When we look at the description of a cigar, or read a rating, one of the first things we look for is the kind of wrapper used. We then tend to conjecture about the cigar based on the leaf used. Is that wise? Not necessarily. There’s little question that the wrapper tends to have more influence on the overall flavor of the cigar, but it’s only part of the equation.
Of course, the type of leaf is just one aspect of the wrapper. Was the leaf cured to be a claro, natural, maduro or even sun-grown? What country did the wrapper come from? What size and shape is the stick? All of these elements impact the taste of the cigar. But let’s also understand why the wrapper affects the flavor. Because it’s on the outside, there’s more air which helps the taste to develop. The binder and filler get less air exposure and a lower combustion temperature, and don’t contribute quite as much.
Certain wrappers have a delicate flavor, such as Connecticut Shade. This blonde, very thin leaf has a mellow, leathery taste with a hint of white or black pepper, and comes either from the area around Windsor Locks, CT, or from Ecuador. So, it would make sense that this wrapper would be found on smooth cigars like Macanudo and Davidoff, and, indeed, that is the case. But some companies have experimented with more robust fillers and binders to pair up with Connecticut Shade for a whole new experience. A few examples would be the Camacho Connecticut, the Flor de Oliva Connecticut Reserve, and the recently discontinued Joya de Nicaragua Serie C.
Wrappers such as Sumatra have a natural sweetness that makes them better suited to medium to medium-full stogies. There are others that have a toasty or nutty character, such as Brazilian Mata Fina and Ariparaca, San Andres and Costa Rican Marrón, and they will tend to work best with medium to full-bodied cigars.
Next, we look at the Cuban seed wrappers grown in the Carribean and Central American region. Strains such as corojo and criollo take on different properties depending upon where they are grown. A wrapper of this sort grown in the Dominican Republic will usually be lighter and smoother than the same seed grown in Honduras or Nicaragua, due to the soil and microclimate. Sun-grown versions of these same types will be stronger and spicier than shade-grown. That’s why most full-bodied cigars will use one of these wrappers. We also know that some of the flavor we get from a wrapper doesn’t come from the burning leaf. Loof at the Joya de Nicaragua Cabinetta, which has a lightly-colored Connecticut Shade wrapper up to the band, but then is covered with a darker Cuban seed leaf up through the cap. Just the fact that the smoker’s tongue comes in contact with the spicier capa will make the cigar seem fuller in strength, even though the stronger leaf will probably not be burned.
One wrapper that used to be very popular, but which has faded from the scene, to a great degree, is candela. This is a leaf that is typically a mossy green in color, and it gets that color because the freshly harvested tobacco is exposed to heat, which fixes the chlorophyll and keeps it green. Candela wrappers have a fresh, kind-of-bittersweet flavor, and tend to be very mellow, but can be paired up with stronger fillers for a different effect, such as in the Camacho Diploma Candela.
One type of wrapper that is often misunderstood is maduro. Maduro means ripe, and the process that turns a leaf dark is definitely a ripening. The tobacco is allowed to cure to a higher temperature than claro or natural, and it causes the wrapper to become dark brown to black (often referred to as oscuro). During this process, the sugars in the leaf caramelize, so not only does the flavor become deeper and more intense, but sweeter as well. But the truth of the matter is that darker does not necessarily mean stronger. A jet-black Connecticut Broadleaf is actually a fairly mellow wrapper.
So, even though this subject proves that you can’t judge a book by its cover, the wrapper of a cigar will tell you a good amount of the story, as long as you have the facts on your side.