9/22/2023 — Moroccan gem from Alain Graillot (with earthquake relief donation)

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Hi everyone –

Before we left for our trip to Europe, I worked hard on pre-writing some Friday offers to make my work easier while I was away. Today’s offer was originally planned for September 8th. I woke up that day in Logroño, Spain, to the news of the devastating earthquake that hit just outside of Marakesh, and realized there was no way I would offer Moroccan wine that day. I figured I’ll save it for later when we can use the offer to help do the right thing.

Today is that day. It’s fourteen days since the earthquake struck. The goal of this offer is three-fold:

1) Offer you a great wine from a place that you’ve probably never had a wine from, made by one of my favorite producers.

2) Educate you a bit on the wines and the wine history of Morocco.

3) Donate money to help the relief and rebuilding efforts.

Let’s get to it.

Alain Graillot and the Syrocco project

Readers of this site and my newsletter know how much of a fanboy I am of Alain Graillot and the wines of the Graillot family. As detailed in an offer from March, Alain Graillot poured the first glass of wine ever for Spencer during our trip to his winery in the Northern Rhône Valley in 2007.

Thank you, Angela, for snapping this photo. One of my favorites of all time!

Born in 1946, Alain Graillot embarked on his vinous odyssey in the picturesque Crozes-Hermitage region of France. He was not just a winemaker; he was a true craftsman. His meticulous attention to detail, commitment to traditional winemaking techniques, organic farming (before it was fashionable), and unwavering love for the land made his wines a true embodiment of the terroir.

However, Alain Graillot’s story didn’t end in the vineyards of Crozes-Hermitage. In 2001, he made a daring move that showcased his pioneering spirit and love of life. He ventured into the fascinating world of Moroccan wine, establishing the Syrocco winery in the heart of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. This decision reflected his belief in the potential of Moroccan terroir to create something extraordinary.

Sadly, we lost Alain Graillot in March of 2022 (NY Times obituary … possible paywall). But his incredibly talented sons Maxime and Antoine have taken the reins. Read my full account of my memories of Graillot and more photos from our 2007 visit here.

What led Graillot to make wine in Morocco? Alain Graillot was an avid cyclist and would often holiday in Morocco. One day, while flying over the roads and through the hills of the Atlas Mountains, he saw vines in a beautiful valley and immediately put on the brakes. Catching his breath while stepping off his bike, he stared at a perfect, maticulous, wonderul vineyard. It looked healthy and taken care of, quite obviously organically farmed. It reminded him of his own vineyards. Graillot walked his bike up the driveway to knock on the door and chat.

The winery he happened upon was Caves Thalvin.

The winery and its vineyards turned out to be an organic dreamland, with cool winds coming off the Atlantic, no pollution whatsoever, and perfect soil for the varieties Graillot specialized in: Syrah and Cinsault. He immediately formed a friendship, which blossomed into a business partnership. Over the next few years he brought cutting from his own vineyards and established new plantings. Suddenly, the Syrocco (a mash-up of Syrah and Morocco) label was born.

The tandem bike on the label shows the story, representing the two wineries coming together due to Alain’s bike ride that fateful day.

A brief history of wine in Morocco

To understand Moroccan wine, one must first grasp its historical roots. The story begins with the Phoenicians, who introduced viticulture to Morocco over two thousand years ago. These ancient mariners planted the first vineyards along Morocco’s fertile coastal plains, setting the stage for a flourishing wine culture that would endure through the centuries.

Imagine the Phoenician ships docking along Morocco’s Mediterranean shores, carrying grapevines and winemaking knowledge from their homelands in the eastern Mediterranean. The coastal towns of Lixus and Chellah became early winemaking centers, where the Phoenicians cultivated indigenous grape varieties alongside their imported vines.

The Roman Empire’s expansion into North Africa enriched Morocco’s winemaking heritage. Romans brought advanced winemaking techniques and introduced new grape varieties. In present-day Morocco, the ancient city of Volubilis boasted vineyards and wine production facilities, a testament to the enduring legacy of Roman viniculture in the region.

Morocco’s unique geography and climate have shaped its wine culture, giving rise to distinctive grape varieties and terroirs that capture the essence of the land. The country’s diverse landscapes, from the fertile plains of Meknes to the sun-drenched slopes of the Atlas Mountains, provide ideal conditions for vine cultivation.

