Tunisia is a North African country with a long (if not consistent) history of wine production. Vine husbandry and winemaking first arrived in Tunisia with the Phoenicians, was continued by the Romans, prohibited by the Ottomans and finally re-invigorated by the French. Similar wine histories have unfolded in various countries around North Africa and the Levant, Lebanon and Algeria among them.
Tunisia is Africa's northernmost country, and lies between the latitudes of 37 and 30 degrees north. It is rare to find quality wine production this close to the equator; vine health suffers significantly in tropical humidity and the intense heat found in most deserts. Tunisian viticulture is only successful in the country's northern fringes, along the north coast and around the Gulf of Tunis. The climate in this zone is crucially influenced by the Mediterranean, and has mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. South of the eastern edge of the Atlas Mountains, the Tunisian landscape is taken over by the deserts of the northern Sahara. The next wine regions south of this point are those of southern Namibia and South Africa, on the other side of the equator and across 4500 miles (7250km) of desert, mountain and jungle.
Because of the heavy French involvement in Tunisian viticulture, the main grape varieties planted in Tunisian vineyards are those used in France, notably in the southern regions of Provence and the Languedoc. The classic southern French terroir shares similarities with that of northern Tunisia, not least its warm, Mediterranean climate and poor, rocky soils. The key red-wine grapes are Carignan, Cinsaut, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and more recently the Bordeaux reds Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their white counterparts are no less French in style (Chardonnay, Clairette, Muscat of Alexandria and Ugni Blanc), but have a Spanish guest in their midst: sherry's Pedro Ximenez.
Much like Provence, the majority of wines made in Tunisia are rose, but an increasing proportion of the dark-skinned grapes are being used for richer red-wine styles; the North African sunshine rarely creates problems for vignerons seeking higher palate weight and potential alcohol. A small percentage of Tunisian wines are white, and if global warming predictions are accurate, this is likely to fall rather than increase.