When you think about wine, what regions of the world come to mind? France and Italy, of course, but also Spain, Argentina, Germany, and Australia. Here in the U.S., celebrated wines come from the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, as well as from New York State's Finger Lakes region. But Moroccan wine? Not so much.

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Morocco, which produces some 40 million bottles of wine annually, maybe the global wine industry's best-kept secret. Read on for a crash course in how to pair delicious Moroccan varietals with the country's most famous dishes.

First, a Brief Introduction to Moroccan Wine

Many Americans think of Morocco as having a hot, dusty, dry climate, but the foothills of the coastal Atlas Mountains create an environment that's ideally suited to growing great grapes. Red varietals like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Merlot make up about 75% of all wine produced in the Africa nation.

The area also produces some excellent roses and white wines, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay. Most wineries in Morocco employ French vintners, who bring their expertise and their country's history of winemaking excellence to the table.

Although the vast majority of Moroccans are Muslim and therefore abstain from drinking alcohol, only about 5% of Morocco's wine is exported.

Moroccan Appetizers or Small Plates

Moroccans enjoy sitting down to a table laden with mezze, small appetizer dishes not unlike tapas. Olives, grilled sardines, spiced chickpeas, a dip called kahrmus, and Edam cheese (imported from the Netherlands, but hugely popular in Morocco) are an enjoyable way to start a meal. They can present a challenge when choosing wines to pair with them, however.

If you can get your hands on a sparkling Moroccan wine, by all means, do so! Otherwise, a fresh, dry rose will work nicely, as would a lightly chilled, refreshing red.

Chicken Tagine

Tagine, a dish named after the clay cooking vessel used to prepare it, is probably the best-known Moroccan food. In addition to meat, most tagines contain fruit, such as sultanas, dates, or prunes. So a lighter, slightly fruity red can help bring out those flavors.

Tagines with preserved lemon are a bit more challenging. This unique ingredient will compete with citrusy notes in the white wine. Instead, choose a crisp, dry white with a neutral flavor. Another good option is a rose or the Moroccan wine known as Vin Gris -- a blush variety with a pinkish-gray hue.

Lamb

Lamb is a favorite meat in Morocco. Whether you're eating Berber lamb or the spiced lamb sausages known as merguez, you will want a rich, assertive red wine that can stand up to the meat's hearty flavor. An aged red with notes of pepper and spice will also complement a lamb entree. Don't go too dry. A bit of fruitiness can help offset any heat created by spicy Moroccan food.

Getting Hungry (and Thirsty) Yet?

It's a lot of fun to experiment with Moroccan wine and food pairings, but if you're brand new to both, or want to relax and enjoy the flavors, why not visit us at Kous Kous? We'll be happy to make some recommendations for you!

Make a reservation today, and prepare to have your taste buds dazzled by delicious Moroccan tastes!