Taste Chocolate/Flavours in cigars


Ken Gargett
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as mentioned elsewhere, with the debate about this popping up again, this is something i did when we first looked at it. it has toi go in a couple of parts as ...

part one - (rob's machine not big enough for all my rambling)

Recently, our esteemed guru dobbed me in to try and give some thoughts on ‘flavours’ in cigars, (see post – ‘who can taste chocolate?’) after one of our lot wondered whether he or I was a moron (hopefully neither of us) because rather than taste some of the flavours described in reviews on the forum – from myself and presumably others – he declared that he tasted nothing but tobacco. I am certainly not a scientist and my thoughts are largely transposed from my wine experiences, but I believe that there are obvious similarities, so here goes.

I guess the first point to make is that we are all heading down the wrong track in discussing taste. From my readings, our taste is limited to five different elements – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. For those not familiar with umami, it was first identified in 1907 in Japan. It was largely dismissed by the West until around 2000 (which is why most of us never heard about it at school) but now seems widely accepted. It is effectively glutamate (think MSG, thick broth, old cheese, mushrooms, seaweed and especially fish sauce tho the saltiness there can hide it; it is also in tomatoes tho again can be hard to detect). Check out www.glutamate.org/media/glutamate.htm if you want to follow this a bit more. However, it would seem largely irrelevant to us re cigars.

A while back we touched on receptor taste buds and how some people make better tasters simply because they have been blessed with high number of tastebuds. This is key to individual perceptions – no two people are identical so I may have a greater ability to detect sweetness than the bloke next to me while he may be better at picking up bitterness than the next bloke and so on. This is often genetic (and in case there are any pregnant women out there, apparently perceptions change, and are often greatly heightened, during this time). It is one of the main reasons that we have different reactions to different things, eg cigars. Hence, we don’t all prefer exactly the same cigar. One wine scribe once likened the fact that we don't all like the same wine to the fact that we don’t all identify the same woman as the most beautiful in the world, adding ‘wouldn’t she be tired’.

So in reality, when we say taste, what we are mostly, but not completely, saying is what we smell. Flavour is a combination of taste and aroma and to an extent, the tactile/textural component as well.

But that is only the start.

What we smell is much more complex than what we taste. Apparently, we can pick up around 10,000 different aromas. Wine, there is still much work being done on this, has hundreds of compounds (some say thousands) and these work individually and in combination. It is simply inevitable that some of these compounds will resemble other characters/flavours/aromas etc. I can line up a series of viogniers for you and I have absolutely no doubt that your reaction would be that you are smelling/tasting apricots – despite there being no apricots involved at all. the compounds give a very strong and dominant apricot flavour to the wine. There are a squillion examples. Clare Valley riesling often has a zesty lime character. Think of the blackcurrant flavours of cabernet, tho obviously there are many other flavours as well. One English critic sent Burgundians into a spin when he claimed that ‘good Burgundy smells like shit’. He meant it in a positive way (rural, earthy, farmyard etc etc, though did delete that line in the second edition of his book). In fact, just about the only grape that, when made into wine, actually smells/tastes like grapes is muscat. Hence, it makes sense to me that the same should happen with cigars/tobacco. When transformed into cigars, the combination of compounds therein gives off different flavours. Don’t forget that there is a human component in the production of both, including fermentation, which will alter the original flavour. Otherwise, wine would taste like grapes and cigars like tobacco leaves and nothing more.

(cont'd)

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(part two - this really is almost all)

Making it all the more difficult is that there is no doubt that aromas are inextricably linked with one’s individual experiences and emotions, not unlike music. So if I had a Partagas Lusi last night, as I did, while the Lions thrashed the hapless Bombers and Jonathan Brown proved himself the best player in the game, then I am likely to think favourably on Lusi’s – even tho I do believe it was a fabulous cigar without the bonus of the game – and quite possibly when I next return to it, it will immediately stir pleasant feelings or at least, positive anticipation. The reverse might happen if I was smoking something else while watching the Poms win the Ashes (God forbid that should ever happen). I probably could never touch that particular cigar again, which would be rather unfair to it.

Obviously, the gentleman from Pillow PA, who set this in motion, is technically correct when he says he is tasting tobacco but I would suggest, if you wish to get the most from your cigars (I don’t know about you guys but the cost of the things is such that I certainly want the most from them), you need to go on from there and look for more.

Obviously, tobacco varies in taste; otherwise, there would be just one cigar for all. A start is that some is mild, some earthy, some powerful - and immediately we are in the realm of flavours and heading to more than just that it tastes like tobacco.

