In Morocco, New Wines From The Old World

Once a land of wine, Morocco retains a potential, little exploited, to produce quality wines. Overview of the vineyard and tasting tips.

In ancient times, Moroccan wines were among the most prized on Roman tables. In the mid-1950s, Morocco produced up to 5 million hectoliters of wine per year. The cellar of Aït Souala was even one of the largest in the world, in terms of volume, there are still about thirty years. Today, the production of Moroccan wines peaks at 350,000 hectoliters and the cuvées of Morocco remain discreet internationally. However, the kingdom offers exceptional terroirs, recognized by international specialists. The Wine Society, the oldest English wine company – it dates from the 17th century – purchases Moroccan wine to resell on the English market. Some rare Moroccan wines are even served at the Ritz. The qualitative potential of Moroccan wine is undeniable, but remains modestly exploited and valued.

Hassan II’s gift

After independence, with the departure of the winegrowing settlers and the nationalization of the land, Moroccan wine was on the decline and the vines abandoned when they were not uprooted. However, since the early 1990s, Moroccan viticulture has slowly taken the path of renewal. It was at this time that Hassan II started its old Bordeaux student relations to attract wine professionals to the kingdom who wanted to invest in reconnecting with a quality Moroccan vineyard. The French groups Castel, William Pitters and Taillan are present. But the revival of the wine of the country also goes through an essential Moroccan, Brahim Zniber. “After granting facilities to the Bordeaux residents, the king called him,” reported M, Magazine du Monde in September 2010. “I forgot you, Brahim. I will give you 1,100 hectares of vines and you will not have to associate with public companies, “Hassan II told him, according to the rumor that confirms the person concerned. Brahim Zniber’s Celliers de Meknès currently produce some 30 million bottles a year, out of a national production of 55 million. In addition to being the main player in Moroccan wine, Brahim Zniber is behind the country’s first AOC, Les Coteaux de l’Atlas, and the first château, Château Roslane.

No more “couscous wine”

“Morocco has never explored as much as today the field of possibilities in terms of grape varieties, blends, and the use of technology”, analyzes Boris Bille, who was the first sommelier to exercise his profession at Morocco 20 years ago, today advisor to Grand Sud Import. However, the share of exports remains very low. A large part of the production is sold on the domestic market. There is also no real desire to export. In international fairs, Morocco does not have a stand. When Moroccan producers join forces to be represented, they make arrangements with Italy. Moroccan wine also suffers from its image of “ethnic wine”, especially in French-speaking countries. Basically, in France, we think that Moroccan wine is a Boulaouane that we drink with couscous. Prejudice is firmly established, and it is in particular to defeat it that Boris Bille and Michèle Chantôme, general secretary of the Association of the international sommellerie, created the Association of Sommeliers of Morocco (ASMA) in 2012. It was then the first sommelier association in Africa. Today, it brings together around twenty sommeliers, mostly Moroccans, who participate in promoting Moroccan wines abroad. It is partly thanks to them that during the 2015 edition of Vinexpo, one of the main wine fairs in the world, the magazine Sommellerie internationale drew 50,000 copies of a special issue in Morocco.

Education and moderation

Another objective of ASMA is to encourage vocations among young Moroccan service professionals, in particular through training. Because in hotel schools, we teach only superficially elements of introduction to the world of wine, despite the curiosity of some who do not hesitate to train on the internet. This lack of knowledge contributes to the fact that wine is only rarely considered a product of tasting and moderate pleasure. In addition, very few Moroccan restaurateurs hire sommeliers and invest in building a cellar. However, the sale of wine is extremely profitable for a restaurateur. When serving a bottle of wine, there is no transformation and the added value lies in the service and advice.

Locally, Moroccan wine experiences another obstacle. His price. If it is expensive when going to the checkout, it is that Moroccan wine is also expensive to produce. “It is done as naturally as possible, everything is manual. During the harvest, around a hundred people work in the vineyards, “explains Boris Bille. The climate also makes the production of wine greedy in energy. “It takes a lot of water in the vines, and a lot of electricity to work the wines cold during winemaking,” he said. In addition, all wine products (inputs, yeast, etc.) are imported. Even the bottles and corks come from abroad. Because if the Maâmora forest could offer a good reserve of cork, the majority of producers have turned to the comfort of synthetic corks.

