article and photograph by Richard Carleton Hacker
Terroir affects cigars and wines, which can be illuminated with the ultra-powerful Surefire Winelight (www.surefire.com), used for checking wine levels in dark bottles.
With the possible exception of "vines" and "grapes," terroir is perhaps the most often encountered word in the written world of wines. Taken in its most literal sense, one might assume it simply refers to "earth." But as we know, its enological meaning is much more extensive than that. In fact, when relating to wine, terroir encompasses not only soil, but the location of the vineyards, and hence, the climate – in essence, the total ecological surroundings. And this, in turn, affects the grapes, how they will grow, when they will be harvested, and consequently, how they will taste in their final destiny as wine.
But terroir is not only reserved for wines; it is just as important in the cultivation and manufacture of cigars. Indeed, just as one can determine the unmistakable essence of "Rutherford dust" in a glass of Ron and Diane Miller's Silverado 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon from the gravelly slopes of the Stag's Leap District, or in Ed Sbragia's Rancho del Oso's Cabernet from the top of Howell Mountain, a similar earthiness can be found in a Cuban Hoyo de Monterrey or in a Nicaraguan Padrón 1926. California, France, Argentina, Australia, Chile, South Africa – wherever wines are made, their terroir affects their flavors, just as tobaccos carry the unmistakable DNA from the soils of Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaraguan, Honduras – wherever the leaves are grown. However, while wines made from dominant grape varietals are often easy to identify by aroma and taste, cigars usually present more of a challenge, as the countries of manufacture are often not the same as the countries in which the tobaccos are grown.
For example, the super-aged Montecristo Classic, a premium cigar made in the Dominican Republic with a mild tasting Dominican binder and filler, boasts the overriding rich creamy flavor of a Connecticut Shade wrapper from the United States. Likewise, the meaty, full flavored Trinidad – also made in the DR – has a rich, dark Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper. Two cigars made in the same country, but continents apart on taste.
By the same token, the smooth velvet of a Kendall-Jackson 2003 Grand Reserve Cabernet doesn't have the thundering 15.5 proof punch to the solar plexus of the 2003 Earthquake Cab from Lodi, even though both wines are made from the same variety of grapes. Just different terroirs and harvesting/fermentation methods. That is why the big, blustery black cherry-laden Roda I from Spain's Rioja region has a completely different muscular content than the sweet leathery complexion of Australia's Wolf Blass Black Label 2002 Shiraz- Cabernet-Malbec blend from the hills overlooking the Barrosa Valley. Different terroir, but producing the same spectrum (however, not the same tastes) of heavy reds.
And yet, the medium-strength smoke of Royal Jamaica Gold boasts an earthy Nicaraguan wrapper and is not made in Jamaica at all, but rather, in the Dominican Republic. And the slightly fuller-flavored Quintessa has a Cuban seed wrapper that is actually grown in Honduras, thus combining characteristics of both countries. Likewise, the box-pressed Quinterro, also from the hot and humid soil of Honduras, is sultry enough to smoke with the dry, honied sweetness of a Kracher Trockenbeerenauslese, a blend of Chardonnay and Welschriesling from a particularly sandy and moist vineyard in Austria.
Although terroir plays a natural and dominant role in both wines and cigars, for me, the most important aspect is not where the grapes are planted or the tobaccos are grown. Rather, it is where the wine is sipped and the cigars are smoked, for that indeed creates the perfect terroir.