably as the sun. You frequently see cigar-wrapper types listed as “sun grown” or “shade grown,” and the difference is significant.
Sun grown tobacco leaves get the full brunt of the sun’s rays as they grow. The result is that the leaves darken in color and start to produce oils as a form of protection. These oils keep the leaf pliable, which is essential to rolling a great cigar. The sun also creates a photosynthetic reaction that results in sugar production in the leaf. Sun grown wrappers will tend to have slightly sweet undertones.
Shade grown wrappers are leaves that are (you guessed it) grown in shade. Tobacco farms employ the use of cheese cloth to protect their plants from the sun’s rays, allowing the leaves to grow evenly in a controlled environment. Shade grown leaves are usually tan to brown, larger, but thinner than sun-grown and have a pleasantly mild flavor perfect for use as wrappers. Most cigar wrappers are shade grown for these reasons.
Where a cigar wrapper is grown is a major factor in the flavor of the wrapper, and therefore the cigar. In many instances, you’ll see two locations listed (i.e. Ecuadorian Connecticut). The first location is where the plant was grown and the second is where the seeds originated. Here are a few of the main locations for growing wrappers and what to expect from each.
Brazil – Brazil offers wrappers of two main varieties. One is commonly raised to be a Maduro leaf, but is on the milder side of that category. The other style, the Bahia leaf, is a full-flavored and aromatic wrapper. The large variety of growing climates in Brazil creates a wide range of flavor profiles.
Cameroon – Wrappers from this African nation are sun grown and dark. They can appear oily, but are known for a velvety softness and deep, rich flavors that some cigar smokers love.
Connecticut – Famous for its shade-grown wrapper leaves, the Connecticut Valley is esteemed in the industry for its consistently soft, pliable, and mild-flavored leaves. With a hint of toast and wood, these leaves make wrappers that are pleasing to the eye and mild enough to let the master blenders showcase their fillers. Connecticut seeds are also grown in Ecuador, the Dominican, Honduras, and Cuba.
Cuba – Not surprisingly, most Cuban cigars use all-Cuban tobacco, including wrappers. The attention to detail and artistry put into Cuban tobaccos allows for nearly any style to be created when the conditions are right.
Ecuador – Ecuador’s soil and climate create flavorful leaves for wrappers. A large amount of Connecticut seed is shade grown there, but there is also no shortage of sun grown leaves to make bold, spicy wrappers.
Indonesia – Shade grown wrappers in Indonesia produce exceptionally light-flavored leaves that can showcase a cigar’s other components. Visually, they make for a very flawless-looking stick
Mexico – While great Maduro wrappers can be grown in many locations with the proper care, Mexican tobacco lends itself to this dark style beautifully. The leaves are typically bold, with spice and some sweetness offering a very complex wrapper to your cigar.
Nicaragua – Like Brazil, Nicaragua has a variety of distinctive flavor profiles in their tobaccos because of the different growing climates. However, most of these highly regarded leaves tend toward sun grown wrappers with a bold richness.
There are six basic classifications for a cigar wrapper based on color.
Double Claro – A double claro wrapper is the lightest found. In fact, these leaves are picked before they are fully ripened so they actually have a slight greenish hue. This results in a light, sometimes grassy flavor.
Claro – Light tan or slightly yellowish in color, a Claro wrapper is grown in shade. This keeps the leaf from absorbing too much sun and darkening the color. Claro wrappers offer a mild flavor that is perfect for a morning smoke or for beginners. Most frequently found in Connecticut grown leaves.
Colorado Claro – A medium-brown color. Colorado Claro wrappers normally associated with leaves grown or sourced from Connecticut. This type of wrapper offers a medium flavor that is great for pairing with other tobaccos.
Colorado – A distinctive reddish tint is the telltale marker of a Colorado wrapper. Expect to find a fuller, richer flavor than you would with any of the above.
Colorado Manduro – Colorado Maduro is a richer color of brown due to a richer diet of sunlight. Frequently associated with Cameroon-grown leaves or Cuban seed grown in Honduras or Nicaragua.
Maduro – A dark brown to almost black wrapper is known as a Maduro. These darker leaves include a bit more oil and offer a richer smoke with hints of sweetness. Grown in Connecticut, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Brazil.
Oscuro – Sometimes called a “Double Maduro,” an Oscuro wrapper is black with an oily appearance. This wrapper has the strongest flavor that can add hints of spice. Grown primarily in Mexico, Nicaragua, and Brazil.
What to Look for in a Cigar Wrapper
Of course, the shade of the leaf does impact the flavor of the cigar. Keeping in mind that the tobacco used inside the cigar can also make a big difference, pick a lighter colored cigar for a milder smoke and a darker cigar for more robust flavor. Avoid cigars that show small white spots (water damage), greenish spots (poor curing), or loose seams (poor construction).
If in doubt, pick a cigar with a nice evenly brown wrapper as a middle point to establish where your tastes are. Or, order a great cigar sampler and try a variety to see what your palate likes. Remember, the wrapper is just one part of the recipe that makes a great cigar. Experiment a little and soon you find the flavors and blends that make your perfect cigar.