A look at Turkish wines
I received an invite to a “Wines of Turkey” guided tasting that sounded absolutely fabulous. The only trouble was the tasting was in Bordeaux, and my travel budget is, shall we say, not quite that stout. I contacted Wines of Turkey directly and had a good conversation with Taner Ogutoglu, the director of this organization, which serves as an umbrella publicity group for a number of Turkish wineries and winemakers.
He offered to pass my information along to some of his colleagues around the country. Next thing I knew, I had some samples on the way. I didn’t know a lot about Turkish wine, needless to say, so I wanted a little background before the bottles started showing up at my door.
Evidence exists that winemaking was going on in what is now the Turkish province of Anatolia 7,000 years ago. The Turks introduced wine to Greek colonists in the 6th century B.C., and from there the word of Turkish wine spread to Italy and France. With the rise of the Ottoman Empire, wine production waned because of religious reasons. Most wine produced in Turkey during the life of the Empire (1299-1923) was carried out by non-Muslim minorities – Greeks, Armenians and Syrians.
With the formation of the Turkish Republic in the 1920s, most of the winemaking fell under government control, but a couple of world wars blunted the growth of the industry. In the latter half of the 20th century and into the beginning of the 21st, wine tourism became a major force in the Turkish economy. Word spread about the interesting native wines (of which there are nearly 800 named, indigenous varietals), and the excellent terroir for growing “standard” vinifera grapes like cabernet sauvignon. Turkey is still a relatively small player on the world wine production stage, but this may be changing soon.
Most wine produced in Turkey comes from three major growing regions: Thrace (also called Marmara), on the northwest coast near Istanbul; the Aegean region, especially near the city of Izmir, farther south down the coast by the Aegean Sea; and in the mountains in the aforementioned province of Anatolia, surrounding the Turkish capital of Ankara. The size and geographic diversity of Turkey – it’s larger in square miles than Texas and longer than California – provides a variety of growing areas and climates.
What’s Turkish wine like? The notes I took have a lot of “reminds me of” statements in there. The Turkish wines I’ve tried thus far have been quite “old world” in terms of general weight and flavor. I love Mediterranean flavors, and alongside that sort of cuisine, these are winners. One thing I’ve discovered to be near universal: These wines – both reds and whites – need air. Give them plenty of time to decant and swirl them strongly, initially. Otherwise, there’s a bit of an odd alkaline characteristic which, fortunately, fades pretty quickly once it gets some oxygen.
The first set of samples I received were wines from Kavaklidere, Turkey’s best-known winery. The main winery is located in Cappadocia in the Anatolian region, but they have satellite vineyards across the country. I received two bottles each of their Prestige and Pendore label wines. The Prestige wines are from Anatolia, while the Pendore wines hail from the Aegean region. The price point for these wines is usually around $25 to $30, but if Turkish winemakers have to increase export production, look for those prices to drop.
Prestige 2010 “Cappadocia” Narince – Pronounced “Nuh-RIN-djeh,” the name of this white grape means “delicate.” I expected a flavor like a chardonnay, so I thought about using it with grilled barbecue chicken breasts with some foil-packed veggies. Nope. The wine was much lighter than a chardonnay and quite minerally. It also had this weird sharpness at the end. We didn’t like it at first, so we re-corked and put it back in the fridge. It hit me later … that weird sharpness was akin to the sharpness at the end of a Muscadet, which can taste almost metallic. Muscadet is a great pairing with shellfish, though. So, the next evening, we made mussels in white wine and garlic with white beans and prosciutto – a pairing we knew would work with most Muscadet. We were dead on. The flavors meshed nicely.
Pendore 2009 Öküzgözü – The grape is pronounced “Oh-cooz-GOE-zue” and translates as “ox’s eye.” The berries of this particular kind of grape are some of the largest in the winemaking world. Lots of blackberry flavors here, along with a really nice earthiness and a lingering finish that’s full of cocoa. As such, it was too much for the chicken/asparagus/fontina combination we’d made for dinner that night, as it was just too heavy. It needs to be served alongside something with a little more oomph, like grilled meat or some punchy cheese. We had most of this bottle on its own over the course of a relaxing evening. When we pulled out the evening dark chocolate, the Öküzgözü was a deliciously sultry pairing. Thumbs up.
Pendore 2008 Boğazkere – This was my favorite wine of the set. Pronounced “Bow-aahz-KEH-reh,” the name of the grape translates somewhat unfortunately as “throat scraper,” which is far from the truth, in my estimation. To me, once it had some time to breathe, it was reminiscent of a really nice pinot noir. It had plenty of what seems to be the Aegean terroir-based smokiness along with lots of dark, subtle fruit in a reasonably weighted body. Where it really shined was with a somewhat decadent dinner of grilled lamb loin chops with a marjoram/garlic/butter sauce along with some quick-sautéed zucchini. A meal like that sports lots of rich flavors, which the ample tannins in this wine handled with ease.
In the future, I hope to provide some notes on other Turkish regions and grapes. In the meantime, ask for them in your local wine store. Turkish winemakers need our help with demand!
Reach DCP freelance writer Mike Rosenberg at MikeRosenberg@DaytonCityPaper.com or visit his blog at TheNakedVine.net.