İlker Temir

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Anatolian and Turkish Wines

I am a wine lover and enjoy drinking and discovering wines. I was amazed when I visited the Uluburun wreck in the Bodrum Museum. They found remains of wine in the wreck, showing that wine had been produced in Anatolia in the bronze age! Now I am quite excited to see the developing wine industry in its "homeland". After being asked about Turkish wines in several occasions, I wanted to write something, hoping that it will be useful.

Turkey has different grape varieties. The best known two local grapes are "Boğazkere" and "Öküzgözü" (Bull's Eye). "Boğazkere" makes dark, strong and tannic wines while "Öküzgözü" gives fruity and floral aromas. In its broadest terms, an analogy can be made between "Boğazkere" and "Cabernet Sauvignon" and between "Öküzgözü" and "Merlot". Such analogy is for explaining the choices of blends and should not go beyond that. "Boğazkere" and "Öküzgözü" are usually blended together to make high quality wines but there is a lot of experimentation going on lately. Another well known grape variety is "Kalecik Karası", which kind of resembles "Pinot Noir". I personally find it a little overrated but I am not a big fan of "Pinot Noir" either. If you like "Pinot Noir" and the Burgundy style, "Kalecik Karası" is worth a try. It should be consumed a little cooler than the others. "Kalecik Karası" used to be relatively more expensive due to limited area of growth but I don't think this is the case anymore.

Lately, there have been even more wines from previously unknown grape varieties (at least to me): "Karalahna", "Kuntra", "Papazkarası" (Priest's Black), "Karasakız" (Black Gum), "Vasilaki" etc. I find "Karalahna" too acidic, to me it might have more potential in different blends. I see more and more "Papazkarası" wines lately but they haven't impressed me so far. "Karasakız" is on the low-end and not very easy to find, so I wasn't expecting much but -maybe due to that low expectation- the one from Talay was pleasantly surprising.

In short, if you have a chance, I would recommend trying a blend of "Boğazkere" or "Öküzgözü" to get an introduction to Turkish wines. Talking about which, the article in the Financial Times (The New Ottoman Emperors) about "Öküzgözü" by Jancis Robinson is an interesting one to read.

There are two well established wineries in Turkey: "Kavaklıdere" and "Doluca". One should also add "Kayra" to the list, after the privatization of Tekel. Wines from Kavaklidere and Doluca span a wide range from low to high-end, while Kayra's wines are mostly between low and mid-end. There have been many more wineries lately, including "boutique producers". Some produce very good wines but in small quantities. Almost all brands make different blends of wines. "Doluca" has a sister brand called "Sarafin", which makes good wines but usually from non-local grape varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.)

One issue with wines in Turkey is the price. They are pretty expensive due to incredible and cruel tax on wines. Ironically the same wines cost a lot less in Europe because of lower tax but it is difficult to find a good selection outside of Turkey. The good news is that the price difference between low and high-end wines in restaurants is not that big, so you can go for a wine in the high-end instead of the mid-end without paying too much extra. A high-end local wine usually costs between 80 TL (€40) and 140 TL (€70) in a restaurant. Strangely, this doesn't change too much with the class of the restaurant. The same wines cost between 40 TL (€20) and 70 TL (€35) in supermarkets and wine shops.

An article about Turkish wines that doesn't mention Bozcaada would certainly be incomplete. Bozcaada is an island off the Aegean coast close to Çanakkale/Gallipoli, also known as Tenedos. It is said that wine has been made on that island for 3000 years. It is a lovely small island which has been famous with its wines lately. There are several producers on the island, the most notable being "Corvus". Corvus produces some very good wines but they are a bit overpriced. Bozcaada is listed in the "Top 10 wine trips with a difference" of the Guardian. Unfortunately, with the exception of Corvus, I find the wines of Bozcaada only at the drinkable range. The good news is that, they are rapidly improving.

Here is a list that reflects my personal taste when it comes to Turkish wines (reds):
  • Corvus Blend No 2
  • Büyülübağ Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
  • Kavaklıdere - Öküzgözü

Last updated: September 2009