What Are Wrapper Shade Colors?
When it comes to discussing the various elements and characteristics of a cigar, I believe nothing is more confusing to a customer than the wrapper shades. Before information was accessible via the internet, or before cigar smokers really cared about the exact intricacies of a blend, shade colors were used to easily identify the type of cigar you were choosing.
Generally, this could tell you what you might expect from a cigar. However, there are so many determining factors for a cigar’s flavor that wrapper shade is not the best way to guess at the flavor.
The shade color is still vital to blenders and farmers, as it helps determine if tobacco can or cannot be used for a particular blend. Nevertheless, I feel because there is no industry standard, it should not be utilized as much when discussing with average cigar smokers.
There are, however, seven typically used shades to describe a cigar’s wrapper shade, called the Colorado scale. Going from lightest to darkest, the wrapper shades on the Colorado scale are Candela (sometimes called Double Claro), Claro, Colorado Claro, Colorado, Colorado Maduro, Maduro, and Oscuro.
These shades are largely determined by how long the leaf has been fermented, although fermentation time is not the sole deciding factor. In fact, almost every leaf in any cigar undergoes some fermentation time, as it’s essential to preparing the tobacco’s flavor for being part of a cigar. However, fermentation times can widely vary and will have a significant impact on the leaf’s color and flavor.
These shades are independent of the type of seed, as many seeds can reach a variety of colors, but certain wrappers will typically present as only one or two shades at the market. For you to have a general idea of what I’m talking about, I’ve put together a list of the various wrapper shade colors along with a little explanation and examples of each, so you will be able to follow along if you ever hear these terms.
If you’ve ever smoked a Connecticut shade or Ecuadorian Connecticut shade wrapper, then you have smoked a claro. Claro, which means clear, is used to describe a wrapper that is very light brown or golden tan in its color. While it is still on the thinner side, it became a much more flavorful and reliable wrapper to use on mellow cigars and eventually replaced the candela.
Nowadays, wrappers with a claro shade are mostly described as natural wrappers, that is, they have a natural shade. In terms of flavor, claros are typically exceptionally smooth and mellow with some creamy notes to them. That makes them perfect for use on more mellow cigars. You can see examples of a claro wrapper on cigars such as the Montecristo White, Sobremesa Brulee, or JR Esteli Reserva.
This shade and the next two are where things start getting confusing. Once you start using the term Colorado, in my opinion, it can become a matter of personal opinion. In general, Colorado claro is used to describe a wrapper color that is slightly darker than a typical claro, but not too dark. They are typically still on the more mellow side of things but tend to have a bit more flavor than your average claro.
This is a term that’s not really used anymore outside of industry insiders because as I said, there is no industry standard or hard definition for the shade colors. Some close examples I could give of what a Colorado claro should be are cigars such as the Romeo y Julieta Vintage or the Davidoff Colorado Claro, which has the color in the name.
Planted firmly in the middle of the spectrum, Colorado wrappers can be a bit easier to identify, but their naming of them has gone through various iterations. At one time they were called E.M.S., or English Market Selection. This was an old Cuban practice when determining whether the wrapper quality was good enough to be sold overseas. However some retailers, like us, still use E.M.S. to describe the color.
Today, we use Colorado to describe a wrapper with a solid, medium-brown color, often with a reddish undertone. In fact, the term Colorado is actually derived from the Spanish word for red, which is the defining characteristic of these reddish medium-brown wrappers. Wrappers with a Colorado color are among the most popular and frequently used wrappers on the market.
Any medium-brown wrapper with an oily, reddish color is considered to be Colorado, and they typically have a spicier or fuller flavor. Almost all wrapper varietals can be brought to a Colorado shade, or at least close to it on either side of the spectrum, however as stated above it’s subjective. Some examples of a Colorado wrapper would be the Fuente Chateau Sun Grown or the original My Father line.
A term that sometimes gets thrown in with Colorado is called Rosado, which translates from Spanish to mean pink. These wrappers tend to have a much more vibrant reddish hue than most Colorado wrappers, sometimes having a dark brick-like red color. The most famous example of a Colorado Rosado wrapper is the traditional Opus X, however, a more readily available option is Fonseca by My Father.
Now we are getting into the darker side of things. If you didn’t already know, Maduro means ripe in Spanish, and it’s through the fermentation process that the tobacco leaves turn much darker and richer in flavor. The term Maduro is used to describe dark wrappers because of the lengthy fermentation times the leaves go through, ripening them to their dark color.
