The countries of north Africa have a long winemaking tradition dating from their respective French occupations, so it’s surprising how few of the region’s wines you can find in the UK – far fewer than from Lebanon, say. According to Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, grape production in Algeria and its neighbours Morocco and Tunisia accounted for two-thirds of international wine trade in the 1950s, when it was widely used to pump up weedier burgundies and bordeaux.
Most of the more impressive examples are still made with French know-how, including the reliable Tandem Syrah du Maroc 2015, which is produced by Domaine des Ouled Thaleb Benslimane with input from well-known Rhône winemaker Alain Graillot, who apparently came across the owners on a cycling trip in Morocco (hence the wine’s name). Two Bordeaux winemakers, Gérard Gribelin and Philippe Gervoson, fell for the vineyards at Domaine de la Zouina near Meknes and the world heritage site of Volubilis, and Gribelin’s son Christophe now makes two cracking little wines under the Volubilianame, both of which are stocked by the enterprising Buon Vino near Settle in Yorkshire: a pale, fruity, Provençal-style rosé made, unusually, from marselan and caladoc, and an attractively ripe red based on cabernet sauvignon, with some syrah, mourvèdre and tempranillo, that should be spot on with a tagine.
The other option is to look east to the other side of the Mediterranean, where Lebanese, Georgian and even Armenian wines work with a similar register of spices. A good example is a hugely engaging Armenian white that comes, somewhat surprisingly, from sensible, middle-of-the-road Booths and that you could drink with the sort of Moroccan fish dishes you find in Essaouira on the coast.
Another – generally cheaper and more convenient – option is to turn to the wines of the south of France on which north African wines are typically modelled. Provence’s pale rosés are great with the multiple salads and vegetable dishes that kick off the typical Moroccan meal, while hearty southern Rhône and Languedoc blends of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre are ideal for tagines. Spanish and Portuguese wines are also good bets for the gentle spice of Moroccan food, especially aged Spanish reds from Valdepeñas and older riojas. Or, for slightly brighter fruit, check out the well-priced Agenda Dão belowbelow, a blend of the local alfrocheiro preto, tinta roriz and touriga nacional.
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