Andrew Polmear

Wine from a Muslim Country

Just returned from our first visit to Morocco. What a fabulous country, we enjoyed every minute of our stay in Marrakech. The generous, kind people we met; the lively street life; the tranquility of our Riad; the delicious tagines and the walks in the foothills of the Atlas mountains. The only slight frustration for a die-hard wine drinker like me was the discovery that 90% + of restaurants do not serve wine for religious reasons and that within the ancient Medina itself, where we stayed, there are no retail sales of alcohol whatsoever. I must have been the only rugby fan to have watched the England vs France game (on the telly in a working man’s café) nursing several glasses of mint tea!

However, thanks in main to the legacy of the French Protectorate, which ran the country from 1912 through to independence in 1956 there is a considerable wine producing industry in Morocco. There are around 50,000 hectares under vine, though much of this is for table grape production. Vineyards are concentrated in the northern part of the country, the most notable areas being around Meknés and Fez. Perhaps not surprisingly in this hot climate the grape varieties are broadly similar to those from our own hot Provence and the Languedoc-Roussillon, that is Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault. These sun-loving varietals are supplemented by a number of ‘improving’ grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon. For whites I spotted Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Muscat.

Sidi Brahim wine

Sidi Brahim wine

So what of the quality once I had finally managed to track down a bottle or two? The things I endure to get copy to The Whistler, it’s tough believe me. Well, a bit of a curate’s egg, to be honest. Neither of the reds I tasted were really interesting, a Sidi Brahim blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot that exhibited none of the varietal characteristics of any of those grapes, rather a soupy blandness. A 100% Syrah from the Celliers des Meknes had more structure and flavour but was way over-oaked to my taste. The more interesting wines were a zesty Sauvignon Blanc and, best of all, the two rosés I tasted. In Morocco if you want a rosé you can choose between a ‘Gris’ or a Rosé. As far as I can determine both are made from red grapes, the difference being in the case of the ‘Gris’ an absence of any maceration allied to the pressing. The result is an ultra light coloured wine, but in the example I tasted packed with summer fruit flavours, raspberry, cherry and freshy picked wild stawberries. Very delicate and fine this example, from Grenache and Cinsault grapes. The Moroccan ‘Rosé’, by contrast, is a deep salmon colour, earthier and fuller bodied. I’d recommend a well chilled ‘Gris’ to anyone looking for the perfect summer accompaniment to a preserved lemon and chicken tagine. It was a relief, I must say, to find not only a bottle of wine but also one that I can wholeheartedly recommend to you. If you are interested to sample a good quality ‘Gris’ try the Zouina Volubilia 2009 available from online wine merchants Slurp (www.slurp.co.uk). This example is from Mourvedre and Tempranillo and is made by the same family that runs the great Chateau Fieuzal in Bordeaux.

Philip Reddaway

Philip Reddaway runs La Madelene Rhone Wine Holidays. www.rhonewineholidays.com
email: rhonewineholidays@googlemail.com

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