Morocco’s wine regions are diverse. The fertile Gharb and Doukkala plains, nestled along the Atlantic coast, yield grapes with a maritime influence, resulting in wines with bracing acidity and mineral notes. Meanwhile, the Atlas Mountains (where Syrocco is from) offer high-altitude vineyards, where the temperature fluctuations contribute to complex and aromatic wines.

The history of Moroccan wine has not been without its challenges. The rise of Islam in the 7th century led to a decline in winemaking, as the religion prohibits the consumption of alcohol. However, in recent decades, Morocco has experienced a wine renaissance marked by a revival of the industry.

During the French colonial period, winemaking experienced a resurgence in Morocco. French settlers brought their expertise and established vineyards in regions like Meknes and Beni-Mellal, leaving a lasting imprint on Moroccan winemaking practices. Today, many Moroccan wineries continue to employ French winemaking techniques.

The red grape, Cinsault, thrives in the country’s climate and is the backbone of many Moroccan red wines. Meanwhile, the white grape, Faranah (best known as Palomino, the main grape of Sherry production), lends its bright acidity and citrusy notes. In the 21st century, Alain Graillot brought his top-quality Syrah to the region along with the winemaking knowledge of a Jedi Master.

Learn more about Moroccan wine at Winesearcher.

Let’s make an impact with a donation! $15 per bottle goes to relief efforts!

A portion of the sales of this wine will go to the High Atlas Foundation, a well-established organization that has a fundraising drive targeted to the residents of this region to rebuild and survive. Their current campaign has a $1 million goal and is currently at $453,000. See the details of the campaign.

TCWE and Solo Vino are each donating a portion of the sales, and when I mentioned this to the local distributor of the wine (The Wine Company), they IMMEDIATELY said they would match it. They also reached out to the national importer, Europvin, who stepped up with another match!

The wine is $32.99 in the offer and with the matched donations
$15 per bottle will go to the High Atlas Foundation!

A special thank you to The Wine Company and Europvin Imports for the matching donations.

All told, our goal (thanks to the matched donations) is to send a $1000+ donation to the High Atlas Foundation next week.

So not only do you get a fantastic bottle of wine to enjoy, but you can raise a glass to help the effort in Morocco.

The wine: 2020 Syrocco, AOG Zenata, Morocco

Three words perfectly capture this wine: meaty, juicy, and smoky.

The “smoky” is not from oak. Syrah has natural compounds that present a charred wood/campfire aroma coming from the wine itself. Take great Syrah grapes, ferment them in something neutral like concrete or glass, and you’ll still smell it. This is why some oak-aged Syrahs can be a bit over the top, and it’s also why Syrah is legendary to pair will grilled foods of all types. (Syrah is a more challenging grape to make wine from than many people realize.)

This is also a young wine but it is drinking beautifully right now. It has punchy power that is perfect for the upcoming fall season of roasted meats, root vegetables, and a fire in the fireplace.

Jason’s tasting note: Young look to the wine, lots of purple tones. Wowza aroma … very forward and giving, with increased concentration with every pass. I could smell this for an hour and be perfectly happy! Pronounced Syrah, with the hint of smoke and char deep in the wine (not from oak), fresh raspberry, spicy peppery hints, and herbal sage/rosemary.

Mouthfeel is sassy and fun (medium to medium-full bodied) but then settles into a mellow stretch that is truly beautiful. Nothing is overwhelming about this wine. It doesn’t tire me out; rather, it energizes me. Top notch.

This is great and is the best Syrocco I have had (the vines are now 20-25 years old and starting to hit their stride). Fun, complex, deep, and delicious.

Food pairings: lamb chops, roasted eggplant with buckwheat noodles, port tenderloin with Moroccan spices, or Mongolian BBQ. This wine has the chops to play well with a ton of food. The smoky aspect, natural is Syrah, is perfect with any food with a bit of a char to it.

Buying advice

This is a wine I try to always have in the cellar for when “wine friends” or fellow sommeliers come over. It’s great fun to suddenly ask the table, “Hey, should we have some Moroccan wine next?” and watch their reaction.

And, of course, the wine is delicious and versatile. So, my buying advice is simple: based on the stories I have shared, the history of this wine, the charity donation being made, and the overall quality and versatility of the juice, buy whatever feels right for your budget.

Thank you, everyone! We couldn’t do this without you!

Jason Kallsen
Sommelier and founder/owner of Twin Cities Wine Education

Offer and special pricing are available through Monday, or as inventory lasts

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