An Education on the Moroccan Wine Culture

By Jeanine Lewis

A country that is over 90 percent Muslim in practice has a thriving wine export business, what a concept! How is that possible? Morocco has been a safe haven for a variety of cultures for centuries and wine vineyards have been yet another example of this country’s extraordinary tolerance. The adoration of the art of wine making has been a part of the Moroccan culture since Roman times.

The Romans discovered that Morocco, which faces both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, is the perfect location for grape growing. The Romans had a long history of producing flavorful vines at the birth of Christianity and helped cultivate the Moroccan region of Meknes into wine vineyards.  The Aphids Plague destroyed the country’s indigenous vines in the 19th century, however the French re-vitalized the land with Mediterranean varieties in the beginning of the 20th century. The original Roman-discovered wine region of Meknes was the first region the French planted. The sunny, mild temperate climate and high altitudes make this region a divine setting for wine production.

Today, the French’s influence on Moroccan wines is quite significant in its rebirthing process. King Hassan jump started Morocco’s wine renaissance in the 1990’s by bringing in French investors who transformed the vines with their own varietals. One of the most successful wine makers, Les Celliers de Meknes, is run by French businessmen. Being the oldest Moroccan winery, Les Celliers de Meknes has overcome many legal obstacles to success such as the prohibition of selling alcohol to Muslims. In practice, the law is very sporadically applied. It is only during religious feasts, such as Ramadan, that the restrictions are enforced. Luckily for Les Celliers de Meknes, the soft enforcement of the prohibitive law has enabled them to sell more than 30 million bottles of wine a year—25 million of those bottles never leave the country.

There is much debate about who truly consumes all that great wine that stays within the borders, but there is no question that wine production and distribution is good for the economy of the country. Tourism has been greatly assisted due to wine production which has increased the employment rate. Over 10,000 Moroccans are employed through the wine making industry. Due to the team efforts of the wine growers and exporters, wine enthusiasts all over the world can enjoy the indigenous tastes of over 36,000 acres and 12 appellations designated to the industry.

Each appellation has its own signature grapes.  The Appellations of Meknes, for example, are popular for bold red wine grapes such as the Beni Sadden, Beni Zehoune, Ksar and Guerrouane regions. Berkane and Angad in the east are known for their earthy red vines. The southern regions of Rabat are famous for their Gris de Boulaouane in the rose` and white categories.  

A favorite of mine is entitled Les Triois Domanies Rouge of the Guerrouane region. The grape variety is Cinsault which, in case of the Rouge, creates a rich, full-bodied red with a bouquet of black cherry and ripened strawberries. If you like a great Barbera, this is the wine for you! It is light on the oak and heavy on the fruit flavor. I had the pleasure of having a flight testing at Morocco’s Restaurant in San Jose. This was the one I kept coming back to. Chef Jay’s World Wine List offers many Moroccan wines to try.

Next time you visit a Moroccan restaurant, I hope this arms you with knowledge of Moroccan wines to choose for your own palate.

Photos by Photo by Laila

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