Tunisia is a land of many surprises and contrasts. It is a land of diverse geography, opinions and cuisine. It is also, unbeknownst to many, a land with a developed and historical viticulture. In fact, Tunisia’s soil and Mediterranean climate make it ideal for producing many varieties of grapes.
Tunisia has a history with wine dating back over 2,000 years. It was during the Carthaginian era that wine production truly began in Tunisia. The famous Carthaginian agronomist, Magon (2nd-3rd Century BCE) published a treatise on agriculture with an emphasis on winemaking that has served as the foundation for many Roman and later agricultural practices. The Romans deemed his work valuable enough to bring it to Rome after the destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE, and translate it into Latin. The Romans, Byzantines and Vandals continued to produce wine in Tunisia while the Arab leaders suppressed (but did not eliminate) wine production after their conquest of Tunisia in the 8th Century AD.
Large scale wine production returned to Tunisia with the coming of the French in 1881. They looked to profit from the climate and soil of Tunisia that is naturally suited to wine making. They established several large vineyards producing wine made to French standards. After independence in 1956, wine production became spearheaded by Tunisian citizens as it is today. There are many various domains and vineyards currently existing within Tunisia, although little wine gets exported outside of the country. This is a shame, as Tunisian wine is produced to international standards and can compete with many wines from better known terrains. For those oenophiles within the country, however, Tunisia provides a breadth of quality and tastes often for a low cost.
This is the first part in a three part installment on navigating Tunisian wine. In this guide, we’ll sample several popular red wines and describe their features to you.
1) Chateau Defleur – Domaine Nefaris: Our first entry on the list is the Chateau Defleur from Domaine Nefaris. This is a solid inexpensive choice at about 7.600 Dinars per bottle when bought in the grocery store. At restaurants expect to pay around 20 Dinar/bottle for this red. The Chateau Defleur is a blend made up of 50% Carignan and 50% Syrah grapes and tastes like a Syrah. It is from the Sidi Salem region of Tunisia, which is located in the Medjerda Valley in the governorate of Beja. According to the producer, the Chateau Defleur is “harmonious, rounded and leisurely on the palate”. While those are quite strong words to describe the Chateau Defleur, know that when you purchase it you get a good and inexpensive Syrah. It is easy to drink and pairs well with beef.
2) Chateau Mornag – Les Vignerons de Carthage: The Chateau Mornag is a relatively inexpensive red option, at about 6.300 Dinars per bottle when bought in the grocery store. It is from the “Grand Cru” Mornag appellation, located to the south of Tunis. The Chateau Mornag is a blend of three grapes, Carignan, Syrah and Merlot and the Merlot stands out. As a word of warning, be sure to let the Chateau Mornag breathe for a bit after opening. Initial tastes can be a bit harsh. Once it breathes though, it is quite acceptable. Expect to pay 15-18 Dinars at a restaurant for a bottle of Chateau Mornag. It leaves a warm sensation after drinking and pairs well with veal and duck. If you’re looking for an inexpensive Merlot, you will not be disappointed with the Chateau Mornag.
3) Ifrikia Rouge Reserve – Domaine Atlas: The Ifrikia Rouge is a full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon-Carignan blend. A bottle of Ifrikia Rouge costs about 11.300 Dinars at the supermarket and one could expect to pay upwards of 25 Dinars for a bottle of it at a restaurant. The grapes are grown in the Appelation of Mornag, south of Tunis and north of Hammamet. Domaine Atlas states that their grapes are grown within the Cap Bon Peninsula itself. The taste of the Ifrikia Rouge is very much that of a full Cabernet, although it finishes with a light touch. The smooth taste and finish are its best quality. There is also a hint of berries. It pairs well with pastas with red-sauces.
4) Magon Rouge – Les Vignerons de Carthage: What can’t be said about Magon wine, ubiquitous in Tunisia and named after the inspiration for Tunisian wine? Your standard Magon bottle will be found anywhere and everywhere – Tunisair even serves Magon if you request wine on your flight. Its popularity does not mean that it is bad – quite the contrary is true. Magon Rouge is a good and inexpensive choice for a standard wine. A bottle of Magon at the grocery store will cost about 7.500 Dinars and at a restaurant anywhere from 15-20 Dinars. It is made up of a blend of Syrah and Merlot and aged in bottles for over a year. Magon pairs well with beef dishes as well, and is in fact a competitor to Chateau Defleur, if it is a bit heavier. As an inexpensive standard wine, however, Magon does not disappoint when you consider the cost.