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Next, Morocco?

There may be no more undiscovered worlds to explore on our crowded planet, but there are always new wine regions to discover – or rediscover.


It wasn’t that many years ago that the great wine explorers such as Kermit Lynch and Robert Kacher were introducing American wine drinkers to small artisan producers of Burgundy, the Rhone and Languedoc who made wine in their basements at night and drove their own tractors during the day – or,  better yet, walked behind a plow horse.  Next, these adventurers were rediscovering regions of Spain and Italy that had been neglected for a generation of two and unearthing new wineries that had resurrected old grape varieties in modern Greece.


Now, Didier Pariente thinks its Morocco’s time.  If you haven’t heard of Pariente and his Ouled Thaleb line of Moroccan wines he imports though Nomadic Distribution, it’s not because he hasn’t been trying to catch – no grab – your attention.


“I’ve been working in this industry for 10 years,” Pariente tells me over couscous and tabouli at the Arabesque restaurant in midtown Manhattan.  “I first went to Morocco in 2004 and brought over my first wine container in 2009. I was a very lonely soldier.”  Why Morocco?  “My parents came from Morocco,” he says.  “I’m probably the only Jewish guy importing wines from an Arab country into the U.S.”


According to Pariente, Morocco has a long history of making wine and sells 38 million of the 40 million bottles it produces each year within Morocco, an unusual drinking capacity for a basically Muslim country.  “Most of the wine is made in concrete fermenters the French left behind when they left in the 1960s,” he says.


Domaine Ouled Thaleb has been making wine since 1923, the oldest of nine Moroccan producers, located at Zenata on a plateau about 10 miles inland from the Atlantic on Africa’s northwest shoulder.  Casablanca is 20 miles southwest.  Although inland, Atlantic breezes still bathe the vineyards planted on sandy shale and gravel.  The wines that Pariente poured me over lunch were quite nice and at a good price - $12 to $20 a bottle.  All were made from well-known French varieties, and I was especially impressed with the Syrahs and Bordeaux blends.  He also opened some older bottles of wines that were aging nicely.


So if you’re a wine buyer for a restaurant and hear a knocking at your door right now, go answer it.  It’s probably Didier Pariente, wanting to have you taste what he brought back from his latest expedition to the wine oases of Morocco.

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