If anyone can get hold of the wine wheel developed in California, it is not a bad start. Try 1. www.wineserver.ucdavis.edu/Acnoble/waw.html if you don’t have one. Although specifically for wine, i see no reason why we cannot adapt the concept to help us with identifying and describing flavours.

Its great use is in helping to identify the flavours you are enjoying in a wine but no reason that your own personal version can’t be used for cigars. The concept is that you start in the centre (it is a wheel), so with a white wine, your immediate reaction might be that it is fruity (I am assuming that you are not using this in the ‘sweet and suitable for doddery old dears’ manner but genuinely fruity – you’d be horrified at the number of people who when they taste sweetness have the reaction that the wine is ‘fruity’). Fruity is one of the major sectors - others include spicy, earthy, woody, nutty etc. Once we have selected from them, one then moves out where the choices become ever-widening forcing you to be more specific. Lots of people say they cannot go further. To begin, it is difficult for everyone and only practice will change this. So the next step, as you move out, is what sort of fruit. Is it stonefruit or dried fruit or tropical or citrus or berries? Once you have decided on that (and these things are not mutually exclusive – complexity is desirable and it is achieved in part by as many flavours as possible – no reason a wine could not exhibit some citrus and also some tropical notes, and possibly a lot more), and for example, let us assume you think it is citrus-like, then what sort of citrus is the next decision. Is it like orange peel rind (possibly a Sauternes style) or is it lemony (possibly young Hunter semillon) or is it limey (as mentioned, Clare riesling). None of these are absolutely definitive, as boundaries are often blurred – and many wines share characters, so just because you detect lime flavours doesn’t automatically make it Clare citrus – but this concept helps one move from a position of ‘just that it tastes like wine or is fruity’ and even more importantly, helps us provide descriptors.

This leads to the ability of some smokers to determine what a ‘blind’ cigar is (as per Rob’s generous little game, for want of a better term – see posting ‘April 05 Cigar Review Results’), because they recognise the flavours. It also allows us to determine if a cigar is smoking as one would expect and perhaps most importantly, it simply allows each of us to identify, and therefore regularly buy, the cigars we prefer.

There is much more obviously – structure, for example. That is vital for both wine and cigars but not strictly relevant to the flavour debate. (just a little more)

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(this is all)

It is possible to take this even further and put aside personal preferences and look at objective quality, tho this is difficult and probably not necessary unless you have some professional association or reason to do so. It is, however, what anyone in the wine game needs to do (eg, if I am looking at sauv blancs, I have to try and put aside my view that it is a toxic weed, the best of which would kill a brown snake, that it is not worthy of bottling and that any sauv blanc vineyard would be better served as a carpark and look to see if the wine in the glass is a good example of what it purports to be: ie, a good sauv blanc, whether or not it I like it).

Where this is most likely to be reflected on the forum is in the scores we give in our reviews. That begs the question – should we rate the cigars objectively or subjectively? Given that this is for our own enjoyment and education rather than a purely professional site (no offence intended, Guru), my view is to do it subjectively, and I’m quite sure that is what the vast majority of the forum has been doing. It does mean that scores may be slightly different from if we did it objectively.

If you think along the lines of the wine wheel (whether it be for wine or for cigars – and as far as I know, no one has ever developed one for cigars other than in their own mind – what a good project for our Guru in some of his endless spare time, these days used only to count his money), it will greatly assist in what many of us find tough – linking smells and tastes to language.

For me, this long, involved, rambling, attempted explanation of the concept of flavours is why when I pick up a cigar, I find tastes/smells other than just tobacco and is certainly one of the reasons I think these things are so fascinating and enjoyable.

I would be interested to know if forum members agree or disagree or have completely different ideas.

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Great write up Ken!!!

I just would like to add some scientific background to what Ken has so well written here. This information was posted by me at another BB quite some time ago and was written by MRN who has allowed me to post the information.

Flavors & Aging of Cigars:

A lot of descriptive terms e.g. vanilla, coffee, spicy etc. are used to describe the taste of cigars. According to your opinion, are they real, or are they just illusions. Yes, they are real and the most common ones have been identified chemically.

The human olfactory sense is capable to identify numerous chemical molecules with exact precision. Prove this by trying to do something you have taken for granted as very easy. Say describing the taste of an orange or banana. You will be amazed you cannot. You can only say an orange taste like an orange and a banana tastes like a banana. Why? Because the odor for both of them is detected by the nose as a single chemical molecule and the nose is so brilliant that there will be no confusion with other molecules. For oranges, it is octyl acetate. For bananas, it is n-pentyl acetate.