Internationally, Moroccan wine would benefit from renewing its image by focusing on its marketing. Locally, it is education in tasting and moderation that could make national wine famous. On these two sites, the Moroccan vineyard can count on local gastronomy. As Boris Bille recalls, “the first wine-pairing is regional”. And that’s good, because the notion of terroir is also making its way. Lentils from Zaers, oysters from Dakhla, saffron from Askaoum … As many local products as we like to associate with the product of the Moroccan vineyard.

The Main Moroccan Grape Varieties

Mythical – The Muscat of Alexandria An emblematic grape variety around the Mediterranean, the Romans called it the grape of the gods. Gold in color, full of sugar, in Antiquity it was cultivated, and still is, in the Berkane region.

Historicals – Alicante-Bouschet, Carignan, Cinsault and Grenache It has happened that these Moroccan grape varieties complement European production for the blending of “medical wines” in the north of the Mediterranean.

Trendy – Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Merlot. The classics of the 90s and 2000s.

The new wave – marselan, roussane, malbec, tannat, vermentino, tempranillo

The land of choice – Syrah

The main wine regions

Berkane Between the Mediterranean and the Beni Snassen mountain range, Berkane is the Mediterranean terroir par excellence. The sea breeze, the cool nights and the mineral earth give the wines of the region a lot of freshness. The wines of the region nevertheless remain confidential.

The plain of Meknès It is the capital of Moroccan wines. At the foot of the Atlas, this is where 60% of Moroccan wine production benefits from the altitude, sunshine and mild temperatures favorable for the vine. The region includes the appellations of guaranteed origin (AOG) Guerrouane and Beni M’Tir as well as the first Moroccan AOC, Les Coteaux de l’Atlas, under the leadership of Brahim Zniber.

The Rabat region At an altitude of 400 meters, in mild temperatures thanks to the proximity of the ocean and the Atlas foothills, the Zaers plateau overlooks the Rommani valley sheltered from the chergui.

Essaouira This is the wine region closest to the Equator. The next areas when you continue south are in South Africa. It was born from the will of a winemaker, Charles Mélia, to plant the Rhône Valley grape varieties used for blending Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in his area of Val d’Argan.

The Doukkala terroir This is the historic terroir since the plantation of vines in the Portuguese era. In 1994, its old vines were uprooted to make way for cabernets sauvignon, merlot, cinsault, syrah and grenache gris which gives the emblematic gray wine of Boulaouane, the most sold foreign wine brand in France.

Boris Bille’s favorites

Boris Bille was head sommelier at the Meurice Hotel in Paris. When he arrived in Morocco about twenty years ago, there were only two sommeliers in the kingdom: he and that of La Mamounia. For 20 years, he has traveled the Moroccan vineyard to meet winegrowers and promote their work internationally. From the vineyard to the table service, through the creation of labels and the development of wine lists for restaurateurs, he intervened at all stages of a wine’s life. In 2012, he co-founded the Association of Sommeliers of Morocco, the first in Africa. Today, he advises Grand Sud Import which imports wines and spirits for hotels and restaurants and is preparing to open a boutique in Casablanca.

Le rouge Tandem Domaine des Ouled Thaleb – Alain Graillot

“It is the emblematic cuvée, the best known abroad by sommeliers and amateurs. The first vintage dates from 2005. It is a selection of the best plots of syrah from the Domaine des Ouled Thaleb in Benslimane and matured in oak barrels. For the record, in the United States and Canada, his name is Syrocco because Tandem was already taken. The majority of the bottles are intended for export and can be found on very beautiful tables. “Food and wine pairing:” In its youth, it is a wine where you can smell a lot of red fruit, so a duck breast with a cherry sauce from Sefrou, or a nice strawberry tart in season, why not roast poultry. As it ages, it becomes more round and spicy, so we can go on lamb, a good tanjia marrkachie, a rib of beef. With a hare à la royale, we will have a lot of fun with a 2007 Tandem served at 16 ° C »

