Walking into a tobacconist as a novice cigar smoker may be very intimidating - so many shapes and sizes to choose from. In addition, the availability of the various cigar brands and their individual portfolios of shapes and sizes may be equally overwhelming. I've had several newbies who enjoy indulging, and would love to venture out to a tobacconist and select some cigars to try, but rely on me to provide them with a good smoke for the evening...knowing that I'll have something that's just perfect for them. The objective of this post is to provide some very basic information on the variety of shapes, sizes, and colors of the cigars on the market, and encourage the rookies to feel armed enough to make their own selections, or make the proper inquiries of their local tobacconists.
The majority of cigar smokers gravitate to a particular size and shape. The size strongly influences the taste and aroma; however, a particular cigar blend in different sizes tastes different (at times, vastly different) because of the different lengths and ring gauges. Vitola is the general name for the size and shape of a cigar, which is generally measured in length x ring gauge. The length of the cigar is measured in inches; the ring gauge (the width or diameter) is measured in 64ths of an inch - so a cigar measuring 6 1/2" x 42 is 6 1/2 inches long with a 42 ring gauge.
In general, the larger the cigar the more full-flavored it is, and the less harsh and hot-burning it is. Larger ring-gauged cigars tend to draw more slowly and yield a larger volume of smoke, compared with a smaller, thinner cigar. Larger cigars contain more fillers, and a potential for a broader range of flavors. A manufacturer may excel at a particular size, but that same brand in other sizes may not be as good or as consistent. Ultimately, you must choose the size of the cigar that is most comfortable and aesthetically pleasing to you.
Before we discuss the specific vitolas, you must understand the 2 primary categories of cigars: parejos (straight-sided) and figurados (irregular shaped). Parejos are the most common and traditional cigar shape - with a cylindrical body, straight sides, one open end (foot), other end that is closed off with a tobacco-leaf cap, which must be cut off before smoking. Figurados come in many different unique shapes and are usually a little more expensive because they are more difficult to roll.
Cigar Sizes - Parejos
This is the classic size against which all other sizes are measured. The traditional dimensions are 5 1/2 to 6 inches with a ring gauge of 42 to 44.
A miniature version of the corona, which generally measures about 4 1/2 inches, with a ring gauge of 40 to 42.
A large corona named in honor of the great British statesman, Sir Winston Churchill. Typical dimensions are 7 inches by 48 to 49 ring gauge.
A "short Churchill" that has gained significant popularity in America. The size is generally 5 to 5 1/2 inches by 50 ring gauge.
A "long robusto", also called a toro, this cigar is also steadily growing in popularity. The traditional measurements are 5 5/8 inches by 46 ring gauge; however, the 6 x 50 has also become quite popular.
Another large cigar with the standard dimension of 7 1/2 to 8 inches by a 49 to 52 ring gauge.
This is a longer and thinner cigar; quite elegant with a length varying from 5 to 7 1/2 inches with a ring gauge of 33 to 38. Cigars longer than 7 inches may often be referred to as "gran panatelas".
Another classic shape named after the British aristocrat who first smoked it. The cigar is generally longer than a corona but thicker than a panatela, with a classic size of 6 1/2 inches by 42 to 44 ring gauge.
Cigar Shapes - Figurados
Like parejos, pyramids are tapered evenly from a cut foot to a head tapered to a point. Generally the cigars measure from 6 to 7 inches in length, with ring gauges of about 40 at the head widening to 52 to 54 at the foot. The pyramid is treasured because the tapered head allows savoring of the complex flavors of the cigar.
Traditional belicosos are shorter versions of the pyramid; however, today most are coronas or corona gordas with slightly rounded tapered heads. They often measure from 5 to 5 1/2 inches, with ring gauges of about 50. Recent years have also seen the production of mini-belicosos, short cigars with small ring gauges and tapered heads.
The torpedo is similar to the pyramid, but with a closed foot, the head is tapered to a point, and there is a bulge in the middle.
Like the torpedo, the perfecto has a closed foot and a bulge in the middle. However, unlike torpedoes, though, the head of a perfecto is rounded like the head of a parejo. Perfectos very greatly in length, from 4 1/2 inches to 9-inch cigars, with ring gauges from 38 to 48.
The culebra is the most exotic shape of cigar made, and it was more popular in the past than it is today. It consists of three panetelas measuring about 5 x 38 braided together and tied with string, sold as one cigar. The three parts are then unbraided and smoked separately.
Diademas are large torpedoes measuring about 8 1/2 inches or longer. The head is tapered, though often not to a complete point, usually with a 40 ring gauge. The cigar then tapers down to a foot that can be open like a parejo or closed like a perfecto, usually with a ring gauge of 52 or 54.
All cigars pictured are courtesy of Davidoff of Geneva USA, Inc.