Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

How do you know when a wine has ‘flavours of cigar box’? Have you licked one?

Helmut Riegel/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The question

You've used "flavours of cigar box" more than once, and I would like to know how you established what the flavour of a cigar box really is. Did you lick the cigar box? Boil it then sip the broth? Burn it then put ashes in your drink? Colour me curious.

The answer

Story continues below advertisement

I gather some cigar aficionados lick the full Montecristo before lighting up to help prevent a potentially dry wrapper from unravelling, but I grant that cigar boxes are another matter.

In short, no, I have not licked, boiled, burned, sautéed or otherwise cooked or consumed a humidor. It's a great question. My justification is this: One need not taste something on the tongue to arrive at its flavour. Though many people equate taste with flavour, the two are not synonymous. The tongue in fact can detect only five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and the savoury essence known as umami. (Though I should point out that a team of U.S. scientists recently postulated that there is a sixth taste, and it happens to be my favourite – fat.)

What we commonly refer to as flavours are the result of taste buds working in tandem with other receptors sensitive to such things as smell, texture and heat. There are, for example, no rosemary or lemon or chocolate receptors on the tongue; we sense those ingredients mainly through the nose. That's why when you resort to that old trick of plugging your nose while eating, you don't get much flavour from the food. I used that trick a lot as a kid while forcing down dreaded vegetables.

I have, obviously, smelled a cigar box, which is commonly made of Spanish cedar. The combination of aromatic wood with heady tobacco is what I'm talking about. It's a classic aroma (and, yes, flavour) found in certain red wines, such as cabernet sauvignon. The sometimes bewildering flavour associations don't stop at cigar box. I and other wine critics have in fact used descriptors for many other inedible objects, including asphalt and manure. For the record, I've not consumed either of those substances, though in a schoolyard once I was implored to eat the latter.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading…

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.