Wrappers should have allure and charm. Moderate veining, even coloring, a discreet sheen, and absence of defects are essential attributes. Combustibility, texture and elasticity are less visible but even more vital. Beyond the traditional aspects, the wrapper’s aromatic influence is heavily debated. Some argue that the capas’ (wrappers) influence is primarily visual. Others certify that they are also essential in the taste of a cigar. There is both empirical and theoretical evidence. So what are the facts about wrappers?
Wrappers influence the taste. The image of attractive capas sparks emotion and desire. Also the smell of an unlit cigar is the first sense one has before tasting and can involve surprising, volatile scents. During combustion, the lightest aromas are released from the plant’s tissues by dry-distillation in the carbonization area. Flowing from the cigar foot to the taster’s nose, these volatile aromas and their direct olfaction will be crucial for the diversity and richness of the tasting. They come mostly from the wrapper. Fillers generate aromas as well, but they remain more internal and only escape through porosity. Mouth-tasting and retro-olfaction are also essential, but more for tastes and heavier scents that guarantee the spine (taste, strength, balance) of the tasting rather than its aromatic complexity and amplitude.
Curious experimentation highlights two elements:
1. Direct olfaction is vital to be able to perceive the cigar’s aromatic elegance (open one of your best wines from your cellar when you have a blocked nose), 2. Aromas perceived in direct olfaction come mainly from the wrapper (compare a direct nose olfaction of the white/blue smoke and of the brown smoke.)
The wrapper substitution test for this is obvious. Tasting the aromatic difference between a cigar started with one light, thin wrapper, then de-wrapped and re-wrapped into a stronger thicker leaf is eye-opening. Depending on the similarity/dissimilarity of both capas, the taste difference can reach around 60%. Surprisingly even the strength (fortaleza) will be increased. We thus taste two “different” cigars when, technically, only the wrapper has been changed.
To guarantee their challenging physical qualities, wrappers are produced with special attention and adapted processes. If, besides attractiveness, wrappers reveal generous aromas and character, they will definitely be sought after. Dry-distillation will unveil the wrappers’ aromas, and then genuine direct olfaction will magnify the perception of these aromas. A good and aromatic wrapper will indeed enhance the cigar blend and – if tasted right – refine its enjoyment.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Spring Edition 2016.