The Turkish Wine Renaissance

Mj 618_348_the turkish wine renaissance
Umit Bektas / Reuters / Corbis

A quick glance at a map of the Western Mediterranean – Rioja, Champagne, Chianti – is enough to bring to mind how deeply wine is rooted in that geography. Now, Turkey, much of which has a climate and topography to France, is making a splash thanks to its powerful reds and subtle whites.

Because over ninety percent of its citizens are Muslim, Turkey is not widely associated with any alcohols at all, but modern Istanbul is awash in wines from Thrace, Ephesus, and the Mediterranean coast harvested on lands that have been thick with vineyards for almost 6,000 years. The center of local wine culture is Doluca, the most famous winery in Asia Minor. Unfortunately, these wines aren’t widely always available stateside. But reds and whites from Vinkara, a similarly excellent decade-old operation that produces over a million liters annually, have become popular in mainland Europe and can be bought online.

But Turkey isn’t just making straight-ahead table wines for Germans and Brits. The country is also pumping out premium blends made from imported grapes, sparkling, and dessert wines. This explosion of varieties is more indicative of a resurgence in local enthusiasm and consumer interest in Turkish wines than it is of any historical Ottoman expertise. Wineries are still trying to get the kinks out of the more obscure wines so it makes sense to stick with more traditional vintages for now.

Here are the most memorable varieties of Turkish wine and the bottles you can find stateside. 

Çankaya: If you often walk away from Californian whites feeling like you’ve licked the inside of an oak barrel, take heart:  Emir, Narince, and Sultana wines have a subtler taste. Try the Anatolian Kavaklidere Cankaya, a simple, cheap option that goes well with fresh seafood.

Kalecik Karasi: Ruby-colored with a medium body, this grape has hints of berries, cocoa, and coffee. It’s well-balanced and smooth, a slightly more understated red. Ancyra, one of the country’s major wineries, produces an affordable bottle if you want to have a taste before splurging on more prominent vintages. 

Boazkere-Öküzgözü: This one’s a twofer, a blend of the native grapes Boazkere and Öküzgözü (depending on the wine, the order might be reversed). This blend fills roughly the same niche as a good Nebbiolo—a hearty, tannic red that can stand up to grilled meats, substantial pastas, or a chilly winter’s eve. Pick up a bottle Kavaklidere Boazkere-Öküzgözü before the end of winter.

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