Have do you feel about Turkish wine? For many wine consumers it is an intimidating question. Turkey is a complicated country. However, Turkey is also believed to be the origin of grape domestication, dating back to 9,000 BC! Turkish wines have hard to pronounce names but they are not hard to drink wines. With a wine producing history as old as time, don’t you think its tie to embrace Turkish wine?
The history of Turkish wines has had its ups and downs depending on the political climate du jour. Nevertheless, the wines have never been better. To better understand this complicated wine region I participated in a TexSom session called Regional Focus: Turkey. The presenters were Master of Wine Dilek Caner, Nicole Hakli, and Master of Wine Jean K. Reilly. Through humor and insight these three women took on an educational journey through Turkey.
Texas is 90% as large as Turkey. That tells me Turkey is a big country. Many countries, especially in Europe, have strict winemaking laws. If you struggle to understand Italy’s DOC, DOCG, IGT system, not to mention Spain and France, you are gonna love Turkey. There are no regulations on wine production in Turkey. The producers self-govern to craft the highest quality wines possible based on reputation and integrity. However, regarding marketing, advertising, and consumption, Turkey has so many pages of laws it would take hours and a legal team to read them all. Currently it is illegal to market or advertise Turkish made wines in Turkey.
Turkey has four main wine production regions. Here is map provided by VinoRai, a boutique Turkish wine importer based in Seattle. VinoRai’s website is a great resource to better understand Turkish wines. Furthermore, they import high quality Turkish wines available through multiple US sources, including Whole Foods.
There are over 800 genetically distinct indigenous varietals. However, you do not need to know all of them to enjoy Turkish wines. VinoRai’s web site offers descriptions of Turkey’s major grape varieties. Below is a list of the wines we tasted in the TexSom session as well as VinoRai’s description of each grape.
“Yapincak is an ancient, white grape grown in northwest Turkey that has an association with the Sea of Marmara. It produces light to medium bodied wines that are low in alcohol. Known for its aromatics and mineral-like characteristics on the palate, Yapincak has been saved from extinction by Turkey’s dedicated winemakers. It is hard to grow, being vulnerable to poor fruit-set. Yields are low, even in perfect years. Yapincak matches well to fried fish, white-sauced pizza or flatbreads, and soft cheeses.”
2015 Pasaeli Yapincak Turkey ($17): unique aromas of delicate yellow fruit, spice, and cheese rind; driving minerality, a delicious wine that begs for cheese or cured meat, also great with sardines, oysters, and clams; click here to locate.
“Grown in the Tokat region of Turkey (near the Black Sea), Narince means “delicately” in Turkish, and has a flavor profile similar to Rhone whites like Roussanne and Marsanne. Aromatically, it has a profile that ranges from cut core-fruits to ripe tropical fruits. Oftentimes, there is a defined almond or marzipan note. The leaves of Narince are the most favored variety for the making of dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), and it is the rare wine that actually compliments lemon flavors in foods.”
2014 Vinkara Winery Narince Reserve Kalecik Ankara Turkey ($20): a complex white wine with an array of aromas including white flowers, and bright citrus notes of orange, lemon, and grapefruit with a racy minerality and spice, delightful and easily enjoyable wine.
2014 Kavaklidere Prestige Narince Turkey ($23): a great blend of honey, stone fruit, and salinity, racy and pleasing, very approachable; click here to locate.
Kalecik Karasi (kah-LE-chic KAR-ah-sehr)
“Named for the Kalecik region in the Ankara province, Kalecik Karasi is one of Turkey’s most prized indigenous varietals. Diligently brought back from the edge of extinction by a dedicated group of growers and winemakers, Kalecik Karasi is known for its unique flavor and aromatic profile. This blue-black, thin-skinned variety produces fruity wines with low-to-moderate tannins, and bright acidity. Although sometimes compared to Pinot Noir because of their similar red fruit orientation on the palate, in reality, that is where the similarity ends. Kalecik Karasi is unique on its own, and is a Turkish national treasure.”