I do not want to bore you with those lousy organic chemistry and I shall give a few examples only. Almond taste is an aldehyde called benzaldehyde. Hay is a lactone called coumarin. Peanuts is a ketone called 2-methoxy-5-methypyrazine. Vanilla is an aromatic phenol called vanillin. Cocoa and coffee are various combinations of vanillin and a ketone called diacetyl. In fact the subject is so complicated that the Scotch Whiskey Research Institute in Edinburgh have identified over two hundred volatile oils in a new cask wood.

The most interesting is the unique 'tobacco' flavour, it is an aromatic phenol which people who are unfamiliar with it describes as 'old English leather'. Of course there is none, unless Havanas are smuggled into America inside leather sofas. The harsh tannic taste of young cigars is natural phenol polymers and which will break down with time into more amicable simple aromatic phenol molecules.

The tobacco plant is unique in that it contains nicotine (C6H4NC4H7NCH3 or in short C10H14N2) in the form of malate or citrates in natural state. They constitute 5% of weight and tobacco leaves (Encyclopedia Britannica) or more specifically 2 to 8% of dried tobacco leaves (Martindale's Extra Pharmacopedia) and have a very unpleasant pungent odor and a sharp persistent taste. It is totally different from the young tannic taste but is often confused. They can ferment on its own and generate a lot of aromatic organic compounds and release ammonia. The end products then interact within themselves and other substances to form more aromatic compounds. Oxygen is required in tiny amount to form some and can destroy some in large amount. The Cubans have probably noticed this. That is probably why dressed boxes cigars are usually boxed pressed and plain wooden boxes and cabinets cigars are always round.

The tobacco taste is actually a combination of various different groups of aromatic organic compounds, like aldehydes, higher alcohols, organic acids, ketones, phenols and terpenes. It is interesting that compounds belonging to different chemical groups have distinctly different rate of formation and half-life’s in a cigar (half-life could mean rate of attrition, if you like). If you know the individual flavor’s chemical behaviors well, you can date a cigar with remarkable accuracy if further information on package form and storage conditions are provided. You can even 'manipulate' the cigar according to its stage of maturation with different temperatures, humidity, and exposure to oxygen to achieved optimum results in the shortest time.

Please describe the taste differences that will be experienced between a claro wrapper and a maduro or even oscuro wrapper on a Havana cigar. How much in percentage terms of flavour would you attribute to the wrapper??? This is currently the hottest debate subject among cigar enthusiasts. So I shall provide my answer in a little more detail. Oscuro is the name reserved for a kind of specifically treated wrapper which appears to be nearly black in color. They are not currently produced in Havanas and will not be discussed.?? How much does the wrapper contribute to the overall taste in a cigar?

There seems to be two schools of thought at the moment.

The first school believes that wrappers account for 3% to a maximum 7% of taste. This is probably based on the fact that wrappers account for 2%-5% of weight in a cigar, depending on the thickness of the wrapper and the ring gauge of the cigar. The most beautiful wrappers are typically fine in texture and very thin. With large vitolas like Churchill’s or Robustos they may even account for less than 2%.

(To be Continued)

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(Continued)

The second school believes that wrappers account for a large proportion of taste, most would put it at around 60%. This is perhaps based on the fact that if you remove the wrapper, you will notice a 60% reduction of flavour and the remaining taste is not as good.

Curiously, there seems to be no school of thought in between.

But if you think carefully, both schools are flawed in their arguments.

To say that a wrapper accounts for 5% of flavour is wishful thinking and has never been proven scientifically. I do not believe the human olfactory and taste sensations are keen enough to detect a 5% difference in flavour.

To say that a wrapper accounts for 60% of flavour is even more illogical. As a typically good wrapper accounts for a maximum of 3% of weight, if it can contribute to 60% of flavour, it has to generate 20 times more flavour than the rest of the cigar per weight basis, which is chemically quite impossible. There is indeed a huge change in flavour when the wrapper is removed, but it is very probably due to the tiny air leakage through the non air tight binder, which hinders proper combustion of the tobacco at the foot. This has nothing to do with the flavour of the wrapper.

The best way to find out the truth is to find out yourself.

Buy loose sticks of the same cigars from different boxes from the same batch of production. Ask your tobacconist and he will tell you. Make sure that you choose completely different colors and oiliness. Label them with a number. Wear an eye mask (a handkerchief will do as well!). Ask someone to light the cigar for you. Smoke carefully and give your scores. Throw away the butts before you can see them. Remember, do not cheat. There is nothing worse than cheating yourself.

