#51: Tunisia

Sidi Brahim Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon

Year: N/V
Grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon
Producer: Sidi Brahmin
Alcohol: 12.5%
Source: Carrie and Hamish Symington, bought at Al Casbah, Cambridge

Sidi Brahim Grenache Syrah

Year: N/V
Grapes: Grenache, Syrah
Producer: Dominio do Bibei
Alcohol: 12.5%
Source: As above!

There comes a point in every challenge when you have to decide just how much you want to finish; whether to power onwards regardless of the cost or give up with your dignity intact. Whether what you have already achieved is enough to keep on going, to make that final ridiculous step. For the film challenge in 2012, that point was mid-November and led me to watch 117 films in 61 days; for my 30 Before 30 Challenge, that point was a Fillet O Fish at McDonalds that I couldn’t bring myself to eat. And for the wine challenge, this moment arrived on 28th December, the day before we were due to fly to Argentina, when we discovered that Christmas closures meant our carefully laid plans were foiled and we were a country down with no options left in London…

So, of course, we went to Cambridge for the evening!

It turned out to be an extraordinarily wonderful idea! Chris’s friends Carrie and Hamish kindly invited us around for dinner and managed to rustle up a genuine Tunisian feast with almost no notice, which was unbelievably generous. We drank Tunisian red and rosé wines, we ate a delicious tagine, and I was reminded again why committing to these crazy challenges is such a good idea!

Now that this challenge is over, I’ve been reminiscing on moments like this; the generosity of our friends and family, and the brilliant experiences that formed from the decisions we’ve made along the way. Picking out these wines has led us to get to know our local wine shops much better, with the two closest, DVine and Bottle Apostle, selling us five bottles between them. We’ve also gone further afield in London, making specific trips to Theatre of Wine in Greenwich, Hedonism in Mayfair and Basket Press Wine in Acton to collect specific and unique wines, as well as ordering from specialist online shops such as Alpine and Naked Wines. We’ve made an effort on holidays to seek out great wine bars in Paris, New York, Berlin and Argentina, and used the challenge as an excuse to chat to the owners about the wines of their country. To be honest, this challenge was one of the major reasons for choosing Argentina at all for our honeymoon, and was definitely why our mini-moon was at Three Choirs Vineyard in Gloucestershire! We’ve also paid more attention in supermarkets, finding great options in M+S and Waitrose.

More than this, I have been blown away by how generous our friends and family have been. In total, 38 bottles of wine were provided by other people – some picked up when they were on holiday, others researched and sourced online or in their own local wine shops. My other challenges have always been more of a solo effort, a personal goal (except for Chantal’s loyal willingness to eat bizarre baked foods!), so I was not prepared for how many people would step up to help. I honestly cannot thank you all enough! Special mention must go to Hannah, who bought us five different wines; my parents, Catherine, and Mike/Kate who each found three; and Dan/Rachel and Sam/Chris who gave us two each. My sister’s friend Osnat has also proved to be an unexpectedly invaluable source, especially considering that I’ve not seen her since Christmas 2016! She had previously given my parents some Israeli wine that was re-gifted to support the challenge, and her holiday to Azerbaijan certainly was the most obscure destination and we were so touched that she’d thought of us while there.

People have recently been asking me if I’ve learned much about wine after drinking all of these delicious bottles all year, and I must admit that I don’t know that I have! My vocabulary when describing wine has become wider and more accurate – I know what I mean when I say something is tannic, I understand the difference between sweet and fruity, or minerally and earthy. And I know what I like when I taste it, but I haven’t yet connected what I like with the actual grape profiles. I don’t know that I’m any better at picking from a wine list or making recommendations. I’d like to blame the fact that we’ve often been drinking unusual grape types, but I suspect that that is not entirely true!

But I have learned about the generosity of the people that I love and how willing they can be to step up and support our crazy endeavours, and that’s pretty wonderful!

Wine Info

According to Wikipedia, Sidi Brahim is a ‘range of branded wines produced in the Atlas mountains, first in Algeria, then in Morocco and now in Tunisia.’

The history of Sidi Brahim is much more connected to Algeria, as this abridged article suggests:

‘The story of the Algerian wine industry is quite interesting. After the disaster of phylloxera in the 1860s the French were initially left scrambling about in Spain and Italy in an attempt to satisfy the demand for wine in their domestic market. In the late 19th century the French turned to their relatively new Colony of Algeria to try to fill the gap.

Originally this was advertised as French wine, which, as the French vineyards themselves started to recover from disease, was not well received by the growers still residing in France. In response to protests (made most vigorously by the producers of Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy), the French government created some rather flimsy laws in an attempt to protect their home-grown wines. These were eventually formalised into the French rules of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, thus authenticating the origin of wines.

Historically therefore, Algeria has inadvertently played an important part in the history of world wine production, not only for its sheer size, but also for being instrumental in the creation of the original AOC laws.’

Wine Verdict

Livvy

Rosé

This was a really delicious rosé; dry and cold and not too sweet. It had a golden, peachy pink colour and the golden tone was reflected in the flavour – it wasn’t sweet and fruity like the rosés I fear but instead had more depth.

7/10, golden!

Red

I’m not quite sure what was happening to my tastebuds with this wine – it reminded me of seaweed! It looked so promising, deep red with a wonderful fruity aroma, but then it tasted the same way that harbours smell. Of seaweed!

Oddly, this slightly tart, slightly odd flavour complimented the food very well – the warm, cinnamon based spices made the seaweed taste really good, but still…

7/10, interesting but unexpectedly good!

Chris

I can’t thank Hamish & Carrie enough for helping us out in our hour of need – hosting guests at six hours’ notice already counts as going above and beyond, but going out to buy wine, then whipping up a delicious, geographically-appropriate meal to go with it, really does put you on a different level as far as hospitality is concerned.

Rosé

It’s fair to say that our encounters with Rosé during this challenge have been a bit of a mixed bag – from the high of Morocco to the definite low of Thailand. To my surprise, this dry, pale Tunisian wine was at the better end of the scale. Fresh and even a little floral, it was a really good way to start the meal, and also worked really well as a smooth, easy-drinking aperitif as we chatted beforehand. I’d happily drink this again.

7.5/10

Red

I wasn’t sure about this at first. It had rather blunt-force fruit aromas in the glass, and a hint of sourness in the first few sips, but actually once it had been open for a while, it settled down into a perfectly drinkable, medium-bodied food wine – the kind you’d be happy with as the House Red in a local/neighbourhood restaurant. Like Liv, I thought it went really well with our meal too, thanks to mix of spice and softness, which complemented the tagine’s flavours without overwhelming them. All in all, a very enjoyable experience indeed!

7/10

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