Morocco may not be the first country that comes to mind when contemplating the world's greatest wine regions. But despite its large Islamic population, Morocco has historically been a prolific wine-producing country. As far back as 2,500 years ago, this part of North Africa completed an arc of wine-growing regions spanning the Mediterranean weaving through Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
Truth be told, Morocco saved France's a** during the late 19th-century phylloxera devastation. French growers immigrated to Morocco's disease-free growing environment, unique soil diversity, and a temperate climate to cultivate Euro-centric grenache, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and sauvignon blanc while discovering indigenous varietals like faranah and local carignan as well. As a result, French winemakers secretly produced "French" wines in Morocco making the country a significant exporter. Now the Arab world's largest wine producer, Morocco produces 40 million bottles per year.
Following the footstep of the French appellation system, Morocco yields 14 Appellation of Origin Guaranteed (AOGs) and 1 Appellation of Origin Controlled (AOC). Domaine Ouled Thaleb has led Morocco's wine industry since 1923 plowing and weeding their fields by hand with no herbicides or fungicides.
Ouled Thaleb Winery's vines are located in AOG Zenata in the Rabat/Casablanca region. The vineyard's mountainous property, 10 miles northeast of Casablanca, benefits from cooling breezes off the Atlantic. Ouled Thaleb is one of two Moroccan producers currently available in the U.S.
Here is a tasting profile of Ouled Thaleb's latest lineup:
Moroccan White Blend 2012: An intriguing blend featuring 60 percent native faranah with clairette blanche, a variety commonly found in southern France, though rarely used outside of table wines. Sweet nectar framed in citrus on the nose breaks out onto the palate with the same beloved characteristics. Equally at home with delicate fish as with grilled meats, this wine is a refreshing palate-cleanser with an intriguing balance of sweet nectar and bracing chardonnay-like astringency.
Moroccan Red Blend 2012: 70 percent cabernet dominates the nose on this deep ruby-red blend aged 10 months in oak barrels. While the other 30 percent grenache tempers the tannins and medium acids with a bouquet that’s bright and vibrant, this wine is straight-up balanced ripe plum punctuated with faint eucalyptus on the nose. Smooth yet definitive smoky buttery brambleberry on the palate. Not deep-dark but even and clean balance of blackberry and sweet grape with the ever-present spicy patina present in all of these Moroccan blends. Wondrous when paired with chocolate.
Medallion 2011: 60 percent cabernet sauvignon wows with an artful restraint of tannins, fruity depth, and jammy spiciness that fully blossoms on the palate with rich plum on the nose. Close your eyes and envision the markets of Marakesh. This wine ignites a fiery edge to grilled steaks or simply enliven a tube steak.
Syrah 2010: Peppery black plum, cherry, and aromatic spices permeate this ruby red syrah. Strength radiates from bright medium oak tannins all the way to finish reminiscent of fresh ground cloves. Save this one for pairing with powerful roast meats and dark wild game.
Moroccan Rosé 2012: Emphasizing the dry potential of rosé over the sweet, this blend of three red grapes (60 percent grenache, 20 percent syrah, 20 percent cinsault) yields a surprisingly light salmon/rose color with cranberry and floral starting on the nose and extending to the palate.
Sauvignon Blanc 2012: This 100 percent sauvignon blanc undergoes low-temperature fermentation in stainless steel tanks and no oak aging yields a rich pleasant spiciness throughout the nose and mouthfeel. A fine well rounded vintage that pairs well with curried dishes, rich cheeses and cured meats. Or on is gloriously well balanced drinking experience.