The SOMM Journal

April / May 2016

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Page 89 of 108

{ }  89 Among these, Morocco specifically was destined to be a fine- wine producer. Morocco, France and Spain are the only countries to receive both Atlantic and Mediterranean influences. To most American-oriented minds, Morocco seems like an absurdly hot place to make wine. Yet, its wine country is on same latitude as Santa Barbara, California. Rather than fog, the viticultural emphasis focuses on escaping the sun's potentially marring effects. Vintage variations are about water stress and its management. Today, some vineyards are dry-farmed; others are drip-irrigated. Most of Morocco's wine country lies on the western Atlantic coast. About ten miles inland from Atlantic coast, vineyard land climbs up to 3,000 feet in the Atlas Mountains, which reach up to 14,000 feet. This Atlantic coast microclimate stops the incom - ing rain from the Atlantic, then succumbs to snow, which provides plentiful snow melt. By the 1960s, there were 50 core winemaking facilities in Morocco. Some produced as many as 60 million bottles per year. But, unless the French were there, nothing really mattered. Even today, I am told, there is only one native Moroccan winemaker. After all, Morocco is 90% Muslim, and Islam forbids Muslims to drink alcohol. Still, exceptions happen. As Didier Pariente of Nomadic Distribution, based in Los Angeles, points out, "Nowhere is it forbidden in the Koran to make wine." Perhaps exploiting this loophole, Morocco used to be the largest winemaking country in the Muslim world. It is now third largest, after Algeria and Turkey. Nevertheless, the numbers remain impres - sive. Local sources say that 38 million bottles of Moroccan wine are consumed in the country every year. Thirty-three million people live there, and the country receives about three million tourists. The math speaks for itself. Interestingly, customs does not like alcohol to leave the country. Perhaps they worry their religious orthodoxy will be questioned if locally produced alcohol escapes into the world market? Whatever the reason, it is amazing that there is local alcohol to export. Starting in the 1960s, vineyard management deteriorated and many switched to other crops or to producing table grapes. Yet, farming remained and today there are 25 wine grape varieties cultivated. All work is done by hand, creating jobs. Most harvesting is done by women, the idea being to keep men doing more physical work . . . quite an idea considering the back-breaking work of harvesting low-lying bush vines. One of the pioneers bringing Moroccan wine back to life is Ouled Thaleb, a winery named after the tribe members that tend its vines. Founded in 1923 and only seven years shy of its 100th birthday, its wines are imported by Nomadic Distribution and rather widely distributed in the U.S. Moreover, this winery is the only producer of the highly unique white grape Faranah. They are worth seeking out. Here are my top two picks, one white and one red. These wines hail from AOG (appellation) Zenata, one of 14 AOGs (accompanied by one AC). Ouled Thaleb 2014 Moroccan White Blend, AOG Zenata Made of 60% Faranah and 40% Clairette, this wine has a pale yel - low color with hints of green. Touches of linen, straw and green almond on the nose create a lively and fresh aroma. The vaguely textured, custardy palate nicely balances a hint of firmness that is delicately rounded out by pleasantly supporting acidity. The fin - ish verges into a flinty and floral character. The palate's lemon custard merges with a splash of sweet key lime. Totally compelling and truly unique. 13% ABV. Drink 2015–early 2017 Ouled Thaleb 2012 Aït Souala, AOG Zenata Named after the historic estate Aït Souala, once the largest winemaking facility in all of Africa, this is a blend of 50% Arinarnoa, 25% Tannat and 25% Malbec. Aged for 24 months in oak barrels and tra - ditional cement tanks, this now provides an entrancing nose of black plum skin, Damson plums, dry cigar wrapper and damp earth. Lilting and refreshing in acidity, the wine has excellent support for its massive depth of flavor with boisterous body and generous alcohol. Glugable, nuanced and hard not to love. 13.5% ABV. Drink 2015–2018

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