One of life’s simple luxuries – and yet, some of the best cigars in the world can be had for as little as $5.00. Check out ABC’s primer on selecting and enjoying a fine cigar.
Crafted by the hands of masters
Quality in the cigar world starts with one word – handmade. So limit your search to those cigars crafted and rolled by hand. These bear the label of either "totalmente a mano" or "totally by hand," depending on the cigar's origin, on both the cigar band and box. (Most quality cigars come from Spanish-speaking countries.) Watch out for "hecho a mano" (made by hand) and "envuelto a mano" (packed by hand). Both terms indicate partial machine construction.
Beyond that, which cigar is best will depend entirely on your personal tastes, or those of your recipient. Consider these eight factors when making a selection:
Country of Origin
Cuban tobacco, particularly that from the Vuelta Abajo region, is widely considered the best in the world. But if you can't legally get your hands on a Cuban cigar, one from the Dominican Republic, which uses plants grown from Cuban seeds, is the next best thing. Nicaragua and Honduras also produce excellent cigar tobacco. These countries are each known for producing strong, flavorful tobacco that lends itself well to blending. Other quality smokes come from Ecuador, Mexico, Cameroon, Indonesia, the Philippines and the United States.
Each cigar manufacturer has its own style and flavor, says Bettridge. Big names like Padron, Partagas, Macanudo, Davidoff of Geneva and Cohiba, among others, are known for their consistently well-crafted cigars with complex flavors. Each brand also produces various lines. Cohiba, for example, offers three tiers, from basic varieties to rare limited editions.
Cigar size is measured by both length (in inches) and ring gauge (diameter in either 64ths of an inch or in millimeters). Sizes vary by brand, but generally, the smallest are four inches by 40 millimeters – Petit Coronas; the largest are 7.5 inches by 49 millimeters – Double Coronas. The longer and thicker the cigar, the more time it takes to smoke. And since it’s considered poor taste to let the cigar go out and relight it the next day, your selection should be enjoyed in one sublime sitting.
There are two basic shapes: So-called straight cigars, with a classic, tubular shape, are the most widely available. Because they are harder to make, it's less common to encounter cigars of other shapes lumped together in one category as figurados, or irregulars. These cigars may be tapered at one end, braided, or have a thick bulge in the middle, to name a few common shapes. A cigar's shape affects the heat of its smoke. A straight cigar smokes progressively hotter; while one with, say, a bulge in the middle, will stay cooler longer because its girth increases as the length decreases.
Here, vintage refers to the year of the tobacco harvest, rather than the year the cigar was crafted. Manufacturers only make vintages in select years; the rest are nonvintage blends containing two to five tobaccos of different varieties and harvest years. The idea is to create a cigar that is consistent from year to year. Because vintage cigars are limited in quantity, they are also pricier. A vintage 2000 Macanudo Prince Phillip (7.5 inches by 49 millimeters), for example, will run you more than $20. The nonvintage variety may cost nearly half as much.
Stored properly, a cigar can keep for decades. The older the cigar, the richer its taste and the heftier its price tag.
A cigar's outermost leaf, or wrapper, accounts for most of the finished product's flavor. The six color grades range from Claro claro, a light green, to Oscuro, nearly black. The darker the wrapper, the more full-bodied the cigar. Uniform color is the thing to look for – a cigar with swirls or shading color won't impart good flavor.
Unlike wines, there are no chocolate or red fruit notes. Cigars are usually described in basic tastes like sweet, smooth, heavy and rich. Figuring out what you like takes some trial and error. Too mild will shortchange you on flavor. Too full, and your mouth will be overwhelmed.
Feel & Aroma
A quality cigar has a lustrous sheen and slightly oily texture. It'll feel firm between your fingers, and give off a strong aroma of tobacco. A cigar that's been stored improperly, on the other hand, will be dull, with a dry, cracked wrapper. A bad cigar won't have much of a scent.