Turkey is a sleeping giant of untapped potential. It is one of the world’s largest growers of grapes, but only about 2% of the total grape production is actually used for wine and 96% of that production is drunk in Turkey. Although the history of winemaking in Turkey dates several millennia (archaeological remains prove that Turkey was one of the places where wine was first produced), production came to a halt during the Muslim Ottoman Empire. Things eased up once Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established a secular state in the 1920s, but you sense that it is only in the last 10 years or so that the industry has begun to blossom once more, with an influx of winemakers from very different backgrounds.
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And this injection of new life into the wine industry has given the older established wineries such as Doluca, Kavaklidere and Pamukkale the impetus to improve and renovate. The young winemaker, Semril Zorlu, at Kavaklidere’s Pendore vineyards has trained in Montpellier and Bordeaux, including a stage at Château Margaux, working on experiments with organic and biodynamic viticulture. And she is not alone; several of the winemakers have studied abroad, and the newer wineries are employing foreign consultants.
Taste of ‘throat gripper’ in Turkish wine
Turkey has many wonderfully distinctive indigenous grape varieties. We had the opportunity to taste white Emir and Narince, as well as Sultaniye, which is more commonly known as Thompson Seedless, and also grown for table grapes and dried sultanas (a.k.a. raisins), not to mention the popular alcoholic drink raki. The red varieties have exotic names, such as Kalecik Karasi, Őkűzgözű and Boğazkere. Őkűzgözű translates literally as “bull’s eye,” and the grapes are fat and juicy. Boğazkere means “throat gripper,” for its firm tannic streak, while Kalecik Karasi is more elegant and sometimes compared with Nerello Mascalese or Nebbiolo. The flavors are fresh and exciting, and these undoubtedly represented the discovery of the visit.
But the Turks themselves much prefer to drink international grape varieties, so you will also find some very convincing examples of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon, pure or blended with the indigenous varieties. My problem is that I am always much more interested by the unusual, but the international varieties were good.
There is interest, too, in Italian varieties. Federico Curtaz who has a vineyard on Etna and consults for Villa Estet, where the soil is volcanic, is planting Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. I also encountered Sangiovese and Nero d’Avola. And for southern French grape varieties, there was a Roussanne-Marsanne blend from Suvla winery, as well as Grenache and Carignan, in addition to Shiraz or Syrah.
I returned to London bubbling with enthusiasm after a wonderful journey of discovery. You could not help but be carried away with the passion and dedication of the Turkish winemakers. There is a sense of adventure, and the feeling that the Turkish wine industry has a serious future, with both indigenous and international flavours, and that Turkey is full of untapped potential. So if you come across a bottle, do give it a try. You may well be very pleasantly surprised.
Photo: A Turkish vineyard. Credit: Rosemary George