Vines and Wines: Cigar Box malbec is a treat…

January 8, 2012

By Jack Berninger
Richmond Times-Dispatch

The back label of Cigar Box 2010 Reserve Malbec says, “Drink this wine with grilled meat or salmon …”

Good recommendation, but that’s only the first part of the sentence. The rest? “… or alone in your room with the door locked …”

Be selfish if you like, but sharing the Cigar Box malbec with friends would endear you to them for life.

This Argentine malbec, fully hand-harvested, is a real taste treat. Ripe, jammy plums and cherry dominate the taste, and a lingering finish make this a must-try wine, especially at its modest price (usually less than under $11). What sets the Cigar Box malbec apart from others, especially in that price range?

“Attention to detail in the vineyard,” said winemaker Greg Crone, who owns Cigar Box Wines as well as Croney Estates in New Zealand and import company Liquid Assets.

“We crop at low levels and always hand-harvest. We also hard sort all bunches to ensure that there are no unripe clusters. This is labor-intensive, but is vital for producing top-quality wine.”

Crone says owning his own import company is a plus for the customer.

“We do all of our own importing and marketing for the U.S.A., which means we eliminate these two expensive links out of the traditional supply chain, ultimately saving the consumer $5 to $6 at the register,” Crone said.

This is Crone’s fourth year of producing malbec — “loving every minute of it,” he said — and it’s difficult to keep this vintage on the shelves.

“The 2007, 2008 and 2009 vintages sold very well and had great support, which set a nice platform,” Crone said. “We do zero media advertising and rely on retailer and consumer word-of-mouth support. The 2010 is flying off the shelves because we now have a good following of wine drinkers that appreciate the value and quality that we are able to offer.”

As for the Cigar Box name …

“About 15 years ago I tried a French malbec from Cahors,” Crone said. “It had already been in the bottle for 15 years when I tried it. All of the fruit had fallen away and only the strong scent of cedar/oak remained. It smelled exactly like an empty cigar box.

“I made a mental note, and when the malbec vineyard came up for lease in Mendoza, I remembered the cigar box descriptor. Seemed like the perfect name for my malbec venture.”