Le blanc Terres Blanches Domaine de la Ferme Rouge — Jacques Poulain

“It is a blend of sauvignon, chardonnay and viognier which develops fairly complex aromas with hints of peach and apricot and a nice finish. One of the best Moroccan white wines, rich and powerful. ” Food and wine pairing: “With fleshy seafood: lobster, lobster from Dakhla, langoustines from Larache, sea bass, turbo. It can also surprise you with a chicken tagine with candied lemons or, in a more European register, a beautiful poultry with a few fresh cream Ifrane morels. ”

Le gris Volubilia gris Domaine de la Zouina — Philippe Lespy et Christophe Gribelin

“It is a lovely estate of two Bordeaux winegrowers who arrived in Morocco in the mid-90s. They make very fine cuvées in gray and rosé. These are fresh, fruity wines. Pleasure and indulgence. In short, summer wines. The wine pairing: “With a few grilled sardines by the harbor, with ice cubes in a swimming pool”

Le moelleux Grain d’or Domaine des Trois cavaliers — Denis Tissot

“It is a rarity in Morocco. A wine made from the Muscat of Alexandria, a gold grape, bursting with sugar and which the bees adore and which the Romans adored, produced in the tradition of the great wines of the Aeolian or Italian islands. It’s sweet, sun-drenched, with hints of honey, apricot, candied fruit, but may keep it fresh. It is sold in half-bottles so very accessible. ”

The wine pairing: “As an aperitif with foie gras toast, or as a dessert with beggars with grapes or prunes.

L’incontournable Château Roslane – Rouge et blanc Les celliers de Meknes – Brahim Zniber AOC Les Coteaux de l’Atlas

“A wine made with philosophy, by a fervent defender of Moroccan wine”

L’original Domaine du Val D’Argan — Charles Mélia

“The Châteauneuf-du-Pape has the particularity of allowing up to 13 different grape varieties to be blended. Charles Mélia brought back these Rhône varietals to recreate a little Châteauneuf-du-Pape in Ounagha, near Essaouira. Despite the climatic constraints, it is a very interesting wine which also enhances the terroir. ”

Good addresses

In Marrakech Le 68 68, rue de la Liberté

Without doubt the first real wine bar in Morocco. Mainly foreign wines, but some Moroccan wines at low prices. A cuisine based on pork charcuterie, Dakhla oysters and Eric Meignat cheeses is accompanied by a menu of around sixty references, which are renewed every two weeks. A good way to make discoveries, from varietal wines to classified great vintages. Opened a few months ago, Le 68 is already running at full speed. Remember to book.

La Mamounia Avenue Prince Moulay Rachid

** Unquestionably the most beautiful cellar in Morocco, because the establishment is historic. Opened in 1923, the hotel keeps old bottles. The head sommelier, Michael Rodriguez, accompanied by eight young sommeliers, advises customers on great Moroccan wines, but also wines from French winemakers, and grands crus (Pétrus, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Romanée-Conti…). La Mamounia even has an exclusive La Ferme Rouge vintage, produced within a thousand bottles: Icon.

In Rabat Les Vignes de l’Agdal 61 rue Sebou

Laurent, a real bargain hunter, has been advising shoppers for eight years among the range from the bottle of French wine at 60 dirhams to the Mouton Rothschild.

At Casablanca Le Peter’s Villa Gapi, Bd F. Roosevelt

The restaurant opened on December 26 with one of the most beautiful wine lists in Casablanca: a selection of great winemakers for all budgets, great vintages (Angélus, Cheval Blanc …) as well as a selection of Moroccan wines. Chef Erico Delgado will offer bourgeois cuisine in an intimate and friendly place. A great address for wine and Moroccan terroir.

The Boutique By Grand Sud Import 19 rue Anoual Since 1991, Grand Sud Import has been advising its clients on world wines, champagnes and brandies in Morocco. Friends to dine, a gift to offer, a food and wine pairing, an event to celebrate … The largest choice of wines in the world in Casablanca.

in Agadir Uniprix Avenue Hassan II, en face de la place de l’Espérance

Uniprix offers up to 1000 different wines, from 5.2 to 520 US Dollar. From father to son, Youssef welcomes you to a bazaar where Moroccan crafts are also sold. All the wines of Morocco. Amateurs flock there for its Château d ‘Yquem at a low price, and its champagnes which can not be found anywhere else.

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