Here is a great dinner-party brainteaser that Beppi Crosariol shared in The Globe and Mail: “Name the world’s largest wine exporter in the 1950s. France? Italy? Argentina? Australia? How about none of the above? You’d be on the wrong continent with any of those responses. It was Algeria.”
Algeria? Really? Really!
According to AlgerianWine.com, “Algeria is one of the oldest wine producing countries of the world. The Romans used Algeria as their breadbasket as well as their vineyard, prolonging a history of viticulture, which began before the Roman Empire.”
Algeria really came into the limelight in the late 1800s, when France was plagued by phylloxera. Again, according to AlgerianWine.com, “50,000 families, many former wine growers, fled to Algeria, … [a French colony, and] helped turn the vast country into a satellite farm for French tables, shipping back virtually all their (mostly cheap, high-strength) wine, which at one point represented almost a third of Algeria’s gross domestic product and half its export revenues.”
Initially, the Algerian wine, which was primarily Carignan, was welcomed in France. But as France recovered from the phylloxera epidemic, the country began to resent the influx of cheap Algerian wine and imposed restrictions that made it much harder for Algerian wine to be shipped to France.
When Algeria gained her independence in 1962, most of the French population, including the pieds-noirs (the French nationals who had settled in Algeria after their vineyards had been wiped out by phylloxera), fled. Since so much winemaking knowledge fled with them, and since there was conflict with the Muslim religion, vast acres of wine were replanted with other crops. Making wine was no longer economically viable.
So while Algeria was the world’s largest wine exporter in the 1950s, Algerian wine is now very difficult to find. If you are in NY or NJ, check out http://www.algerianwine.com/links.html for a list of NY and NJ restaurants that serve Algerian wine. If you get to try any, please share your experiences here. Thanks!