Once you have completed the blind tasting, compare the scores of different colors and oiliness of wrappers and see whether you can detect a difference. You might wish to know that you may need to try more than 50 cigars to declare the result as statistically sound. I do not know the correct number but do ask a mathematician if in doubt.

To be honest I can never tell any difference at all. Some say that dark wrappers give a sweeter taste on the tongue. I can never detect this either.

What about the effect on aging? I can never tell any difference either.

If you can, congratulations! You are the first person I know who can do so. But I must say very few people have ever tried.

The bottom line is, whatever the percentage of flavour a wrapper can contribute to a cigar, if you cannot tell, why worry!

The color and oiliness of the wrapper are not to be confused with those from the binder and filler, which can be 'seen through' if you know how to. The darker and more oily the binder and filler, the more flavour the cigar has, for better or worse. And that is for sure.

What in your opinion is the optimum age for a Havana cigar? and at what stage does improvement through aging stop? Havana cigars are very much like wine. There is definitely an optimum age for a particular cigar. For better or worse, the aging process never ceases. But unfortunately the optimum age is affected by too many factors including a personal preference which makes a simple generalization impossible.

To avoid disappointing you. I can give a few recommended examples to you according to my personal preference. Since a lot of cigars have changed their blends precisely at the year 1995, examples are only given for cigars purchased after 1995 in order to serve any useful purpose. They are not the best, but I believe they are in optimum time for smoking and are starting to deteriorate at a very slow pace. The examples are given assuming the cigars have been stored at the biblical 70-70 "ideal storage environment". (I personally do not agree with these figures)

1. 1997 El Rey del Mundo Choix Supreme in dress boxes 2. 1996 Hoyo Epicure No. 2 in 25's cabinet selection 3. 1996 Hoyo Double Coronas in dress boxes 4. 1995 Cohiba Robusto in cabinet selection 5. 1995 Montecristo No. 2 pyramids, Most Punch, Upmann, Romeos, Bolivar, Saint Luis Rey are not yet ready.

You might note that they are mostly thick ring gauge cigars. Contrary to conventional wisdom, thick ring gauges expire earlier as they are actually more 'diluted' due to the high proportion of flavorless volado leaves in the blend.

You may also be surprised that the Montecristo No. 2 and Cohiba Robusto expire early, as they are supposed to be 'strong' cigars. This is due to the fact that the majority of their flavors consist of bean flavors (vanilla, cocoa, coffee etc.), and these flavors typically start to fade away in 5-7 years.

Which cigars do you consider to age better and to be better in general terms? Dress boxes or cabinet selection and why?

(To be continued)

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(Continued)

The aging process is more complicated than most people think. There seem to be at least 3 totally different processes going on when a cigar is lying in its box.

1. Fermentation? 2. Aging similar to spirits in wooden casks? 3. Aging similar to wine in a bottle. Dress boxes have the advantage of quicker fermentation but not good for No. 2 and No. 3. Cabinet selection is slower in fermentation but provides a better environment for aging process No. 2. Unfortunately oxygen which passes through the box seems to destroy the delicate bouquet generated by aging process No. 3 In my opinion, the best is the varnished box, or even better, a glass jar with cedar lining. The maturing may be excruciatingly slow, sometimes 15 to 25 years, but you end up with the best results. Glass jars are no longer available but you now have the Millennium porcelain jars or you can improvise your own. It is a great shame that cigars are not generally available with 10 or 20 years of age, as whiskeys and wines are.

But there is nothing that you can do except create your own inventory and live long enough to enjoy the final products!

A piece of warning, poor cigars never age, no matter how hard you try or how long you age them for.

Are there any brands of Havanas that you consider would not benefit from aging? I have heard that Hoyos do not age as well as Partagas, is this correct?

All brands of Havanas will benefit from aging, although differently with the optimum time and results. Hoyo Double Coronas in dress boxes are quite amicable even when fresh out of the factory. It is no surprise that they score consistently high marks in Cigar Aficionados blind tasting tests, which typically only taste new cigars. But they indeed do not age as well as the average Partagas and start to deteriorate as early as 4 to 5 years.

Most Partagas age well, the 898 varnished and the Lonsdales cabinets are the best. The Partagas de Partagas No. 1, the Seleccion Privada No. 1 and the Presidentes also age extremely well but it is a shame that they are only presented in dress boxes. The worst is unquestionably the 898 unvarnished, they never age.

