Getting ready for Morocco with an introduction to Domaine Ouled Thaleb

The AOGs and AOCs of Morocco, courtesy of Nomadic Distribution

The AOGs and AOCs of Morocco, courtesy of Nomadic Distribution

Morocco has a long and storied history, which includes being divvied up among France, Spain and the British until its independence in 1956. During France’s occupation, land was planted to wine grapes, which helped to quench the palates of thirsty Frenchmen. After their departure, many of the vineyards were abandoned, but today, the Moslem country still grows grapes and makes wine, although many Moroccans don’t indulge in alcohol.

Established in 1923, Domaine Ouled Thaleb is among the oldest Moroccan wineries in existence and helped lead the country’s renaissance in the 1990s. During this period, new vines were planted, with a continued emphasis on French grapes. Domaine Ouled Thaled currently practices organic farming and produces a range of wines, most of which are red, reflective of the country’s Mediterranean climate.

On the (relative) eve of our own departure for Morocco, we had the opportunity to taste two of their wines: Ouled Thaleb Signature 2013 (SRP $28.00) and Aït Souala 2012 (SRP $24.00). Both of these wines are blends, which bring together grapes from the AOG (Appellation of Origin Guaranteed) of Zenata, a coastal region that spans between the northeastern cities of Casablanca and Rabat.

We were very impressed with the Aït Souala, an interesting blend of Arinornoa, Tannat and Malbec. I had initially presumed that Arinornoa was Moroccan, but in fact, it is the result of a 1956 crossing of Merlot with Petit Verdot. So, not Moroccan, but created the same year as Moroccan independence and thus a fitting grape for its production there. This wine displayed aromas of candied cherry, slight herbs and slight wood notes, with the flavors of smoke and smoked meats – almost Syrah in nature – on the medium-bodied palate. It has low tannins, medium acidity and long length.

The Ouled Thaleb Signature brought together Carmenere, Marselan and Petit Verdot, aged for 14 months in barrel along with another 10 months aging in bottle. It has a pronounced nose with spices and dried herbs that persisted on the palate, along with medicinal and earthy notes, which we attributed to brett*. I don’t know if our displeasure with this wine was specific to this bottle or indicative of the wine and I was unable to find alternate reviews to see if our opinion had been shared.

In general, this winery garners praise for its wines, so if you come across them in your local store, I would suggest giving them a try. I was pleasantly surprised how well balanced and elegant the wines were; I expected a much more fruit-forward style given my pre-travel impressions of the country. It will be interesting to see what I think of the other Moroccan wines we encounter on our travels this month.

*Brett (or more correctly, brettanomyces) is a naturally occurring yeast that can add a complexity to the wines, but is controversial as to whether or not it is a flaw in the wine or not.

NB: These wines are distributed by Nomadic Distribution in California and also appear to be available through VOS Selections.

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