Zayane, a new tribe on the Moroccan wine map
It was 2015. I was slightly younger, living in a different village, and most importantly, thought nothing of going to Morocco, in July, during Ramadan. That was an adventure worthy of the hardest of face-palm emojis but at the same time, it gave me one of the rare opportunities to see winemaking up close in Morocco, which admittedly isn’t a country that burbles to the top of people’s minds when talking about wine.
The reason there’s wine production there at all is due to Morocco being a French Colony at one point and there are still hundreds of hectares of old Carignan and Grenache vines hanging around today despite the epic heat and 60C chergui wind that can blast up from the Sahara Desert during the summer. But these vines were the reason I went along with Albert Costa of Vall Llach to meet up with Farid Ouissa, the head of Les Celliers de Meknès.
I take my hat off to people planting vines and making wine in the UK or even Sweden and Norway, but this far south in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s a whole different picture. This was part of the reason Albert was there due to his experience working the same grapes (albeit in slightly cool conditions) up in Priorat. The idea was for him to lend a hand making a new wine in the cellar that made better use of these old vines instead of just including them in part of a local blend.
Albert recently gave me a final bottle of the wine they made that year to see the end result. I’m overall impressed as to the quality of it without even thinking about the fact that it was their first vintage of the project. The wine is most discernibly, Carignan. That’s no small feat given the blustery climate that could see any variety turn into an alcoholic, nondescript mess, worse than any staggiest of stag parties in Barcelona. Part of the secret to the wine’s success is in the plateau upon which Meknès sits at 700m which cools a great deal during the nights making it “nearly” livable. But at the same time, magic cooling plateaus will only get you so far and steady winemaking with a good dose of “knowing what you’re doing” are still needed.
They decided to bottle it in a Burgundy bottle, which I feel is the best choice as most who are making “Rhône-style” wines from grapes there were originally from Catalunya/Aragón have drifted this way. As to the name, it was old tribe in the region and helps to give it a sense of place instead of just tossing some random French name upon it. Probably the only criticism I can offer is for them to choose different corks as there were issues of seepage in the bottle I received but this is often the case for non first-tier markets (ie, not Western Europe) and I can see it getting sorted out duly given how blatant the issue. But otherwise, this offers up yet another fine wine from what is a largely-unknown, yet clearly quality-capable region.
Les Celliers de Meknès - Zayane 2015
Dark cherry, buttery, strawberry, minor plum notes, fig, bit of truffle and soft earth, mint and licorice. Mix of red and dark fruits on the palate, licorice touches, medium acidity, medium plus tannins and finish. Slight bit of oxidation from cork issue but still manages to stay crisp and lively.
100% Carignan · 14%