If you don't mind, I shall now take a brief foray away from the food to talk about the wine. For the Rhône area, there are a ton of varietals. This isn't like Burgundy where you basically have the two famous ones, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with a little Gamay and Pinot Gris thrown in for good measure. No, there's something like 22! The three most common, however, are usually found in Rhône blends: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. If you ever see a wine that's called GSM, then it is signifying those three grapes. Syrah is a lovely, lovely grape, but I feel it's too heavy for this chicken dish. Grenache is also quite wonderful--it's fruity and not overly tannic. Used to soften the blends, Grenache could work well, but might be a tad too fruity for the sweet spices. Mourvèdre--with its spicy, floral, and fruity bouquet as well as its tannins--is just really nice with Moroccan chicken dishes because it has both the fruit and the structure to complement and stand up to the spiciness without overwhelming the chicken. (That last is my own opinion based upon past experiences, but I'm always open to changing my mind--hence this experiment!)
Also, in the US, the area that has become best known for its Rhone Varietals is California's Central Coast, extending from Paso Robles (and even Monterey, depending on who you're talking to) in the north and Santa Barbara in the south. There are a profound number of microclimates in the region, with a huge array of wines being made from French and Italian grapes, but suffice it to say that they distinguish themselves from Napa/Sonoma's primary emphasis on Bordeaux varietals.
I opened three wines: a Malvasia Bianca from Palmina Cellars; a 2007 Alto Moncayo Garnacha; and a 2006 Mourvèdre from Carina Cellars.
The White Wine
I chose the Malvasia Bianca because it has the florals and fruity aromas that are also characteristic of a dry Riesling. The wine went okay with the food, but I'd have preferred something drier. I could tell there was a fair amount of residual sugar in this, at least to my taste, and together with the sweet spices in the B'stilla, it made everything seem really sweet.
At one point, my husband was saying how we wasn't sure about this dish because it was "so sweet." I pointed out that the only sugar in it was on top, and that was very little! I surmised that it was all the "sweet" spices--cinnamon and ginger--that our brains associate with sugar that was causing him to say it was sweet. It's the same thing when people sip wine and they say, "I don't like sweet wine" when the wine is actually quite dry. They're tasting the fruit and mistaking it for sugar.
This Alto Moncayo Garnacha runs about $45. They have a lower version for about $20 (Veraton) and the ultimate version costs about $125 (Aquilon). We've found that the middle one has the best Quality-Price Ratio. It's really one of our favorite wines. Alto Moncayo has some excellent fruit aromas that are also available on the palate--blackberry, and other candied dark fruits--and the acidity seems to be teetering right where it's a great sippy wine as well as a fine food wine. There's some oak, though not overpowering, and there's also a bit of minerality that at times lessens the power of the fruit (this is not a bad thing).
We love this wine. I'll wait to say what we thought after I discuss...
We've had this in our "cellar," the part of a spare room closet that can hold our cases of wine, for at least 3 years. I decanted it for 2 hours before dinner. This wine had some nice fruits and florals, blackberries and violets, and some smoky/tar-y stuff going on, but also had some nice spice with the pepper, cloves, and vanilla. A nice long finish due to the tannins. I really like Mourvèdre in general and I think it's pretty darned unappreciated.
The Garnacha was nice, but frankly all of the fruit together with the sweet spices of the B'stilla made it all a bit one-note for me. I wanted some more complementary flavors.
The Mourvèdre had the fruit there, but with the added smoke and spice (as well as that looooong finish), really kicked it over the top. We both agreed that Mourvèdre is just right for Moroccan chicken dishes. YAY!
If you can find a Mourvèdre, you might want to give it a try. With food, though, so that you can better appreciate it. Some people are turned off by some gaminess on the nose, so be aware of that, too.