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Algeria Wine

Algeria is a relatively large country in the Maghreb geographical region of north-west Africa. Spanning more than 1300 miles (2000km) from east to west and roughly the same north to south, it forms an uneven square in the western half of the Sahara desert. Morocco lies to the west (the Atlantic Ocean, and the Madeira and Canary Islands beyond that) and Tunisia and Libya are to the east, confirming Algeria's place at the heart of Arabic northern Africa.

The flag of Algeria

Despite being an Islamic nation, and therefore one which does not officially produce or consume alcohol, Algeria has a remarkably extensive area under vine. This vast acreage is mostly the product of Algeria's colonial occupation by France in the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. France's conquest of Algeria was slow, beginning with the occupation of the capital Algiers in 1830 and ending only when the last of the Toureg tribes were overrun in the 1920s. During this period of bloodshed and political turmoil the famous French Foreign Legion was created, a robust fighting force to support France's colonial aspirations.

In the 1870s, another robust invader influenced Algeria's vinous history: phylloxera. It had arrived in Europe via the Americas, laying waste to millions of vines in mainland France. For a nation with such a comprehensive vinous history and culture as France, this blow was crucial. The answer was to plant vines in the phylloxera-free sandy soils of Algeria. Such was the impact and success of this move that Algeria's vineyard grew by almost 1000% between 1870 and 1900, though Algeria was at one stage affected by the bug too. The majority of this increase was carried out by pieds-noirs (French nationals who had settled in Algeria) whose French vineyards had been wiped out by phylloxera.

When France ceded control of Algeria in 1962, almost one million acres (404,680ha) of the country was under vine and was generating a vast quantity of cheap, blended red wine to quell the thirst of the French people and their colonies. Once the French had officially left Algeria, the quantity of wine they imported across the Mediterranean halved, leaving Algeria with a massive surplus of wine and vines. Finding a crop which could match wine grapes for profitability and employment proved to be a struggle, so a huge area of vineyard was ripped up rather than replaced.

Today the majority of Algerian vineyards produce table grapes rather than wine grapes, leaving wine as an impressive, if brief, entry in Algerian history.

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