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Many thanks, Tampa, that is fantastic stuff. I had no idea about the ageing of thin and thick ring gauges and would have automatically assumed the opposite.

Agree totally with the poor cigars never benefit from ageing - it is exactly the same for wine.

Also agree that if you cannot tell re wrapper and flavour %s, what does it matter.

One thing I would challenge, though I don’t think it really changes any of the important points, is the suggestion that taste and smell cannot detect a 5% difference in flavour. I know from talking to a lot of winemakers that they are constantly amazed that the addition of one or two % of a different blending component can change the final wine, often radically. I have even talked to winemakers who have made ½% additions or subtractions as that has affected the final taste.

But that is a small point.

Many thanks for all that.

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Great post Ken and excellent followup Tampa.

That is seriously good stuff. Rob, can you post that to the review section of the forum so that it is not lost.

Having gentlemen like Ken and Tampa here provides substance to an always entertaining board.

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  • 6 months later...

Thanks Ken & Tampa this is one of the best things I've seen on the site for quite a while, (apart from the battery on Ken's head hooked up to his nipples) !

I agree 100% with the comparison between cigars and wine in the process of taste, aroma and ageing. The two are not disimilar both are born in the ground, processed, packaged, aged, considered and consumed.

I also liken the two (cigars & wine) in quality....................

Thousands of winemakers use the Cabernet Sauvignon grape to produce wine but the end result ranges from absolute crap to majestic wonderment and everything in between. All produced from the same type of grape. The soil, climate, location, picking,fermentation and bottling processes, knowledge and understanding of all the aspects and elements by the experienced winemaker throughout the journey impact on the end quality of the product.................... The same exists in Cigar Making, grown from the same strain of seed but the end quality of the product is governed by the same factors as described in the wine making process. The cigars will then also range from shocking to great, and everything in between.

Also Ken you seem to have the same disdain for Sauv.Blanc as I do. Once quoted as having the aroma of cat's piss, I think if forced I would prefer to drink the glass of cat's piss.

Well done guys.;-)

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This is all true. If we had no sense of smell, our capacity to distinguish "flavors" in cigars would be greatly diminished. Chocolate, espresso, cinnamon, cedar, orange peel, and earth are tastes that we comment on. However, one ought to consider the intercigartaster variability and reproducability of those "flavors". The genetics of our olfactory system has much to do with our individual "taste" in cigars.

There are certain nuances that each of us will obtain from a cigar that others cannot appreciate because our senses aren't wired in that manner. It certainly would be interesting to analyze the compounds burned in cigar smoke that individually or together create those sensations that we appreciate.

As an aside, it is interesting to consider why many cigar purists reproach the use of flavored cigars. Truthfully, the odors of a flavored cigar are the sum of the chemical reaction between tobacco and the foreign substance (bailey's, kahlua, scotch, etc.). I personally don't like them. Part of their appeal though, I think is because the the experience that people get out of them is determined by the overpowering aroma of the cigar, and consequently, the "taste". Those are just some comments and thoughts. Great post!

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  • 2 years later...

» Many thanks, Tampa, that is fantastic stuff. I had no idea about the ageing

» of thin and thick ring gauges and would have automatically assumed the

» opposite.

» Agree totally with the poor cigars never benefit from ageing - it is

» exactly the same for wine.

» Also agree that if you cannot tell re wrapper and flavour %s, what does it

» matter.

» One thing I would challenge, though I don’t think it really changes any of

» the important points, is the suggestion that taste and smell cannot detect

» a 5% difference in flavour. I know from talking to a lot of winemakers

» that they are constantly amazed that the addition of one or two % of a

» different blending component can change the final wine, often radically. I

» have even talked to winemakers who have made ½% additions or subtractions

» as that has affected the final taste.

» But that is a small point.

» Many thanks for all that.

This was very interesting, especially to a curious Newbie like myself. At the risk of violating that old rule about keeping your mouth shut so as not to prove your ignorance, regarding your comment about a 5% difference in flavor. First, it strikes me that you are not really talking about a 5% change in the taste but a 5% change in the ingredients. With wine, is it not possible that the addition of 5% of some other blending component will have a greater than 5% impact on the overall flavor profile due to perhaps a reaction taking place? IO do not think I am expressing this well but, being liquids, can this not be a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts? Might this not have a greater impact in a liquid where the chance for reaction is greater than in that of a solid - a cigar?

