Of Cigar Tasting - The Complexity


The “traditional school” tells us that, among the elements of cigar tasting, complexity is a horizontal dimension. It looks at proportion, variety and quality of the aromatic palette. It is a key parameter of the tasting and needs to be observed in terms of how it converges together with quality, balance, evolution and persistence in order to appreciate the overall organoleptic characteristics of a cigar.

Supported by palate sensations (tastes and tactile sensations) and by nicotine strength, aromas contribute to the greatest part of our flavor perceptions when we taste a cigar.

Together with finesse and clearness (which represent the aromatic quality parameter), we can say complexity is a subjective way to observe the depth and breadth of the aromas that we perceive in the lit cigar. We can identify nuances or dominant aromas. These can be spread over the various categories in the aromas wheel (nut, animal, fruit, toasted,…), or could also be appearing as different aromas within the same category (nut: walnut, fresh walnut, hazelnut,…). The intensity we perceive is the unit of measure.

Complexity and Variety, Quantity, Proportion

A few members told us that when they see aromas over different sectors of the Cigar Sense aroma charts, this means the cigar is complex. We want to explain here how to read our charts, which will also serve to further clarify what complexity is and what it is not.

Let’s look at the aromatic profile of two cigars to help illustrate the idea of complexity:

Of Cigar Tasting : The Complexity

Aromatic profile of cigar #1

Of Cigar Tasting : The Complexity

Aromatic profile of cigar #2

You could quickly infer that, given both cigars show aromatic presence in quite numerous sectors of the chart, both cigars are judged to be rather complex. Is this a correct assumption? No. Identifying a bunch of aromas and an approximate intensity for them is not enough for us to say that a cigar is complex.

Let’s look at the aromatic profile of cigars #1 and #2 in more detail. Bear in mind, in our work this is never the representation of one palate, but of many palates: the consolidated view of the various panelists blind tests. The lighter the color, the lighter the overall aroma intensity perceived:

Of Cigar Tasting : The Complexity

Does this level of detail tell us more about the cigar complexity?

Complexity and Quality

While this data gives more insight on variety, quantity and proportion of aromas, it does not give immediate information on quality.  We also need the aggregate of a separate evaluation parameter which takes the finesse of aromas into account. Cigar Sense adds this evaluation in the tables underneath the flavor charts in each cigar analysis.

These are the key published parameters for cigar #1:

Of Cigar Tasting : The Complexity

In this case our cigar was judged by every panelist who tested it to be highly complex.

And these are the key published parameters for cigar #2:

Of Cigar Tasting : The Complexity

If you look at the parameters “organoleptic richness” (balance) and evolution, you can see in action how some of the organoleptic characteristics are interconnected. It is indeed hard to find an unbalanced cigar with excellent complexity. Balance in aromas, tastes and nicotine strength can be seen as a prerequisite for the finesse in the aromas to be displayed.

What do the Cigar Sense aromas charts tell us then? They provide an easy to read snapshot of your potential to find the represented aromas if you taste another sample of that cigar. It’s possible that most aromas groups in the chart might show up, some may be with higher or lower intensity than the panel aggregate results. This method serves our core recommendation service, which carefully considers all aromas that a cigar could present. It is important because, for instance, if one of our members highly dislikes fruit, cigar #1 might be appearing low or not at all in the member’s recommendations list, based on the slight level of fruit we recorded among the various aromas.

In summary, complexity is about proportion, variety and quality of aromas and how these are intertwined together, not merely about:

  • seeing as many aromas as possible on the charts
  • identifying as many aromas as possible

The new school of cigar tasting

According to the traditional tasting school, you have the molecules of the different leaves that compose the cigar, with the chemical interaction among them, and then you have connected sensory interpretations delivered by individual subjective reviewers.

On the other hand, you have the human experiential gap and the attention moves to the fascinating human senses machine, which attempts to turn the subjective expressions of the cigar into objective data, to inform consumers rather than persuade them. The focus moves from the physical reality of the cigar and of its molecules to what our mind creates of them. An increasing level of attention is given to the influences that affect the fairness of our cigar tasting. Often we are not aware of such influences, however they play a huge role into how we describe a cigar.

In short, a cigar can deliver many shades of aromas. But what if the reviewer can genetically perceive a small portion of them, or hates “animal” aromas? Or never tasted brown sugar? What if the reviewer predicts what a cigar’s aromas will be even before lighting the cigar, just based on the knowledge s/he has on the cigar wrapper? The cigar’s complexity will not be appreciated and described by the reviewer. And what if the reviewer relies too much on imagination, less on sensory acuity? A bland cigar may become complex. These biases can heavily influence the information provided on a cigar and, as a consequence, can lead a consumer to buy a cigar that s/he will not appreciate.


Next steps

If you wish to learn more about cigar tasting, how to fairly evaluate a cigar and how to break down a cigar review, A Cigar Tasting Course might be for you.

You can also log-in or sign-up for free to find the best cigars that suit your unique tastes and learn more about what you like and dislike in a cigar. You will be able to download your copy of our e-book “Cigar Tasting. Beyond the casual, social experience” upon completion of your registration.

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Cigar Sense predicts which cigars best fit your personal taste. We are committed to preserve the highest objectivity, integrity and independence in the creation and dissemination of our analyses and industry analytics. This is why we do not sell cigars, nor cigar ads.

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