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Cigar 101

Sun Grown vs. Maduro: What's the Difference?

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

Maybe they look similar to one another. Mainly, they are both dark. To a degree, both generally seem a bit thicker and sturdier than the lighter-colored cigar wrappers. But there are very significant differences between Sun Grown and Maduro cigar wrappers, mainly involving time. Let’s define terms.

WHAT IS A SUN GROWN CIGAR WRAPPER?

Simply, a Sun Grown cigar wrapper is made from leaves that grow directly exposed to the sun, but the wrapper leaf that is referred to as Sun Grown is distinctive among the wrappers grown without shade. The direct solar exposure requires the leaves to become resilient to heat. As a result, the Sun Grown tobacco leaves get thick and develop more veins. This produces a thick, dark wrapper leaf that has a natural sweetness and a full flavor. Sun Grown commonly gets referred to as Maduro as well.

WHAT IS A MADURO CIGAR WRAPPER?

Maduro means “ripe” in Spanish and this describes how the leaf becomes a very dark reddish-brown to almost black color. Technically, Maduro wrappers are a subset of Sun Grown, but made into Maduros through the fermentation process that can take place through increased exposure to the sun, a “cooking” process, and/or a prolonged time fermenting.

FERMENTATION & AGING

While all tobacco is fermented before being made into a cigar, the period of fermentation to create Maduro leaves is considerably longer. After curing, Maduro wrappers are packed into bulks to ferment. During this process, there are chemical changes due to the moisture of the leaves and the combined weight of the pile. Ammonia comes off the leaves and heat is produced. The heat turns starches into sugar. When the temperature reaches around 115°F, the bulks get taken apart. With Broadleaf tobacco, prevalent in Maduro, the temps can go to 120°F. The tobacco then gets put back into bulks and the process is repeated. This takes a long time.

Some Maduro wrappers get made by “cooking” the leaves. Essentially, the leaves get steamed into tobacco leaves and the vapor adds color. During the cigar boom of the 1990s, another method that was used, because of growing demand for darker cigars, is what’s known as “painting” the leaves. The leaves get dipped in dye or get a sponge-bath with food coloring that turns them darker. This created some odd-looking colors, ranging into eggplant shades of purple and super-dark black. That’s reportedly very rare today and most reputable cigar makers don’t cook or paint wrappers.

FLAVOR

Perhaps the best way to understand the differences between Sun Grown and Maduro wrappers is to taste cigars made with each wrapper. Generally, the Sun Grown is stronger than the Maduro. Let’s look at one very fine example of each.

The Rocky Patel Sun Grown Robusto, 5.5 x 50, about $7, is an excellent representative of a great cigar (rated 92 by Cigar Aficionado) that bears an Ecuadoran Sun Grown wrapper. This is a full-bodied cigar that is spicy and peppery with cedar and leather notes in the finish. It’s a strong cigar with great balance.

Now, the Rocky Patel Sun Grown Maduro Robusto (remember, Maduro leaves are also grown in the sun) 5.5 x 50, around $9.50, has a dark-chocolate-colored Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper and filler from Nicaragua. It is full-bodied, but has considerably more sweetness than the Sun Grown non-Maduro. While this is an earthy cigar, the flavor has notes of coffee, spicy maple, and cedar with a sweet, chocolaty finish. This was the 2016 number two cigar of the year for Cigar Aficionado.

STRENGTH

A common misconception is that Maduro cigars are stronger because of their dark color. This is generally not true. The Maduro wrapper is naturally sweeter because the process by which it’s made brings out sugars. Sun Grown cigars can also vary in terms of strength.

The Arturo Fuente Chateau in a Maduro Robusto, 4.5 x 50, in the $5 range, is a medium-bodied example of a Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro. The same cigar in a Sun Grown wrapper is much fuller and more robust.

SMOKE THESE

If you want to expand your understanding of Sun Grown and Maduro cigars, these are some you should definitely add to your humidor.

The Ashton Aged Maduro Pyramid, 6 x 52, about $13, is among the most popular and well-known Maduros on the market today. It’s made in the Dominican Republic and has a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper filled with Dominican tobaccos. The result is a mild-medium cigar whose wrapper has gone through an extensive fermentation that can take up to three years. The flavor is earthy, with maple, spices, and some cocoa.

The Ashton VSG (Virgin Sun Grown) Corona Gorda, 5.75 x 46, about $12, is among the most successful Sun Grown cigars around. A rare, dark, and oily Ecuador Sumatra wrapper envelops a superb blend of Dominican tobaccos. The full flavor is of earth, cedar, spice and leather. This is a bold cigar.

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