Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind. Had to get away to see what we could find
Hope the days that lie ahead, bring us back to where they’ve led. Listen not to what’s been said to you. Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express. Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express. They’re taking me to Marrakesh.
If you want to find the best wine regions in Morocco, you don’t want to listen to the classic 1969 song written by Graham Nash and performed by Crosby, Stills and and Nash. Rather, you want to stay in the northern part of the country and visit the vineyards and wineries that surround the town of Meknes.
That was something that we learned last month from Josselin Desprez de Gesincourt, Export Director for Groupe Ebertec , and the representative for wines produced in Morocco by Domain Ouled Thaleb.
One of the truly great things about writing a beverage column is that we get to try some amazing wines from unexpectedly great regions. While we have had some North African wines in the past, they tend to be hit or miss.
This is likely because the region is predominately Islamic in character, and governments and society in places like Algeria, Libya, and Egypt discourage the consumption and production of alcohol. This is not generally the case in either Tunisia or Morocco, both of which maintain a strong cultural influence from France.
Moroco as a Wine Producer
Today, Morocco is the largest producer of wine in the Arab world. The country produces about 40 million bottles of wine, out of which only 3 million are exported. The country has about 46 producers, 14 different Appellations of Origin Guaranteed (AOC) regions, and 1 Appellation of Origin Controlled (AOC). The largest producer in the country is Domaine Ouled Thaleb.
Even though wine has been produced in the area since at least Roman times, modern wine production began with Domain Ouled Thaleb. Established in 1923 the company maintains 5,000 hectares of vineyards in a large swath of the coastal regions between Casablanca and Rabat. The company is part of a large family owned agricultural enterprise with extensive holdings of fruit orchards and vegetable fields, producing food crops for local consumption and for export to Europe.
The company still uses vinification facilities that were built in 1929 during the French Protectorate, and as such all of the wines are fermented in concrete tanks (though whites are transferred to stainless for malolactic fermentation). This not only keeps the fermenting wine from overheating in the desert climate but adds a certain character that is hard to find in similar wines produced in other regions.
Moroccan Wine Terroir
Nearly all of the grapes used in Moroccan wines are classic varietals from France, though they are bush trained rather than trained in an espalier form. In addition, the high heat in the country requires that grapes are refrigerated immediately upon harvesting.
The soil in Morocco is rich and takes the form of either an iron-rich red clay, or a dark, black, peaty loam. While this would not generally be considered great for wine production, the hot climate and lack of rainfall makes drainage less important. In fact, none of the fungi or other grape diseases common in Europe are found in Morocco meaning that nearly all of the wine produced in the country can be considered organic.
Wine Tasting Notes (White Wines)
We sampled about 8 wines during the private tasting with Mr. Despres de Gesincourt which was held at the New York offices of Sopexa. All of the wines were very new world in style, with a lot of fruit, soft tannins on the reds and an acidic crispness on the whites. Interestingly none of them shown exactly what we would have expected the specific varietal.
Starting with whites, we sampled a table wine called Ouled Thaleb Moroccan White Blend ($14). The wine is a blend of 60% native Faranah and 40% Clairette. fermented in stainless steel tanks. It was a light yellow color with a light floral nose. On the palate, the wine was citrusy, with some creamy tropical notes. The finish had a spicy character. This is an excellent wine to bring to a summer dinner, or for a light party wine. It is very approachable and a good drinking wine.
The second white was an unoaked Ouled Thaleb Chardonnay ($13). The wine was golden in color, with a nose featuring fruity florals and tropical. On the palate, the wine was clean, with lots of stone fruits and good acid. I tasted a sort of cheesiness in this wine, something that is common in hot climate wines. According to Mr. Despres de Gesincourt, this can come from the reaction between the lees and the concrete tanks that are commonly used in hotter climates. This was a nice Chardonnay that would be a good choice for those who like a new world, fruit forward character, without the characteristic “butteriness” of California selections.
Wine Tasting Notes (Red Wines)
Turning to reds, we sampled Ouled Thaleb Moroccan Red Blend ($12) a blend of 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 percent Grenache. The wine was dark red in color, with a nose featuring raisin and spices. The wine tasted like a soft Bordeaux blend, with a bit of spiciness on the end. It is a well designed, fruity wine with a very soft structure, that is meant to be paired with Moroccan foods.
Ouldeb Thaleb Medallion ($17) is a wine produced with a varied blend – the current bottling is 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 30 percent Merlot, and 10 percent Syrah. The wine had a beautiful ruby red color, a nose featuring raspberry and middle eastern spices, and a light palate strong in cherry, berry and dark fruits.
The soft tannins make this a great wine to drink now, and its flavor profile is perfect for pairings with a broad range of dishes from barbecue to steak.
Everyone has a different palate, and we ae not personally fans of 100% Syrah wines, but the Ouled Thaleb Syrah ($16) was unexpectedly nice. More of a Cote du Rhone in character, this wine had extremely soft tannins and featured a lot of red fruits. Pair this with tomato dishes, cassoulet and similar things that one would pair with a Grenache.
Ouled Thaleb Ail Soulal ($24) a blend on Arinarona, Tannat, and Malbec was not what we expected. Thought the color was similar to a Malbec, this wine had the character of a Washington State Bordeaux blend.
This wine was very fruit forward, with cherry and black fruits, the wine finished with violet notes. Ouled Thaleb Ail Soulal is a great drinking wine, with very soft tannins and a lot of fruit. It is a wine to be drunk now, and would make a very interesting holiday gift wine.
Finally, we sampled the heaviest of the Ouled Thaleb wines, the Ouled Thaleb Signature ($28). This wine is a blend of Carmenere, Marselan and Petit Verdot. It is about as tannic as is likely possible from Morocco (consider the blend). Dark red to purple in color, the wine has a super fruity Grenache type nose. It was sweet up front, with sugar plum notes fading to berries, cherry and a hint of chocolate. There was some structure to the wine, but we would not try to age it. It would stand up well to heavier foods, while still being light and approachable.
Moroccan wines are unique. They show like new world wines, but they are from a very old country. They are available in most large market states, and Groupe Ebertec is working to make them more widely available in more parts of the world. Of course, you can always go riding on the Marrakesh Express and enjoy wines from Ouled Thaleb.
For more information on Ouled Thaleb visit:http://www.nomadicdistribution.com/ouled-thaleb
To learn more about Groupe Ebertec: http://www.dianaholding.com/poles-dactivites/viniculture *website is in French
Thanks to advicesisters.com’s wine columnist John Dunham for this unique wine review
*Harvest” photo courtesy of Nomadic Distribution