The Colorado Maduro is supposed to be that shade right before it gets very dark, lying somewhere in between the reddish-brown of Colorado and the dusky dark brown of Maduro. Colorado Maduro wrappers tend to be more aromatic than Maduros, while also being more flavorful than Colorado wrappers thanks to the added fermentation while still maintaining complex aromas from oils.
The two great examples I have of a Colorado Maduro both come from Fuente: the Diamond Crown Maximus that they make for J.C Newman and the Ashton VSG they make for Ashton. Both of these cigars use a darker, Ecuadorian sun-grown wrapper that is not a true Maduro, but much darker than a typical Colorado.
This next shade color is a term most of you have likely heard before. Much of the confusion surrounding this style of wrapper lies in many people believing that the color is from a specific seed, which isn’t the case.
Maduro is the result of the fermentation process, coaxing much darker, richer, and sweeter characteristics from tobacco. Leaves with a dark Maduro shade are fermented far longer and at higher temperatures than Claro or Colorado leaves, and must be sturdy and thick enough to withstand the process.
Most tobaccos are fermented in what are called Pilóns, which is where tobacco is laid out and stacked on top of each other in huge piles, creating natural heat from the immense pressure of several tons of weight. Once the temperature reaches a certain level, the pilóns are broken down and built back up, with the tobaccos rotated so they can ferment evenly. The process is then repeated.
As the tobacco ferments, ammonia and nicotine, which are naturally occurring in the tobacco leaves, break down, while the tobacco also takes on a much darker color. Complex sugars are also broken down into simpler sugars through this process, resulting in rich, flavorful, and sweet tobacco.
However, it can only be done in a few choice wrapper varieties; the fermentation process is long and arduous so only thick and robust leaves can withstand the later stages. Tobaccos such as Mexican San Andres and Connecticut Broadleaf make for great Maduro tobacco due to their size and profile. Yet, any leaf that has adequate thickness and flexibility for lengthy fermentation can be presented as Maduro.
A common misconception is that Maduro-wrapped cigars are stronger. A dark, Maduro-wrapped cigar is going to be richer and very flavorful, but the strength comes from the filler and binder. Examples of some typical Maduros include the Charter Oak Maduro from Foundation, Trinidad Espiritu Series 2, or the Crowned Heads CHC Serie E.
Unfortunately, our last term is another confusing one. Oscuro, for the longest time, was also called Double-Maduro. The confusion arises in that the term double-Maduro is sometimes used to refer to a cigar that uses a Maduro wrapper as well as a Maduro binder, however, the term is seldom used in this way nowadays.
The only example I can think of that follows the double-Maduro moniker of multiple uses of Maduro in a blend is Camacho Triple Maduro, which features Maduro tobaccos throughout the blend as the wrapper, binder, and fillers.
An example of a cigar that more appropriately uses the term “double-Maduro” would be the Sancho Panza Double Maduro, featuring an almost jet-black wrapper.
Oscuro is a term that’s reserved for a process by which tobaccos are fermented in such a way that they can usually leave them with a jet-black color. They are fermented for a shorter time at a lower temperature than your typical Maduro, and this usually occurs in barrels as opposed to Pilóns.
The tobacco is typically from the highest part of the plant, most often the Ligero primings but sometimes the rare Medio Tiempo can be used as well. Oscuro shade wrappers are the darkest available and usually have a very dark and rich bold flavor profile.
Since the process for oscuro differs from Maduro, it can be difficult to differentiate between Maduro and Oscuro wrappers based purely on color. The shorter fermentation time and lower temperature also lead to a wrapper that has a higher nicotine content than many maduros; when you come across an Oscuro wrapper you can trust you’re in for a stronger smoke.
Some typical examples of Oscuro-wrapped cigars would be the Partagas 1845 Extra Oscuro, the Davidoff Winston Churchill Late Hour, or the incredibly popular Oscuro blend from El Rey del Mundo.
Now that you are fully informed on all the different wrapper shade colors and the Colorado scale, you are well on your way to finding your perfect smoke. While cigar wrapper colors might not tell you everything about what you are about to experience in a cigar, it can give you a general sense of what types of tobaccos you enjoy.
So get out there and start identifying the colors of your favorite premium smokes!