I received the following question from a reader of My Cigar Blog.

Regarding flavour, I am a bit confused (perhaps is the right word) by the reviews of various cigars. I have always been put off by the approach to reviews that many wine tasters take. One always hears about this or that kind of berry, and so forth, but it often seems highly dubious to me. When I hear the same language being used to describe cigars I wonder to what extent the expectations, and desired to say something about the flavour of a cigars overwhelms ones ability to describe the taste and smell sensation in a way that allows other smokers to accurately know what to expect.

Have you ever observed consistent descriptions of cigars, especially where the reviewer is not familiar with what others have said?

The following is my response:

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Happy New Year to you, may 2011 be kind to you and your kin.

On your question, there have been attempts to translate the wine taster’s “flavour wheel” to cigars. While i applaud the efforts, i too have not been able to appreciate it myself too much.

To me, cigars generally share some very common flavours (Cuban cigars anyways, which i smoke almost exclusively nowadays). Woody (cedar, occasionally pine chips), dark/bitter chocolate, and coffee. These are the base flavours that i think every Cuban cigars will build itself around. The differences between each brand and blend, and vitola within the brand, is how the blender has decided to balance the 3 components, and where to “place” the 3 flavours within the cigar. Some cigars, like the Montecristos generally, frontload the coffee up front in the first couple of inches. Others like the Partagas, tend to build up to the coffee, and rather present chocolate notes in the front.

There is only one exception to the above, i’ve noticed. And that’s the elusive “grassy” flavour profile. This is not a “base” flavour, because while it is dominant in some cigars, and the Cohiba brand in particular, it is quite rare in the general line and amongst the other brands. It’s difficult to explain, but to me, it like “tasting” the “smell” of freshly cut grass. If you can imagine what it means like to taste something that you’re only used to smelling, then you have arrived to what i’m referring to. It’s quite an appealing sensation, and as i said, usually found in Cohibas, but rarely also in other brands, especially in certain Limited Editions. I suspect it could be attributed to the double aging that the Cohiba tobacco is subjected to (nearly all the other brands go through a single aging process before the tobacco is rolled).

So, to recap — woody, chocolate, coffee, and rarely, grassy. Those are the 4 base flavours. How they are blended, meshed and presented, is the skill of the blender and the hallmark of each particular brand.

There are of course sub-flavours within the flavours. These are much more difficult to describe accurately for everyone to appreciate simply because they are incredibly subjective; the flavours are dependent on what we each have experienced before as individuals. For example, someone who has tasted raw vanilla beans (i have), would know what raw vanilla tastes like. Someone who hasn’t, will not. So it’s pointless for me to tell you that this cigar has a hint of raw vanilla which i detect due to memory association, unless you have also tasted raw vanilla too. Only then will you know what i’m talking about.

The sub-flavours can range quite wildly. Earthy. Caramel. Vanilla. Fruit — citrus tanginess. Stone fruit. Berries. Honey. They are only limited by the reviewers range of experience. Good reviewers, in my opinion, have a wide range of tasting experience. Because it is these sub-flavours that give a review its “colour”. While you and i may never detect wild berries in our cigars, the next reader might, and will then appreciate the reference.

I hope this helps you understand my reviews better.

Long ashes, mate.

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