Well, it’s not news to anyone who’s been smoking premium handmade cigars for a while, since most cigars made outside of Cuba commonly use a variety of tobaccos from other countries. Case in point: In 1978, Cuban Partagas heir, Ramón Cifuentes, began using Cameroon wrapper on his Dominican-made Partagas, which is blended with a core of Dominican and Mexican tobaccos. I’ll get more into cigars blended with leaves from different countries, but let’s first take a look at the puro.
A puro (Spanish for “pure”) is a cigar made entirely of tobaccos grown in various regions of the same country. This is because the different soils produce different flavor characteristics in the tobaccos. For example, Cuba’s tobacco growing regions have ideal weather conditions and rich, fertile soil, like the famed Pinar del Rio, which is why Cuba continues to make some very fine cigars.
But even Cuban cigars weren’t always puros. Although they are now made with all Cuban-grown wrapper, filler, and binder, before the embargo, many Havanas were made with U.S.-grown Connecticut Shade wrapper, sought for its mild flavor, and one of the world’s most aromatic tobacco leaves.
Over the years, Cuban cigar makers who emigrated to the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua have created puros in their adopted countries. One example is the Eiroa family, makers of Camacho cigars, who have successfully grown “authentic” Corojo tobaccos in Honduras’ Jamastran Valley.
During the cigar boom of the 1990’s, the famed Fuente Fuente OpusX was among the first Dominican puros to enter the market. Then a few years ago CAO introduced their first, the CAO Vision, as did Partagas with their Cifuentes selection, La Aurora’s Cien Años cigars, and Davidoff’s limited edition Puro Dominicano cigars. All Padron cigars are Nicaraguan puros, as are Joya De Nicaragua, 601, Plasencia Reserva Organica, and many of the cigars made by Oliva and Perdomo.
There was a time when it was presumed that cigars made in the Dominican Republic were generally milder in flavor, whereas cigars made in Honduras and Nicaragua were more full-bodied. To some extent it was true, but since the vast majority of premium cigars are a blend of tobaccos from several different countries, the country of origin, or more specifically, the country of production, seems to have lost its significance. But thanks to new cigar magazines, an abundance of information on the internet, and the wide availability of more complex blends, cigar smokers today have more sophisticated palates.
Although you can make an incredibly good cigar with tobaccos from a single country, the true cigar epicurean will often find a “multi-nation” blend even more intriguing. Not only have some magnificent cigars been produced without the use of native Cuban tobacco, but multi-nation cigars from the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua often outscore Cuban puros in vertical brand tastings. CAO International, which holds the record for outscoring Havanas, and Alec Bradley’s Tempus cigars are both prime examples.
What often distinguishes the uniqueness of a cigar’s flavor is the wrapper leaf. This is because the wrapper touches the lips and tongue. It also gives off most of the smoke that affects the olfactory senses, which play a big part in what you taste from a cigar. Considered to be anywhere from 20-60% of a cigar’s flavor (depending on whom you speak to), manufacturers have created such a wonderful array of wrappers to suit any number of taste preferences.
According to Tabacalera La Aurora president, José Blanco, “One of the most important aspects of tobacco is to have a good healthy seed. But many people forget the importance of the soil, which in my opinion is everything. For instance, Connecticut wrapper leaf has been grown in the United States, Ecuador, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Dominican Republic. Even though it’s the same seed, they all taste different and have different characteristics.”
One of the best examples of this are the Aurora 1495 Connoisseur cigars, which were also created by Señor Blanco.
“For years, cigars smokers have always wondered what the wrapper does to the blend,” said Blanco. “For example, you have a Connecticut seed that for many years has been grown in the U.S. This wrapper has a very distinctive taste. The curing and the fermentation process will be totally different if it’s grown in another country, too. For example a Connecticut wrapper in Ecuador, most times will have a bit more flavor and less bitterness.”
To make his point, Blanco kept the robust Nicaraguan, Peruvian, and Dominican core of the Aurora 1495 selection intact, and created four unique new blends by replacing the original Ecuadorian Sun Grown wrapper with a Brazilian Maduro, an African Cameroon, a U.S. Connecticut, and a Dominican Corojo wrapper leaf. The difference in strength, flavor, and aroma between each cigar is startling.
“It all comes down to the wrapper and the size of the cigar,” adds Blanco. “For example, the cigars in the Connoisseur Collection are all 5 inches by 52 ring. Now if you take a Corona at 5¼ inches by 42 ring with a Connecticut wrapper, the wrapper might account for 25% of the flavor. Use the same filler and binder and roll it with a Dominican Corojo wrapper, and it may be 50%. Of course, it also depends on the tolerance scale of each cigar smoker.”
So although Cuban cigars remain the “standard” for premium cigars, just as France is the standard for premium wines, choice reigns supreme, and each year manufacturers continue to outdo themselves with cigars made from new tobacco strains and blending combinations. It’s also what makes smoking premium cigars so fascinating.
Country of origin? Who cares? I say, viva la difference, and just give me a good cigar.
Above photo by Manny Iriarte.