So a few days ago I returned from Turkey. I was there for a wedding (and that’s a story in and of itself, but out of the scope of this blog), but while I was there, I decided to explore some of the wines of Turkey. I had done some preliminary research and upon discovering that several regions in the country were similar to various regions in Arizona, I got really excited. Why? Here’s a region where, overall, wine production has been going on for almost 3,000 plus years, they’ve had time to work out the kinks that some of us are facing in Arizona, in terms of soils, and climate. Turkish wine has a very long history, as it turns out.
Especially in Cappadocia, which is VERY similar in soils to the Chiricahua foothills, and climate-wise to Sonoita, and to a lesser extent, Willcox. Overall, I was quite pleased with the wines I had in Turkey, and would highly reccomend them to any visitor. The fact of the matter is, like Arizona, it’s an unsung region with world-class wines that should delight most palates.
The following is a brief summary of the industry in Turkey as a whole, profiles of a few wines I drank, and closing up with where I visited in The Queen of Cities. (It’s a place well deserving of that moniker, with thousands of years of history to go around.)
Map of Turkish wine regions, courtesy of Vino Rei
Regions and History: Wine growing in Turkey can, like Arizona, be divided into roughly four regions: the Marmara and Thrace, the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean, and Anatolia. Anatolia itself is divided into four seperate subregions. Good wines can be found in all regions, but the area which particularly interested me as an Arizonan was Anatolia, especially Cappadocia. Wines from Thrace and the Marmara were also particularly interesting to me. Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, the Queen of Cities (and it really is), is a really great place to begin your exploration of the Turkish Wine industry. The two places I visited have a great sample of wines from all over the country, and if you only have a limited amount of time and can’t explore the hinterlands, this is a must see. Now, that being said, there are a fair number of wineries that are on the Thracian side, not too far from the city, but I didn’t have any time. Someday I intend to make a much longer trip; either on a honeymoon (yeah, right), or on a “horray, I finally paid off all my student loans” trip.
That being said, in Istanbul, when asking for a ride to the urban wineries and tasting rooms, just give the address. Some of the more traditional cab drivers will not give you a lift if they know it’s to one of the wineries. Others don’t care.
The history of wine in Turkey goes back, far beyond even the Romans, Lydians, and Greeks, back into the days lost to history. In classical antiquity, for example, wines from the Black Sea littoral (where sadly, no grapes seem to be grown today) as well as from Smyrna (now Izmir) were prized throughout the Graeco-Roman world. Wine was also a major import and export during the time when the Eastern Roman Empire ruled over the region. The landscape suffered a little under the Ottomans, but it seems that since Turkey became a secular republic, the industry is bouncing back dramatically.
Notes: if you’re looking for Dry versus sweet, your key phrase is going to be “Sek Şarap;” this denotes a dry wine. Furthermore, I’m only going to be covering about 6 wines here, just for space.
Emir and Narinçe are the two major white varietals that you will see in Turkey, and are often blended together. This particular example was medium-bodied, citric, and acidic with hints of stone fruit and floral undertones. This wine in particular had aged beautifully, with some notes of honey and fig; younger versions of these grapes, or these grapes on their own don’t have the honey notes. I find myself sad that I didn’t bring a solo example of and Emir home, but… so it goes. This wine in particular reminded me a fair bit of the W, from Sand-Reckoner, actually. This wine paired beautifully with the Ottoman-Style cuisine we had at the reception for the wedding. This wine was a kind and slightly hipster blonde woman. Other native whites common in Turkey are Sultanayye (which I never did try, oddly.), Cavus, and Vasiliki, along with a couple varietals of Muscat.
There are several non-native Turkish varietals which seem to have found a home in Turkey also. This wine is a Catarratto/Viognier blend from Yanik Ülke. Catarratto is a Sicilian White with which I had never been acquointed before this trip. This wine was from the Marmara/Thrace region. The nose of this wine was light and aromatic, with notes of melon, floral elements, lemon and apple. The palate of this wine was filled with pear, citrus, jasmine, and Iris notes, coupled with some nice acidity, reminding me a lot of the Duet from Flying Leap Vineyards. The finish of this wine lasted for 15 seconds. I’d pair this with anything you’d pair Viognier with. Light and airy, this wine, like the Duet, is also a teacher, but this time of History. Other non-native White grapes that show up in Turkey are Sauvignon Blanc, and Cortese.
