Are there any wines in Middle East and Northern Africa?
My dear wine friends, today I’d like to talk to you about some less known wine countries and more specifically the Middle East and Northern Africa, where, believe it or not, there seems to be an important wine productive movement.
It needs to be said that in some of these countries, viticulture has ancient origins dating back to Roman times. And, if the arrival of Islam, that stigmatizes the use of alcoholic beverages and therefore also wine, has historically blocked the development of their wine industry, more recently these countries are showing excellent potential and constantly improving wine quality.
Let’s start having a look at the Maghreb (from Arabaic: “The west”, also known as Northwest Africa)
The love story between Tunisia and wine dates back to the Phoenician era. Slightly slowed by the arrival of Islam, the production of wines was relaunched at the end of the 19th century by Italians immigrants.
Today, the country boasts some great vineyards and seven quality appellation. Most of the cultivated grapes are those found in southern France such as Cabernet-Sauvignon, Carignan or Syrah for reds, Chardonnay, Ugni and Sauvignon for whites.
What to try: 2013 Les Vignerons de Carthage Vieux Magon, Mornag Grand Cru, Tunisia (grape Merlot – Syrah)
Morocco has a rich wine heritage known throughout the world and a wine production that has been expanding more and more, especially in the last twenty years.
The most important region is located in the Meknes area, between the Middle Atlas and the city of Rabat, in vineyards located at 700 meters in height, where the climate is particularly mild.
Here the most widespread varieties are the international Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay.
What to try: Les Celliers de Meknes Chateau Roslane Premier Cru Rouge, Les Coteaux de l’Atlas, Morocco
Colonial occupation by France caused the wide growth of vines in the country in 19th – 20th centuries. However Algeria is the Maghreb country that has undertaken less modernization of its wine industry and it is still a little behind in terms of quality and exports, although slowly growing.
Today Algeria vineyards produce table grapes rather then wine grapes.
Moving to the Middle East, Anatolia (ancient Turkey) has always been a wine-growing area, but, in the past the wine industry has experienced ups and downs in relation to various historical-political events.
Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, Turkey has encouraged the expansion of the areas devoted to the cultivation of vines, becoming the fifth nation by vineyard surface.
The country has now more than 1100 grape varieties: among these, at least 30 varieties are of remarkable quality. However just like Algeria, only a very small percentage goes into wine production. Most of it are table grapes.
Although the vine growing history of the country is very old, the modern winemaking here is very young. Unfortunately the political and economical climate of the country are not helping to develop the wine industry in Turkey.
What to try: Urla Sarapcilik Nero d’Avola – Urla Karasi, Urla, Turkey
Urla Winery, Turkey
Lebanon is a country with a strong wine vocation and produces two of most sought after Cabernet-based wines of the whole world: the Chateau Musar and the Chateau Kefraya.
The most fertile production area is located in the Bekaa Valley, a plateau reaching approximately 1000 meters located north of Beirut. Here the landscape is protected from the mountains and the climate is ideally mild thanks to the influence of the Mediterranean.
What to try: If you happen to be a lover of a Californian style oaky Chardonnay, you will love our wine app recommendation – Chateau Ksara Chardonnay Cuvee du Pape, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
In Israel the roots of viticulture go back to 3000 years BC, but it is in the last 20 years that Israeli wine market has taken a big step forward: the number of wineries has grown exponentially and the quality is increasingly appreciated by buyers and experts around the world.
The majority of Israeli wine is “kosher” hence produced following the Kashrut, that is the body of food-related rules of the Jewish religion. The term “kosher” means suitable to be consumed and prepared according to the Jewish food regulations.
There are three great rules of vine cultivation (Orlah, Shmitah and Kilai Hakerem), All the operations in the vinification phase must be done by practicing Jews and an appointee, called Mashghiach, takes care of starting the winemaking process.
Israel doesn’t only produce kosher wine. You will see more traditional for the west wines. Statistically Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot are top 3 most grown varieties.
What to try: Tzora Vineyards Misty Hills, Judean Hills, Israel