To many it comes as quite a surprise that Morocco, a Muslim country, produces wine. But wine has been made in North Africa for at least 2,500 years, since the Phoenicians colonized the region around the 12th century BC. During the Roman Empire period, wine was exported back to Rome from the region, and in the 9th century, the country’s first Arab dynasty gave a dispensation to making wine to the Berber tribes around the imperial city of Meknes. Also it should be noted that the word ‘alcohol’ comes from the Arabic 'al-kohl'.
Among the countries of North Africa, Morocco is considered to have the best natural potential for producing quality wines, due to its high mountains and cooling influence of the Atlantic, as these factors offset the high heat found in the diverse vineyards.
Large-scale commercial viticulture was introduced into Morocco by French colonists, and at the time of the country's independence in 1956, there was 55,000 hectares of vines. Much of the winemaking expertise left Morocco after independence, the wine industry continued to be significant through to the 1960's, until EEC introduced quotas in 1967 which led to significant reductions in exports. Due to a combination of trade restrictions and competition from other Mediterranean countries, much of the wine production became uneconomical. Significant areas of Morocco’s vineyards were replaced with other crops. During 1973-1984 a vast majority of the vineyards were taken over by the Moroccan state. In the early 1990's, there was 40,000 hectares of vineyards, of which 13,000 hectares were planted with vines for wine production (rather than table grape or raisin production).
In the 1990's, during the rule of Hassan II of Morocco, Moroccan wine production started to improve due to foreign investment. Several Bordeaux-based wineries, entered into partnerships, which has been quite successful in reviving the wine industry - more oriented toward higher quality wines than high-volumes. The vineyard area had expanded to 50,000 hectares in the early 2000s. Today the wine industry employs up to 10,000 people.
Moroccan law does not prohibit the production of alcohol, only its sale to Muslims. Wine can be purchased in supermarkets and restaurants that cater to tourists. Alcohol is not generally available during Islamic festivals like Ramadan, except venues serving non-Moroccans.
Red wine dominates at over 75%. Rosé wines and Vin Gris wines account for almost 20% - and white wine for around 3% as of 2005. The traditional red grapes planted in Morocco are Carignan, Cinsault (almost at 40% in 2005), Alicante, and Grenache. Plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah have increased rapidly, and together make up around 15%. Traditional white grape varieties include Clairette Blanche and Muscat. There has also been smaller experimentation with Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, though these need to picked early in order to produce white wines with sufficient freshness.
Morocco is divided into 5 wine regions. Within these wine regions are a total of 14 areas with Appellation d'Origine Garantie (AOG) status. In 2001, a single Appelation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) was created, Côteaux de l'Atlas 1er cru (‘Atlas hills’).
The 5 wine regions include:
• The East: Beni Sadden AOG, Berkane AOG, Angad AOG
• Meknès / Fès region: Guerrouane AOG, Beni M'tir AOG, Saiss AOG, Zerhoune AOG, Coteaux de l’Atlas 1er Cru
• The Northern Plain: Gharb AOG, Rabat/Casablanca Region, Chellah AOG, Zemmour AOG, Zaër AOG, Zenatta AOG, Sahel AOG
• El-Jadida Region: Doukkala AOG
In Meknès, the most commonly produced red wines are best characterized as fruit driven, grippy and rich. Similar to Moroccan cuisine, many of these wines are infused with spices such as vanilla. When you visit Morocco, be sure to enjoy some of their delicious wines as they will serve as a wonderful complement to a Lamb Tagine and other traditional cuisine. Moroccan wines along with local cuisine that is known for its exotic spices will offer the ultimate experience for all your senses.