Some of my favourite holidays have been in Turkey. One year a group of friends and I chartered a Turkish gulet and sailed around the famous Blue Coast of southern Turkey. And I’ll never forget the early Spring night we spent drinking and dancing in a countryside brothel (unintentional, I can tell you) or the 24-hour Jack Daniels soaked train journey from Istanbul to Bucharest (and terrifying plane ride back to Istanbul via Turkish Airlines, where was the Jack when you REALLY needed it). But I have to say in all my visits to Turkey, I’ve never drunk the wine. Despite the fact that the country has a rich wine heritage, until recently, they had not put much effort into making quality wines. For me, it was usually Efes beer or the local liquors when I visited. I do recall a red wine with some not-so-very fond memories.
So, it was with much interest that I attended the recent Wines of Turkey inaugural London tasting. A conference and tasting organized by the Wines of Turkey, there were some impressive speakers at the tasting including, Jancis Robinson, Charles Metcalfe and Tim Atkin, all talking about the merits of Turkish wine and how much it has advanced in just a few short years.
Seeing as I had very low expectations, it wasn’t hard to find a good wine. Turkey has really upped their game in the last few years and are now using modern winemaking techniques and equipment while staying true to their viticultural roots. The official title of the tasting was “Discover the Roots” and it not only referred to Turkey’s long history of wine making but also to the many indigenous varieties that Turkey possesses. I discovered many different varietals ( emir, sultaniye, bornova misketi, and calkarasi to name a few) but two that stuck out were the narince and the kalecik karasi. Much like Portuguese varieties, the Turks have some real tongue twisters. Narince is pronounce (nah-rin-djeh) and kalecik karasi this way (kah-le-djic car-ar-ser), try saying that after a glass or two.
Narince is a white grape produced in the region around Anatolia. I tried one from the producer, Vinkara wines which are a fairly big producer. The narince means “delicate” in Turkish, which the nose certainly was, aromatic pear drop notes which lead to a surprisingly flavourful palate. I was expecting pears and maybe green apples but got tropical fruits, quince and mango and a slight fizziness which was another surprise. Overall, it was a pleasing wine, certainly something different and quite easy to drink.
I also tried their kalecik karasi, a red wine that most closely resembled pinot noir in my opinion. I tried a few different kalecik karasi and they all had similar traits, light in colour, silky tannins with plenty of strawberry and red fruit flavours and aromas. Although some were aged in oak, Vinkara’s were not. Speaking to various producers at the show, they said that Turkish wine makers in general were pulling back on the liberal use of oak and letting the original character of the native grapes come through.
The Turks do also grow international varieties like chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc but I enjoyed discovering their native varietals. Good to know that on my next trip to Turkey, I’ll be able to find not only drinkable but good wine. And who knows, maybe I’ll find some prime Turkish property to start up my own little vineyard…