This was probably my favorite Rosé, the entire trip, made from Kalecik Karası and Grenache. 2014 Rose Sek Şarap, Sevilen Majestįk. The nose is herbal and earthy with hints of grapefruit and watermelon. Palate is crisp and acidic, with bright grapefruit, tarragon, herbs de Provence, and boysenberry. The finish lasts for 17 seconds. Pair this wine with hookah, cevicé, or a hummus plate. This wine was delightfully feminine and light, this wine is a world traveler, and an absolute delight to be with. You would take her on the most amazing date ever. It reminds me a great deal of the various Grenache–blended Rosé wines from here in Arizona. Kalecik Karası is a red grape that I’d argue is actually one of Turkey’s best, we’ll meet her again in a moment.
Yes, I know this isn’t an indigenous varietal, but I’m posting this to make a huge point. In a blind tasting, I would have assumed it was an Arizona Grenache. In fact, it reminded me a great deal of the Grenache from Rune Winery. The similarities between this Grenache from Anatolia and what is, in my opinion, one of the best Arizona Grenaches, speaks to the similarities between Turkish wines and growing landscapes and those in Arizona. There is a lot Arizona can learn from Turkey. Other non-indigenous reds I found in Turkey were Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Shiraz/Syrah. Even Pinot Noir showed up a bit. In these cases, they also tasted very similar to Arizona versions of these varietals.
Arguably the most popular blends in Turkey are made from these two grapes, Boğazkere (bosh-kar-eh) and Öküzgözü (ooh-koo-gooz-koo). While originally native to Cappadocia, show up all over. These wines are really unique, and while some comparsion could be made to Bordeaux blends, there are a whole legion of differences. The nose of his wine in particular was quite spicy, and I could even sense the tannins before tasting it. On the nose were hints of frankincense, cherry, nutmeg, currents, pomegranate, and mulberry. The Palate of this wine was juicy, with cherry, plum, black currants, and fresh ripe figs but absolutely bone dry. This wine was lovely, and I’m still not exactly sure why I didn’t take this bottle home. (I did take a different bottle of this style of blend with me though, along with a bottle each of the grapes in question).
We met this grape in rosé form already, but in it’s more traditional form… Kalecik Karası is amazing, and earned a place in my top 15 varietals. I ended up bringing back several bottles of this wine. This particular vintage was dark and brooding, the same way I often prefer my women. (Hah.) The nose of this wine was filled with notes of pecan, cedar, cherry, nutmeg, frankincense, boysenberry, and plum. The palate of this wine was rich, filled with cedar, nutmeg, cherry, cedar, plum, and frankincense. The finish was long, and tannic. Were this wine a person, it would be a woman who was a lover of the desert and prone to episodes of poetry, a queen of the shadow realms. There were several other native reds which I did bring back with me, but did not get to try on site, such as Papazkarası, Kuntra, and Acıkara that I’m looking forward to imbibing at my leisure.
Where to Go:
Flashback to my night tasting wines at Sensus, with somnalier Murat Çelebi. He gave me my first full introduction to Turkish wines from across the country.
There’s several different wine spots to go into Istanbul, and I noticed that most restaurants had a ready stock of Turkish wine which is quite nice, with few wines from other places. This means it’s fairly easy to drink local when you’re dining. A good list can be found here; I made it to only two, Sensus Wine Bar and Solera Winery, and I highly reccomend both. I want to thank the staff of both places for introducing me to a wide variety of Turkish wines, and I really do hope to return one day and do some more exploration!
Both have knowlegeable staff that are incredibly helpful, knowledgable, and if you’re an english speaker, pretty fluent if you’re not so good at speaking Turkish. The space at Sensus is a little larger, and also has a jazz-club type feel, while Solera can feel somewhat more intimate and friendly. Furthermore, both have a selection of wines from all across Turkey, perfect for your research purposes!
All in all, I had a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to drinking my stash that I brought back with me for further research with my fellow Arizona wine industry folks!
This is the stash I brought back–also included is a Russian Sparkling Wine I got at the Moscow Airport… because why not. And some Raki. Because Raki.