When I told a friend about how I had been pleasantly surprised by the quality of Moroccan wine, he exclaimed, “You can drink in Morocco? I thought it was a Muslim country.” Morocco may forbid drinking in public, but alcohol is not hard to come by in restaurants and hotels. Indeed, the Royal Mansour hotel mixes superb craft cocktails and has a wine cellar with no fewer than 17 vintages of Château Margaux and 18 of Château Lafite Rothschild.
Much to the relief of my accountant, I confined myself mostly to Moroccan bottlings. It amazes me how far the local wine industry has come in the past 10 to 15 years. Two successive kings have encouraged outside investment in vineyards and wineries, and that encouragement is paying off. Most wine lists now give pride of place to local wines, which come from vineyards near the moderating breezes of the Atlantic or the cool foothills of the Atlas Mountains. If you pick a Moroccan wine at random from a list, you’re likely to discover something at least drinkable. But there are ways to maximize your chances of ordering something delicious.
First, I recommend generally avoiding white wines, which tend to be rudimentary. The worst was a Médaillon Sauvignon Blanc, which had aggressive acids and an off-putting artificial note when paired with seafood. Even a fairly expensive glass of Château Roslane Premier Cru Blanc from the Coteaux de l’Atlas appellation was over-oaked. The only memorable white I had was the CB Initiales Chardonnay by Thalvin’s Domaine Ouled Thaleb.
If you’re a white-wine drinker, opt instead for a vin gris, a wine made from dark-skinned grapes vinified as if they were white grapes (the juice spends little to no time in contact with the skins). These wines tend to be appealingly fruity, round and spicy. I also had good luck with Moroccan rosés, which were ripe, lively and dry.
Reds ranged from innocuous to delicious. In contrast to its Sauvignon Blanc, Médaillon’s inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon was well-balanced, and the Château Roslane Premier Cru Rouge came with rich fruit buoyed by freshness, some refined white-pepper spice and well-integrated tannins. I also enjoyed La Ferme Rouge’s Terres Rouges from the Côtes de Rommani appellation, which tasted darkly fruity, with ample acids and spice for balance. And the Comtesse de Lacourtablaise offered intriguing smoky and savory notes.
Wine lists vary greatly in terms of the information they provide. Some include geographical as well as varietal information, but some list only the names of the wine. Your server likely won’t know much about the wines, even if he or she does drink alcohol. Nevertheless, there’s no reason to settle for overpriced foreign imports. If you keep to vin gris, rosé and red and watch for AOC-designated options, you’ll likely have some surprisingly pleasant experiences with Moroccan wine.
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