Cruse Wine Co., Monkey Jacket Red
Cruse Wine Co., Monkey Jacket Red

Cruse Wine Co., Monkey Jacket Red

California, United States 2020 (750mL)
Regular price$33.00

Cruse Wine Co., Monkey Jacket Red

Cruse Wine Company is the vinous equivalent of an indie record label, a champion of outside-the-mainstream grape varieties and outside-the-box thinking. Wines like today’s tiny-production blend (about 3,000 cases are made) are all the rage in cool California wine bars and restaurants, but as cool as “Monkey Jacket” may be, it’s not going up on SommSelect unless there’s as much substance as there is style. This 2020 passes that test, and it does so in part by turning the California “cult” wine model on its head. Rather than being massively concentrated and punishingly expensive, this wine is lighter on both the palate and the wallet. Driven by a decidedly non-mainstream grape variety—Valdiguié—Monkey Jacket is not only a celebration of California’s deep wine history but a complete re-thinking of what the Golden State is capable of, stylistically. No one thought California could make reds this bright, mineral, and refreshing, but in fact it can, and it’s a welcome trend. Cool is good, but smart is even better!

Once planted widely throughout France’s Languedoc region, Valdiguié, like a lot of hardy Southern European varieties, long ago found its way to California and has become a darling of non-conformist winemakers like Cruse. Long known as “Napa Gamay” in California (until it was properly identified by researchers in 1980), it was first propagated in California in the mid-1800s and was prized for its productivity, hardiness, and resistance to disease. Yet, unlike some of California’s other old-school “workhorse” varieties—like Carignane and Petite Sirah, both of which factor into the Monkey Jacket blend—Valdiguié produces a much lighter style of wine. In the 1970s, plantings of Valdiguié had expanded to about 6,000 acres in California, but since then, that total has shrunk dramatically.

Michael Cruse has been one of a handful of California winemakers to embrace Valdiguié (as much as he’s able, anyway, given its limited availability), along with other heritage varieties that don’t fetch the kinds of per-ton prices commanded by the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. And, like so many small wine labels these days, Cruse Wine Co. isn’t dependent on just one vineyard source. Fruit for “Monkey Jacket” comes from multiple sites across five Northern California counties, although more than half—including most of the Valdiguié—is from Mendocino. One key source is Eaglepoint Ranch, which sits at 1,800 feet above Mendocino’s Ukiah Valley in soils of loam and sandstone. 

 Born and raised in California, Cruse spent many years working for others (Sutter Home; Merryvale) before he set up shop in an industrial warehouse in Petaluma in 2008. After gaining a cult following for his Champagne-inspired “Ultramarine” sparklers, he created Cruse Wine Co. to showcase heritage grape varieties and sustainably farmed vineyards in California. He says that the 2020 contains the highest percentage of Valdiguié (65%) of any edition of Monkey Jacket so far. Other varieties include Carignan, Petite Sirah, and Tannat. Fermentation was carried out in concrete tanks with about 25% whole grape clusters. The finished wine matured in a mix of concrete and older French oak barrels/puncheons, to preserve the “transparency of the fruit.”

According to Cruse, a monkey jacket was a double-breasted coat worn by sailors to protect them against harsh weather. He originally considered naming his upstart winery Monkey Jacket, as a celebration of survival against the odds and “dedication to the task at hand,” but settled on it instead as a good name for a “warming, familiar, and friendly” bottle of wine. 

This vibrant 2020 is a light, bright ruby in the glass with magenta reflections. It leads with scents of damp violets and black pepper, with lots of brambly berries, strawberry, purple plum, and rhubarb notes. It’s a taut, medium-bodied red loaded with energy and aromatic lift, meant to be served cool (55 degrees would be optimal) in Burgundy stems. When I tasted it, despite it being Californian and not French, my first thought was to pair it with a bistro-style steak au poivre. So, let’s do that, and soon. It’s ready to drink now and over the next 3+ years, and it’s an experience I’ll be happy to repeat again and again. Don’t miss it!

Cruse Wine Co., Monkey Jacket Red

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