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That Old Black Magic

Maduros created using time-honored methods are sparking a rebirth for the mysterious dark-wrapper cigars
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Sharon Stone, July/Aug 2004

(continued from page 1)

The fear is largely unfounded. Most cigars that are sold with the word "maduro" on the box aren't strong at all. In various Cigar Aficionado taste tests, maduros have exhibited largely mellow, toasty and often sweet flavors. "It's kind of like molasses," says Samuel Russell, senior marketing manager for Davidoff of Geneva, describing the taste of maduro wrapper.

Some confusion arises because dark cigars without the word "maduro" in the title, particularly those made with dark, oily primings of Ecuadoran Sumatra or Central American tobacco leaves, can be absolute powerhouses.

Litto Gomez believes some maduro wrappers can have a mellowing effect on a tobacco blend, and he has the cigar to prove it. His La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Chisel is about as spicy as a cigar gets, and it's strong enough to give even the heaviest smokers pause. His maduro version, which has an identical blend, except that a dark Connecticut-broadleaf wrapper replaces the light-colored Ecuadoran Sumatra leaf of the natural version, is mellow, toasty and somewhat medium in body.

"The broadleaf soaks up the spiciness and adds all of this sweetness," says Gomez, who was surprised by the change the leaf made.

While some maduros—such as the new Punch Magnum—contain different blends than the natural version of the same cigar, many are identical to the originals, save for the difference in wrapper leaf. Christian Eiroa's new Camacho maduros, like Gomez's Chisel, have identical filler and binder blends as their natural versions.

"Maduro" is a Spanish adjective meaning "ripe," and in the cigar business a maduro used to be made only from the highest leaves on a tobacco plant. Because they spend the most time on the plant, these leaves become riper than any other. "Maduro cigars used to be known as the cigars made from the corona leaf," says Eiroa, vice president of Tabacos Rancho Jamastran, maker of the Camacho brand. "The market changed. Maduro simply means dark."

Cigars that are marketed as maduros today tend to have dark brown, black or, in some odd cases, purple-black wrappers reminiscent of eggplants. (The Cuban cigar industry, while it does release very dark cigars, no longer sells any as maduros.) The darkest varieties might be called double maduro or oscuro. And the leaves may come from any part of the plant.

Making a maduro wrapper using traditional methods of natural heat and moisture takes a great deal of time, know-how and a leaf that's tough enough to handle a beating. Most maduros are made from one of two hearty tobacco varieties, Connecticut broadleaf or San Andres Negro. You also see some maduros, such as León Jimenes maduros, made with Brazilian wrapper, and some made with Nicaraguan. Eiroa uses Connecticut broadleaf along with broadleaf seed he grows in Honduras.

Broadleaf and San Andres Negro (which is grown in Mexico outside of Veracruz) are unlike most cigar wrapper tobaccos because they are stalk-cut rather than primed. Priming is a delicate process by which the leaves of a tobacco plant are removed in groups of three, starting from the bottom of the plant and working upward, with farmers taking a break of a few days or more between primings as the leaves mature higher up on the plant. Connecticut shade, Ecuadoran Sumatra, Cuban-seed Nicaraguan, all varieties of Dominican tobacco and a host of other tobaccos are harvested in this fashion. The individual leaves are hung in curing barns on string (either sewn together or tied at their ends) and allowed to cure, or dry.

Stalk cutting is more brutal, and quicker. In a broadleaf field north of Hartford, Connecticut, a handful of workers bend at the waist, swinging short axes with small heads. They aim near the dirt line, chopping at the thick stalks of the broadleaf plants, which look like small bushes with their clusters of fat, wide leaves. After chopping the plant, the worker drops it to the ground to let it wilt in the sun for about half an hour, which makes the plant easier to handle.

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