Feel free to have me flogged if this is way off base.:lol:

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not sure if i quite follow - do you mean some sort of chemical reaction? i have never thought of it along those lines and never heard a winemaker suggest it but do not have the necessary scientific background to answer. will try and ask one of the winemakers i am judging with today.

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» The reverse

» might happen if I was smoking something else while watching the Poms win

» the Ashes (God forbid that should ever happen). I probably could never

» touch that particular cigar again, which would be rather unfair to it.

»

I'd make sure you don't smoke too many nice cigars next summer then Ken, especially when KP and Freddie are flying........

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» » The reverse

» » might happen if I was smoking something else while watching the Poms

» win

» » the Ashes (God forbid that should ever happen). I probably could never

» » touch that particular cigar again, which would be rather unfair to it.

» »

»

» I'd make sure you don't smoke too many nice cigars next summer then Ken,

» especially when KP and Freddie are flying........

tragically, i think you might not be far from the mark (close as i'll get to saying a pom is right about cricket). i seem to be the only aussie concerned. telling my mates who know warnie well to beg him to come back. the organisers should offer the bloke five mill or whatever he wants - warnie against your latest imported yarpie would fill every ground every day and guarantee huge tv ratings (and ensure we kept the ashes). we have no spinner who could turn a steering wheel and monty seems to be getting better - whoever thought the poms would again doctor wickets for a spinner in our lifetime? thought that went out with laker and underwood.

as for the crap we see seeping out from your cold damp island about your yarpie the greatest bat in the world, for god's sake, tell them to get a grip. he is very good but there are a few indians and blokes like ponting and hussey who might rank a smidge higher.

we are not the tight happy bunch we once were. hayden plays for himself and has done since the 5th test last visit. clarke can be fragile but look out if he is on. symonds is anyone's guess. lacking opening spine since langer went. i am a million miles from being convinced about haddin. we have tried to clone glichrist and come up way short.

quicks look good and might pinch the series - johnson becoming a seriously good leftie. lee can be dynamite. stu clark will love english conditions. watson as the allrounder might surprise. far better bat than freddie though not quite the bowler.

now if only we had warnie!

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Ken, allow me to paint a picture of your hell and let me know if Im way off: just get off a quantas flight back home FROM cuba and are forced into an evening of sauv blanc and cuabas. Sound about right?

thanks for the great info guys, quite a bit of food for thought there.

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Ken,

Wonderful post and thank you for sharing your ruminations on the topic. I do want to add that the perennial "wrapper is nothing v. wrapper is all" dichotomy is one that has not been satisfactorily explained because the problem has been improperly defined. It is a false dichotomy. I propose that it is less a question about the quantitative contribution of the wrapper to flavor and more properly about the qualitative reception and interpretation of the wrapper's contribution. I will further expound that the issue goes even beyond this to encompass a bit of the philosophical. Let's begin.

On a superficial level, some folks will claim the wrapper contributes only a small amount to the flavor of a cigar. And they're right. At least on the surface of it and with respect to their experience. They've either never smoked a wrapperless cigar blind against a wrappered counterpart (it's possible, trust me) or in the instances where they have tried a wrapperless cigar, the wrapper contributed relatively little distinctive character to the coherent overall flavor. Now, the careful reader may interpret this as a restatement of the "wrapper is the spice in the dish" theory.

Again, at the superficial level, some will claim the wrapper contributes significantly to the character of the cigar. And they would be right as well. Again, the spice theory is at play here in the sense that a small component may drastically alter the overall subjective impression of the cigar. For example, two cigars relatively similar in profile of wood and sweet hay but one having a citrus note that the other does not. Even though that note may be but one element of the overall profile, I propose that the impression of the two cigars would be like night and day.

Is this satisfactory? Does it tell the whole story?

Now, what if we dig below the surface?

continued...

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Some time ago, a fellow I know shared some actual field data regarding how those on the production side of the Cuban cigar industry feel the wrapper contributes to the character of a cigar. To my knowledge, this is the first empirical/survey of several professionals. This data came from interviews conducted during his last two trips to the island. Here is his report.

*********************************************************

Based on our last discussion on the matter of wrapper and its level of contribution to the total taste of the cigar, I promised to do a survey from the rollers and the cigar personality that I know and have come to know, to come up with a consensus. It was a rather interesting investigation and led me to many other new contacts. I did all of this on video so I could maybe do a montage of all the people in the future.