2013 Diren Collection Kalecik Karasi Anatolia Turkey ($9): this is a light wine with loads of fresh picked red fruits balanced with mushrooms, spice, and a touch of cocoa; easy drinking, elegant, contemplative.
“Papaskarasi is a medium tinted blue/black grape. It has traditionally been grown in the hills above the Thracian plains and northward into the Balkans, although today newer plantings are becoming established in central Anatolia. Papaskarasi translates to “Pope’s grape” in Turkish, and commemorates the Byzantine Papacy, an era when the Pope resided in Constantinople (AD537-752). Legend has it that Papaskarasi was the favored wine of the pontiffs back then as well.”
2015 Chamlija Winery Papaskarasi Turkey ($17): Red fruit takes center stage with cherries, currants, raspberries, and cranberries, along with red floral notes and spice; high acidity with low tannins, medium body and highly approachable.
“A rare, red grape traditionally grown as bush vines in the Anatolian (Asian) portion of Turkey, Karasakiz has a unique flavor. It’s reminiscent of old vine Zinfandel mixed with old, cobble-vined Grenache from the Southern Rhone, and is quite spicy. Also known as Kuntra in Greece, Karasakiz produces heady wines of only modest color, with a higher potential alcohol level than is typical for the indigenous Turkish varietals. Karasakiz is well-suited to the foods of summer grilling, and is best served with a light chill. Also great with smoked salmon, duck, or typical Turkish mezes like Fava bean purée, roasted red peppers, and warm hummus with pita.”
2015 Pasaeli 6N Turkey ($18): This wine is a blend of Karasakiz and Merlot; a great blend bringing forth the red fruit flavors and lush mouth-feel of Merlot with a rounder, bolder spicy, black pepper notes of Karasakiz; it feels familiar, reminiscent of a Cab/Merlot, or Zin/Merlot blend but with its own character, medium body adds to its quaff ability.
Bogazkere – Öküzgözü (bow-aahs-KEER-ee – oh-cooz-GO-zoo)
“Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Bogazkere is a late ripening, thick-skinned varietal that produces richly flavored, full-bodied wines. Its tannins can be quite robust when it is young, and oak barrel aging suits the grape well. Primarily grown in southeast Anatolia. Bogazkere is usually blended with other native varietals to “soften” it up a bit in its youth, and make it more approachable. Bogazkere means “throat tickler” in Turkish, since it is said that you will always know when you are drinking it!”
“One of Turkey’s most revered red wine grapes, Öküzgözü gets its name from its big red berries – in Turkish Öküzgözü means ”eye of the bull”. It produces medium-bodied wines with lots of ripe, red fruit flavors like cherry and pomegranate, along with a subtle spiciness. Known for its naturally soft tannins, Öküzgözü has been compared to Gamay by many wine pros, but usually produces a darker colored wine than Gamay does. Öküzgözü has moderate acidity, and matches well with a wide variety of foods.”
2012 Sevilen Bogazkere-Öküzgözü Aegean Turkey ($13): Impossible to say, fun to drink; dried fruit notes of cherries, currants, raisins, spice, dried roses and savory herbal notes, tea, spice, black pepper; layers of depth and texture, never ending sip, medium body with integrated tannins, a truly delicious wine at an incredible price.
Finally, a Turkish wine crafted of international varieties. This is not uncommon in Turkey. They grow international grapes to blend with indigenous grapes or to bottle on their own. Either way the wines are deliciously approachable.
2014 Urla Sarapcilik Tempus Urla Turkey ($28): This wine represents a Bordeaux style blend, crafted of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot; it is deep ruby in color, layered and complex aromas include cooked black and red fruit, violets, cocoa, spice, tobacco, forest floor, vanilla; familiar grapes in a familiar style in Turkish terroir, a great wine.
Though you may not recognize the names the wines will have a pleasing sense of familiarity on your palate. You will recognize aromas, flavors, body, and textures, and you will be thrilled by the sense of a new terroir on your palate. Furthermore, Turkish wines are highly affordable. Finding them can be a challenge but your extra effort will be rewarded. Cheers!