Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano
Il Sigaro della Sera
Wine-makers have aged their wine in barrels for centuries. As each vintage is carefully stored, the flavors slowly emerge, bringing with them the character of the barrel itself, which has been carefully chosen to complement the wine. The favorites are French oak barrels, which add complex, toasty flavors, often with hints of vanilla. Their insides are carefully burnt with a torch to help add flavor and aroma, the greater the oaky flavor desired, the more the barrel is toasted. 

Of course, the process of barrel-aging isn't just confined to wine. Many dark spirits, like whisky, brandy or rum also benefit from the complexity of flavors gained through aging. It seems that many premium products savored for their intense, sophisticated aroma and taste, benefit from spending some time in dark wooden barrels. 

Some tobacco makers are now turning to this tradition themselves to add complexity and depth to the flavor of their cigars. Where as wine can be fermented and aged in barrels, for tobacco, the fermentation process has generally already begun, so it has a head-start. As the tobacco ages in the dark, humidity of a sealed barrel, it releases by-products of the fermentation process, such as ammonia, which the sides of the barrel absorb and filter out. The leaves will also pick up flavor from the oak of the barrel, but unlike wine, which as a liquid comes into complete contact with the barrel, the tobacco leaves have to be turned to make sure they benefit from the oak.  Barrel-aged leaves are generally used as filler for tobacco, as that is where most flavor is released.

The changes in flavor of a cigar may be subtle, but it makes seeking them out a rewarding part of the cigar smoking experience for connoisseurs and casual smokers alike.