The rarest is medio tiempo, which grows at the very top of the plant and some say occurs on as few as one in ten plants. Receiving the full force of the sun’s rays, these small leaves develop a rich and powerful flavour but also take the longest amount of time to ripen. These coveted leaves are a key component in the famous Cohiba Behike range and are part of the reason those cigars command such a high price!
Next comes the ligero, the more common full-flavoured leaf, of which there are usually around five rows. On account of their full access to the sun, these leaves tend to be oilier, thicker, and slower to burn. Thus, in order to ensure an even burn, ligero tobacco has traditionally been located at the centre of the bunch inside a cigar.
Further down the plant one will find the leaves defined as viso (sometimes known as volado), then seco. In Cuba the former term tends not to be used and all of these leaves are considered to be seco. Leaves from this section of the plant tend to be of medium flavour and strength, with thickness and strength decreasing as the leaves near the bottom of the plant. Nevertheless, both play a vital role in a quality cigar’s flavour and aroma. Finally we reach the leaves known as volado, which provide much lighter flavours and milder strength. The largest of these are defined as capote and are used as binders.
It must be said that this descending scale of strength is particularly distinct in premium cigar tobacco due to the priming method of harvesting, whereby leaves are taken from the bottom up with a number of days between each picking. This process tends to take around 30 days and stands in contrast to the method used for cigarette and pipe tobacco, for which the plant is cut at the base and harvested in one go. By using this method, tobacco growers ensure that nutrients continue to flow into the upper leaves as the lower leaves are removed – thus promoting development of stronger, more concentrated characteristics.
Two other terms associated with this central component of a cigar are ‘short filler’ and ‘long filler’. Most quality cigars are made with the latter, which means that whole leaves are used, while the former term refers to chopped tobacco and is more common in machine-made cigars.
About the expert
A lover of both New World and Cuban cigars alike, Simon has been smoking cigars on and off since he was 21, but it is only in the last five years that he has seriously taken to cigar smoking. By contrast to the perceived image of a cigar smoker, Simon is heavily tattooed, a ‘distinguished ruffian’, and is always eager to share what knowledge he has picked up with Robert Graham customers and anyone else who will listen! Also a keen whisky drinker, he currently favours the rich, dark fruit notes found in many sherry cask matured drams.
Where to smoke
Le Lounge Kléber at The Peninsula Paris
As venues for enjoying a cigar and whisky pairing go, Le Lounge Kléber at the Peninsula Hotel must surely be one of the most elegant. This intimate venue offers an impressive selection of cigars (over 500 cigars in 60 different vitolas can be found in its humidor) and a superb selection of whisky, rum, Calvados, Cognac, and Armagnac.
19 Avenue Kléber, Paris, France, 75116
Telephone: +33 1 5812 2888
Merlot with the main course
Bolivar Belicosos Finos and The Dalmore Distillery Exclusive 2017 – Vintage 2000, Californian Merlot Barrique Finesse
This venerable cigar brand is named in honour of Simón Bolivar, the South American military leader and politician, and the marque was established in 1902. It produces some of the strongest and most full-bodied Habanos.
With pre-light aromas of freshly-polished leather and espresso, an undeniable farmyard note is also present. Perhaps it is the influence of the tapered head, which controls the draw speed thus the rate of combustion and temperature, that gives this cigar its elegance. Whatever the reason, after lighting its flavours are not as bold (or brash) as one might expect. Espresso crema, milk chocolate, the slightest suggestion of black pepper, and a whack of well-hung venison combine with cashew on the retrohale in a palate that is sure to impress.
Such a meaty cigar calls for a sweet accompaniment, or perhaps a glass of wine. My answer to this was this year’s distillery exclusive from The Dalmore, which offers mouth-watering palate of blackcurrant compote, maraschino cherry and liquorice with a suggestion of allspice. Together, the balance of sweet red fruit and savoury jus delivers all the delights of Sunday dinner with none of the cooking.
Port Pipes and Piramides
Cohiba Piramides Extra and Glencadam 17 Years Old Triple Cask Portwood Finish
The Piramides Extra has pre-light notes of earth, rich leather and just a hint of pepper, concealing the true flavours of this great cigar.
After toasting and lighting, citrus and a sweet fruitiness come to the fore, with nutmeg, creamy leather and hay dancing through the background. The retrohale brings a little black coffee. Entering the second third, the coffee note migrates to the palate but citrus still leads the way, now joined by honey and saffron. A splendid bitter cocoa coats the mouth and candied orange peel and pepper spice is introduced to the retrohale.
A noticeable change in strength up to medium-full comes, alongside amplified flavours, as we slide into the final third. Leather, cream, a whisper of coffee and a pleasing citrus twang give way to a savoury finish.
The Glencadam’s intriguing nose of plums, vanilla and malt is bolstered by its extra maturation in three select port pipes. Lusciously sweet on the palate, prunes, summer fruits and toffee leads to an abundantly sweet finish with delicate spice.
For me, this pairing is one of a kind. Pop some Pink Floyd on the stereo, then prepare to sit back and lose yourself in 100 minutes of bliss.