How Do Cigars Get Rated?
The cigar ratings supplied by publications like Cigar Magazine and Cigar Aficionado form an important part of the modern cigar industry. For cigar smokers, these ratings provide guidance in a crowded market.
As pressed-for-time moviegoers may look to Roger Ebert for guidance at the multiplex, smokers use the magazines' ratings to cut down on their in-store browsing time. For cigar makers, meanwhile, the ratings can be the touch of life - or the kiss of death. When Cigar Aficionado gave a high rating to a Fuente Spanish Lonsdale cigar, the magazine's imprimatur helped to cause a run on the brand, rendering it scarce and highly sought-after and increasing the profile of Fuente's cigars in general. Every cigar maker covets a 90-or-higher rating from these influential judges.
But where do these numbers actually come from? For staffers at Cigar Aficionado, the reviewing process starts at the store. While music and book reviewers are often given free "review copies" of CDs or books (a practice that makes things convenient for the reviewer, but also diminishes his or her independence), Cigar Aficionado tries to buy cigars at close to retail prices.
This leads to big cigar bills for the magazine - but it also means the cigars they review are as much like the ones you buy at the store as is possible. (Unlike CDs or books, of course, every cigar is slightly different in composition and taste.) Sometimes, if a cigar is hard to find in stores, the magazine will request "review cigars"; ditto for cases when the magazine is trying to preview a cigar before it hits stores.
The members of the panel - all of them longstanding magazine staffers - are told nothing about the identity, price range, source, or country of origin of the cigar. A "tasting coordinator" - not a member of the panel - removes the cigar's band so that it cannot be identified by the panel's members.
The blank, anonymous cigar is then assigned a number so that its identity can be retrieved after it's rated. The members of the tasting panel then retire, separately, to their offices to smoke the cigars without consulting each other. Each member of the panel assigns the cigar a certain number of points, based on its performance in any of four categories.
First of all, cigars are rated by APPEARANCE and CONSTRUCTION. Is the cigar visually pleasing? Is the wrapper smooth, or wadded-looking? Is it moist to the touch or dry? Does it stay firm? Is it veiny or soggy? After all, a great-tasting cigar that wilts the minute you take it out of the box, or looks too unappetizing to be placed in someone's mouth, does smokers no good. Cigars can win up to 15 points in this category for being well-made and attractive.
Secondly, of course, the cigar is rated on its FLAVOR - a category that carries with it 25 of the possible 100 points. Who needs a good-looking but brackish cigar? Cigars should not taste bitter or leave a nasty aftertaste. Both taste and aftertaste should be smooth but full, complicated, and rich.
A maximum of 25 points can be won for various qualities ranged together under the general heading of SMOKING CHARACTERISTICS. How does it burn? Is it hard to light? Does it burn one-sidedly? Will the smoke burn your mouth, or feel cool and comfortable as it should? How hard do you have to pull to get a mouthful? All these questions and more are considered.
Finally, the tasters each give a score (up to 35 points) for OVERALL IMPRESSION. (Flavor counts most here.) Is the cigar good, bad - or great? And the question utmost in any dedicated smoker's mind - is it worth the money? The panel's various scores in each category are averaged and a final score is the result.
Ratings, of course, are always subjective, depending on individuals' taste - even if those individuals have well-developed, highly educated tastes. Your mileage may vary. For any smoker, the ultimate authority should always be your own tastebuds!
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