'Walking along the craggy ridge, leather shoes worn and tattered baking against the reddish-brown rock, a soft humid air of cooked brambles wafting upwards from the edge mixes with the loose black pepper caught in your jacket as you break open the now warmed raisins and cranberries; overlooking the vast expanse below, everything in this long journey seems dry and slighty dirty but the view is worth it....'
I have a tendency that, if I'm within a stone's throw of a wine shop, I'll most likely poke my head in and more times than not I'll probably come out with a bottle or two of something...anything that strikes my fancy. I have to admit it's kind of a bad habit, I want to try everything but I'm bound by my purse-strings (and a little bit of guilt) so as to not pass on something if I'm never going to be in the neighborhood again, or if it's something I don't think I'll happen to come across. So... I stopped in a wine shop, which one I can't remember, but I came away with this Syrah from Tunisia because really... how many times have you come across Tunisian wine?! Surprised, intrigued, and upon further research of wine shops, reviews (though few and far between), and one radio show through Heritage Radio Network I was hooked if not a tad bit let down that I wasn't the first to discover this gem.
A little history always helps.
So before we all praised the Romans for their architecture, politics, art, wine, and general greatness, there were the Phoenicians -a seafaring powerhouse that colonized much of the Mediterranean coastlines stretching as far as Spain. Not only did they assist the Greeks and Romans in maritime expansion, but they also shared much of their viticultural knowledge and propagated many of the ancestral varietals believed to be brought from as far away as Anatolia. Researchers believe that a variety called V. vinifera pontica gave rise to many of the white varietals now found in Europe and elsewhere. The Phoenicians founded colonies like Cadiz, Malaga, and perhaps most famously Carthage where an agricultural writer Mago collected information drawing from Greek, African, and Phoenician practices of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. Mago's writings like the 'Treatise of Agronomy Viticulture' were translated into Latin and are cited mainly in quotes through another similar Roman writer called Columella. Although many of the original texts have been lost, what is quoted could be easiliy seen as the foundations of modern winemaking practices: how to plant vines, prune vines, and optimal siting of vineyards. Winemaking gets kind of spotty hereafter as Carthage was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BCE where wine production continued, only to be conquered in the 8th century by the Arabs where it was reduced dramatically, most notably rebounding in the 1880s when more modern practices of winemaking were introduced, and then it wasn't until Tunisian independance in 1956 where wine production steadily continued but without experienced winemakers. It was only until the early 2000s, bouyed by investments of European countries in the 1990s, did production and quality and creating this amazing Syrah blend!
Tunisian wineries are mostly contained within seven AOCs following a similar Appellation Controlee (AOC) system as the French and also share many of the same grape varietals: Carignan, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache, Syrah, Merlot, Muscat of Alexandria, Chardonnay, and Pedro Ximenez. (This only makes me want to track down more of these wines!)
The winery that was to become Les Celliers de Montfleury - Le Poisson Wines was started back in 1885 by a French immigrant Rene Lavau. In 1985, Jean Boujnah purchased the winery along with several partners under the group S.I.C.O.B., and eventually expanded it to four cellars producing dozens of different wines. However, many of the best parcels are run by the government along with the UCCV co-op which is where they get some of their best grapes.
Geography & Climate: Often sunny with little rainfall, tempered by sea breezes (Mediterranean Climate!)
Winery & Winemaker: Les Celliers de Montfleury - Le Poisson Wines, Tunisia; http://www.lavieillecave.com/ The winery is owned by Jean Boujnah, his son Philippe-Andre Boujnah is the US Representative. They have some 80+ Tunisians working the vineyards since they purchased the winery back in 1985 and much of the farming is done by hand.
Grapes: 60% Syrah, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon - 12.5% ABV - Sustainable
Importer: Pinnacle Wine Vault LLC; NY, NY for Noble House Wines
Distributor: Vine Collective
PoP: I forgot where I purchased this.... :(