Wednesday, January 6, 2016
We'll Always Have Morocco
Morocco - the country - runs along the northwest edge of Africa. One thing you probably don’t know: they produce more wine than any country in the Arab world, and nearly all of it is consumed within Morocco. I am very glad some of those stray bottles found their way to me.
I participated in a virtual tasting event featuring a handful of Moroccan wines, all from Domaine Ouled Thaleb. They were provided to me for the purpose of this tasting session. One thing I know: I am going right over to that Moroccan restaurant and convince them that they need to have some of these wines on the list.
Domaine Ouled Thaleb is about ten miles northeast of Casablanca, facing the Atlantic Ocean in the Zenata region. Winemaking goes back 2,500 years there, so the fact that this winery has been operating since 1923 leaves them looking like a little kid. In the US, a 99-year history qualifies as practically ancient.
The winery employs sustainable farming practices, with no herbicides or fungicides used, and all plowing and weeding is done strictly by hand. Our event leader noted that most of the field work is done by women.
I want to thank the importer, Nomadic Distribution, for making this wine available in the US. I know that people are usually hard-pressed to break out of their routine. It’s not hard to imagine average folks pushing the glass away when they are told the wine was made in Morocco. But you and I are not average, are we? Pop the cork and let’s get on the road to Morocco!
This pale golden wine smells inviting. The nose gives floral notes, grapefruit, apricot, and a grassy, minty herbal quality. The palate offers these items filtered through a wonderful bit of salinity. There is even a sense of the floral there, and the citrus notes lead directly to a refreshing acidity. I suspect this would be a great wine for someone who thinks Sauvignon Blanc is too grassy.
It would also be great for someone with a bowl of peel and eat shrimp in front of them. Salad pairings are a natural. I would love this with a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich.
The Ouled Thaleb Moroccan Sauvignon Blanc is all Sauvignon Blanc, 100%, fermented in stainless steel tanks and retailing for $18.
Domaine Ouled Thaleb's Moroccan Chardonnay is a delight. The Chardonnay grapes grown to make this wine come from dark, black clay soil called Tirs. The grapes are from higher altitude vineyards at the bottom of the Atlas Mountains. The wine was fermented in concrete tanks and aged there for six months, in contact with the used-up yeast cells. No oak is involved here, and the alcohol number is 13% abv. It sells for $18.
The Ouled Thaleb Moroccan Rosé is a 2013 pink wine made from 60% Syrah grapes, 30% Grenache and 10% Cinsault. The 13% abv alcohol level is quite manageable, as is the $14 price sticker. Aging took place in stainless steel.
The Ouled Thaleb Moroccan Red Blend is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Grenache grapes and feels to me more like Grenache than Cab. Aging took ten months in oak barrels and the 13% abv alcohol number is very restrained. The retail sticker is $14.
Dark and brooding are the aromas here, with blackberry and cassis trying their best to smother the notes of black pepper and earth. Oak spice is there, but not burdensome. The palate of this inky wine shows blackberry and plum, with the earthy, mineral-driven flavors coming on a bit stronger than on the nose. There is a rustic, dusty sagebrush feel to it, and the acidity is the only thing that’s bright about this wine. Tannic structure is good.
I want the Moroccan Red Blend with lamb, sausage or venison. Anything dark or gamey is going to fit with this wine perfectly.
It looks like ink and smells a Rhône blend. Black fruit, licorice, coffee, a touch of funk, a hint of oak - and a strong earthy presence. If I were tasting blind and a little bit drunk, I might guess Hermitage. The palate is as dark as the nose. Cassis, plum and blackberry get a healthy coating of minerality. The tannins are strident enough for whatever you’d like to throw at them. I'd like to throw some merguez sausage at them. The finish lasts a long time. For $18, are you kidding me? Gimme a case.
For Ouled Thaleb's Moroccan Syrah, the grapes are all Syrah from that dark black clay soil of Rommani Vineyards. As with the Chardonnay, fermentation happened in concrete tanks, but this one saw 12 months in oak barrels. It retails for just $18.
It’s a dark wine, almost inky, with a fantastically funky nose. The dark fruit sort of waves as it goes by, while the smell of meat just stands there and stares at you. There is a hint of pepper, a dash of mint, but that smoky, meaty smell really dominates. On the palate, a dark, brooding plum and blackberry combination put up a little more of a fight against the earthy, meaty flavors. It’s really a great tasting wine.
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