So here is a short version of my findings and their answers to the question of "how many percent do you attribute the wrapper to total taste of the cigar:

1. Enrique Mon: 4-6%

2. Elia Dominguez (Level 9 Torcedor from 5th Ave): 5-8%

3. Rodolfo Taboada: 2-3%

4. Jose Cueto: 5% maximum

5. Reynaldo (From LCDH Conde de Villanuevo): 3-4%

6. Norma Fernandez: 5% Maximum

7. Rosa Salazar (Level 9 Torcedor from H. Upmann): 5-6%

8. Lazarus (Director of the RyJ): 5-7%

9. Edelsio (Assistant director of El Laguito): 3-8%

I calculated an overall average of 4.9%. W.

We happen to walk in the tasting session at H. Upmann one early morning and I talked to few of the panel, all women, and I asked Xiomora, Norma and couple of others the question. They were dumbfounded by the question. They thought the wrapper doesn't contribute much if any.

And one thing that they all echoed is that the wrapper is just the outer clothes that the cigar wears. Some thought that perhaps the color of the wrapper can trick the smoker psychologically into thinking that it actually has a bigger impact.

An interesting test that Taboada suggested is to try to take the first inch of the wrapper off the foot of the cigar and see if you can tell the difference when it reaches the wrapper. He said he couldn't.

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On the face of it, this sounds like those who are actually involved in making our beloved cigars attribute almost no significant influence of the wrapper to the taste of the cigar. Typical responses from cigar smokers were, by contrast, in the range of 15% and up and as high as near 100% from Rob in the recent CoRo-Genios wrapper swap test.

As one might expect, the two main points of argument popped up rather quickly. First, the "wrapper is the spice" theory which holds that a small amount of distinctive character can serve to bind the component flavors of the bunch into a coherent and characteristic overall taste. Also predictably, someone posted calculations showing just how small a percentage of the overall cigar (in this case, by volume, in other instances, by weight) the wrapper comprises.

Here's some additional chatter from other cigar smokers that I found interesting.

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I would say the wrapper would effect the cigar if you were aging them. The flavors would come together and mesh rather than just be holding the cigar together. IMO in a fresh cigar the wrapper doesn't effect the taste too much but when aging a cigar it would effect the cigar more significantly not drastically but a good bit do to the process.

What is a % of flavor? How do you measure such a thing? Seems to me that we may all have the same opinion but different ways of wording it. It is tough to objectively quantify subjective qualities.

The wrapper surely has an influence - and if it might just be psychological, e.g. in case of a Cohiba Maduro 5 Secretos. As it is a rather thin cigar, we would be pursuaded to belive the wrapper to have a more intense impact on the overall taste. (If it already looks like chocolate and espresso, why shouldn't it taste like that...)

I think that much of the flavor profile from a cigar comes from all of a persons senses, not just taste. For me, if I see a darker wrapper, I automatically think it will be stronger than a lighter shade wrapper. The CC EL that I have had usually have a bumpy dark wrapper, and the rough appearance also makes me think of a stronger cigar. I have never conducted a test on tastes of wrappers, but for me and in my head, light wrapper = lighter cigar, dark wrapper = stronger cigar. These thoughts come into my mind well before the cigar is ever burning.

I do agree with you, that a different leaf will produce a different flavor. But, I am very curious now if the different processes that go into getting a dark or light wrapper from the same kind of leaf (long fermentation, etc...) actually cause the different flavor profile??

Hmmm... I dont see how master rollers are qualified to judge the taste of a cigar? That's like asking a mechanic about driving. The fact that they perfectly build the car doesnt mean they can drive it well. Also, like pointed out previously, they only smoke fresh cigars, anyway.

I find Rob's experiment most interesting, and it reflects what I have found, too. The latest example would be some RABs: I smoked 2 maduro boxes and grabbed a colorado one from another box (same code) a few days ago. Although it was clearly a RAB, the difference in taste was noticeable. Not sure how many %, but more than 5% and less than 30% overall.

The way I see it is that it is not the taste of the wrapper itself that you taste, but the difference in overall taste that results from a different wrapper, just like salt in food. I'm by no means the Robert Parker of cigars or anything like that, but the resulting difference is clearly noticeable.

Are you serious? Between the 9 people that I mentioned there are, collectively, at least 400 years of experience in rolling, blending, marketing and directing in the cuban cigar industry not to mention the comments of the tasters that a whole cigar industry depends on. I humbly bow down to their opinion on this matter even if I think I can drive better than them.

They may not have the ultimate say on the matter but perhaps we can all agree that they know a thing or two about cuban tobacco more than we do.

