I’ve never really associated North Africa with wine, South Africa yes, but the North no. That was probably only because I’d never encountered a North African wine – I don’t think any have made it to our UK supermarkets yet.
Sure the Sahara isn’t great for grape growing; but the coastal areas in the North border the Mediterranean – as do many other wine regions with which we are more familiar. Vinous influences from France and Italy have crossed the water. It’s not surprising given where those Romans went and it’s actually much closer than I thought – check out a map!
The Analyst and I have just come back from a pleasant short break to Tunisia where we took the opportunity to sample some of the local wines produced by a well established local cooperative called Les Vignerons de Carthage.
The most memorable was the loftily named AOC Sidi Saad Grand Cru Mornag 2008 (there’s that Gallic influence). A blend of Syrah and Carignan it had cherries and strawberries on the nose, along with a peppery spicyness. On the palate the red fruit flavours seemed to turn to blackberry accompanied by black pepper. The wine is medium bodied with soft, almost imperceptible tannins. It’s relatively low in alcohol at 12.5% – something we found in all the wines we tried – I don’t think you’d want a blockbuster in the heat of summer.
The wine was a perfectly good tipple, but the memorable bit for me was the bottle (see picture right) It’s in the shape of a traditional Carthaginian amphora. The Analyst was quite enamoured by Sidi Saad shrewdly observing: “I was afraid it was going to be all bottle and no wine!”
I think I preferred the Magon 2010. This is a fruity, easy drinking Syrah and Merlot blend named after a celebrated agronomist of the 8th century BC. It reminded me of a beaujolais – bursting with youthful red fruit aromas and flavours but with interesting perfumed violet hints too.
We also tried the Chateau Mornag 2010 Vin Rosé which I rather liked too. A deep salmon colour the wine is a blend of Merlot, Cinsault and Carignan grapes. It is refreshing and fruity – perfect for accompanying an al fresco lunch. It’s a dry style, with soft red plum flavours and a spicyness.
None of the wines we tried had much complexity or length, but were all very quaffable. On restaurant menus a half bottle was priced between £5 and £7; 75cl costing double that. The Sidi Saad was a little more expensive around £18. In the off licence - just one place sold alcohol in our resort – the wines cost about a third of the restaurant price.
I didn’t have the opportunity to try wines from other producers such as Domaine Neferis or the Italian backed Kurubis. A return trip is needed!