Sorting cigars by wrapper colours

Wrappers: More Than Just a Shell

Few topics in cigar lore attract a greater disparity of views than the effect that wrappers have on the taste of a cigar. Some people are so influenced by the colour that they are convinced that light- brown wrappers promise light-tasting smokes and, conversely, that dark wrappers threaten overpowering flavours. Others insist that wrappers have no effect whatsoever on the taste. After all, a wrapper is only half of a single leaf, often wafer thin because it comes from a shadegrown plant. How could its influence be significant when compared to the cluster of three or four different types of sturdy, sun-grown filler leaves blended uniquely to fulfil the goals for the specific tastes sought by different brands. 

Forty years ago when I joined the Havana trade, my schooling was clear. Wrappers were for appearance, not taste. Imagine my surprise when, a dozen or so years later at the start of the cigar boom in the US, I heard a leading Dominican Republic manufacturer state in public that wrappers could account for no less than 70 percent of the ultimate taste of his products. I was tempted to suggest that if his wrappers could prove so dominant, then his fillers must be rather insipid, but I didn’t because I believed that there was a sounder explanation for the role of the wrapper. Wrappers come in a wide variety of colours, caused principally by where they are grown on the tobacco plant. The leaves at the bottom of the plant, which are the oldest and thinnest, will, after curing and fermentation, produce the lightest colours; whereas the younger, thicker leaves from the top of the plant will result in much darker colours. 

Throughout the production process, agricultural and industrial, a huge amount of effort goes into ensuring that the final array of cigars in any box, bundle or pack are perfectly colour matched. Ultimately the range of tones will fall into one of five colour descriptions: Claro: very light brown; Colorado Claro: light brown; Colorado: brown; Colorado Maduro: dark brown; and Maduro: very dark brown/ almost black. 

It follows that Claro wrappers will come from the bottom leaves of a plant, Maduro wrappers from the leaves at the top, and the other classifications from the levels in between. 

Partagas invoice June 1939

Image by courtesy of Hunters & Frankau | Int the foreground, the wrapper colours appeal to me; Claro for ligh flavoured blends like Hoyo de Monterrey, and Colorado or Colorado Maduro for full flavoured blends like Partagas to Hunters in England for Ramon Allones

There is another factor that varies along the same lines, namely the sugar content in the leaves. There is more sugar in the Maduro leaves from the top of the plant, and much less in the Claro leaves from the bottom. As a result, you find that very dark Maduro leaves bring sweetness to a cigar’s taste that is apparent even when you first place it unlit between your lips. Conversely, light-coloured wrapper leaves add dryness to the cigar’s taste. My contention is that wrappers do make a significant contribution to the taste of a cigar, but not with regard to its fullness or lightness of flavour. Instead they add what I describe as a ‘top taste’, based on an axis from dry to sweet, subject to their colour. 

As a personal preference, I find the sweetness of darker wrappers goes best with rich, earthy, full flavoured filler blends, whereas there is a natural compatibility between the dryness of pale-brown wrappers with more delicate confections. As a result, taking Cuba’s two most popular Robustos as examples, I would always choose a Partagás Serie D No. 4 with a Colorado or Colorado Maduro wrapper, and a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 wrapped in a Claro leaf. 

Let me make it clear that this is not a rule; it is merely my personal taste. There are many respected aficionados who order their Epicure No. 2s with dark wrappers or their D 4s with light ones. It is up to you to decide what suits your palate. Over the years, the market’s preferences have changed. When I started out, Claro wrappers were all the rage. Up until the 1970s, some Cuban factories marked boxes with the colour of their contents, either with the full names – Claro, Colorado Claro, and so on. Or sometimes with a code – CCC for Claro, CC for Colorado Claro and C for Colorado. They noted the colours on their invoices, too, as can be seen on the example from Partagás in 1939 to Hunters for Ramón Allones (see page XX). Most of the cigars are Claro (CCC), even for a full-flavoured brand. 

Today the variety of colours available from Cuba is much wider, particularly when you include such specialities as the Limited Edition lines. So I, for one, would welcome the return of marking the wrapper colours on boxes. 

This article was published in the Cigar Journal Autumn Edition 2017. Read more

Acknowledged by the New York Times as “a British cigar sage”, Simon Chase worked for the London-based, UK Habanos distributor Hunters & Frankau from 1977 until he retired in 2009. Over this period he accumulated extensive knowledge of the cigar industry, past and present, particularly in Cuba. Today he runs his own consultancy, Simon Chase Limited, which specialises in cigar marketing and tobacco legislation. He remains on the board of Hunters & Frankau as a non-Executive Director. In 1998 he was awarded by Habanos S.A. the Hombre Habano del Año (Habanos Man of the Year) trophy for Communications. Since then he has become well-known as the auctioneer at the Gala Dinner that marks the end of the Festival del Habano every year.


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