Wrapper volume as % of total volume:

Robusto - 4.98%

Churchill - 5.29% (Julieta #2)

Lancero - 6.53% (Long Panatela, Laquito #1)

So as expected the thinner ring gauge stick has a higher percentage volume. None of them are quite 7% but all are pretty close. If you consider that the actual volume of the cigar isn't solid tobacco (it also contains various air spaces to allow the thing to function and smoke to come out) and that the volume of the wrapper is a solid sheet of tobacco, these percentages are actually higher. That would most likely put the wrapper volumes very close to, if not a bit higher than, the 7-8% the rollers estimate the wrapper contributes to flavor.

Nailing this down to a precise percentage would be a pretty difficult task, which would vary from cigar to cigar anyway. I think you would need to be there when the cigar was being rolled and measure the volume of the leaves before they were bunched and then compare that to the volume of the finished cigar. Then you would know how much was air and how much tobacco and could do a more precise wrapper volume calculation.

If anyone wants to see the math let me know and I will post it. Note: This was not me! W.

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I got the sense that this didn't look like it was going to reach a breakthrough and so I drew on my experience in language and learning. My response to this comes in the next post of this thread and I'd like to offer up the ideas there as a different way of looking at this dilemma. I'm hoping that what was begun there can be expanded upon here and perhaps reach a new understanding. Clearly the old approach did not seem like a the gulf between 5% and 100% could be explained by "individual differences" in tasting ability.

continued...

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1. Regarding the apparent disparity between the "percentage contribution to the cigar's total taste" as commented on by Habanos employees and connoisseurs, there are two reasonable explanations.

First, it is entirely possible that those whose job it is to taste test cigar production do not reckon the experience in the same way as customer-connoisseurs do. By this, I mean that they are tasked with establishing a go/no go determination with respect to certain quality parameters. A corollary of this point is that those who are tasked with specifying the particular leaf to match the formulary of the blend books do not construct the functional blends in the same way that these cigars are tasted and enjoyed. On the second point, I cannot comment as this is not within my knowledge. On the first point, I would invite one of our esteemed members who has such access to provide us with the ratings sheets that the catadores use. Until that time, I'd be pleased to offer this format of a Habanos Tasting Sheet that was presented at the 6th Festival del Habano on February 27, 2004. It was noted that "many sheets exist" and that "while there can never be agreement on all subjective aspects (flavor, appearance)...there can, however, be a standard, international format."

In it, you'll see that the space for the taster to report the flavor characteristics is quite small: only two lines in a half-page column on the lower left. Clearly, the intent is not for tasters to wax poetic for paragraphs at a time about the many layers of subtle nuance that appear to be present. I would guess that they mean for a taster to write in such things as "salty," "sweet," "earthy," etc. and not "burnt, seven-year old Madagascar vanilla."

HabanosTastingSheet.jpg

The primary consequence of this first explanation is that when you are given a restricted vocabulary with which to describe experience, that vocabulary itself acts to restrict the experience and description of the product. Working in the field of language and learning, I am acutely aware of the fact that language shapes our very experience of the world around us. It is not just speaking what we think, but integral to the process of thinking itself.

Second, and this stems from the first, that having different criteria and language of description, the assignment of a "percentage" contribution to the wrapper may mean vastly different things to those factory personnel and us. For example, what if by "total taste of the cigar," they mean primarily the "strength," "flavor," or "aroma" as delineated in the proposed format above (or a similar one)? Whereas by "total taste of the cigar," we mean the presence or absence of specific flavor notes or combinations of flavor notes in conjunction with strength and/or aroma? In the former case, it makes sense that judged in that way at that resolution and that standard, the wrapper may be expected to contribute little. However, in the latter case, the perception could be much more substantial especially considering the contribution of wrapper-pure smoke from the burning end.

Both evaluations would be subjective, and both would be valid. However, the language difference between the two would suggest two completely experiences of even the same cigar. In other words, an individual with one type of color blindness and another a different type could look at the same Van Gogh painting but see it significantly differently and also describe it differently. It's a rather sloppy analogy but I hope sort of works.

I'm sure that the Habanos testers do not see it in this way:

CigarFlavorWheel.gif

In sum, I'm saying that a vast amount of the confusion regarding this point lies in the mismatch in language and not in the "objective" organoleptic properties of the cigar, per se. While it was certainly tantalizing to learn that those closest to the cigar attributed so little influence to the wrapper, what we need to ask and what would be truly revealing would be to ask them what they taste, how they are tasting it, and how they feel about the cigar they are smoking. The point being, to find out exactly how far apart the two sides are and then to find some way to bridge the Habano's language of the cigar and the Habanophile's language of the cigar.

Wilkey

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