by Jenna Hughes-Anlar
There are over 800 genetically different indigenous grapes in Turkey (there are actually around 1500 grape varieties). However, only a small percentage are popular for wine making.
Kalecik Karası, Öküzgözü, Boğazkere, Papazkarası, Narince or Emir are several of the more mainstream Turkish grape varieties. Have you heard of them?
Kalecik Karası ('Black from the small castle') is often compared to a Pinot Noir with heavy notes of red fruit, and grows mostly in the Ankara region of Kalecik, after which it is named.
Öküzgözü ('Bull's eye') is a large, dark colored grape that originates from Elazığ with floral and fruity notes and pairs well with red meats.
Boğazkere ('Throat burner') originated in Diyarbakır. and these smallish grapes range from dark blue to blackish in colour. The grapes produce a full-bodied, heavy tannin wine.
TURKISH WINE ROUTES
Also did you know there are vineyards and wineries all over Turkey? There are three major wine routes in the country, all with their unique characteristics and distinct varietals; Marmara (Thrace), Aegean, and the Anatolian.
SO MUCH TO TASTE AND EXPLORE
Today the biggest wine production is in Thrace (toward Bulgaria and Greece) and secondly Izmir (south of Istanbul in the Aegean region). Throughout these regions and other parts of Turkey you will find the oldest and largest reputable producers like Doluca and Kavaklidere, but mixed in are dozens of boutique vineyards with excellent wine makers like Chamlija, Arcadia, Suvla, Corvus, and Urla, just to name a few.
WHAT IS A BOUTIQUE WINE?
By this we mean they grow and make their own wines, sometimes organically like Barbare in Tekirdağ, without the need to purchase grapes from other vineyards. For these wineries, every step is important, from the time the vineyard is established to choosing which grape variety will be planted in which soil type, to considering water availability, light exposure and many other factors. They focus on each vine and the quality, typically having less acreage. Vineyards from Napa to Tuscany are known to purchase grapes from outside vineyards to complete a wine but a “single estate” wine will be made with a grape only from that estate's vineyard.
So beside the producers, lets go back to the grapes for a minute. With all of these indigenous grapes, where was the origin of wine? Where did it all start? Could it have been in Turkey?
Most wine historians agree somewhere in Anatolia, in the southeast region of Turkey, was where the first grape domestication and wine production took place. It is also here, that the first pottery and the oldest civilisations were discovered. These ancient civilisations used wine in rituals and culture as well as in their economy. In this Fertile Crescent area, wild grapes still grow today.
I remember a long hike last fall in Cappadocia, we walked to the hidden Column Church enjoying the flavours of juicy wild grapes along the trail. To think the grapes which are grown for world class wine production today may have originated in southeast Turkey thousands of years ago is quite remarkable.
In the years to come, we will begin to see more Turkish wine exported internationally due to limitations they face in Turkey. We will also begin to see more Turkish grape varieties grown worldwide. Let’s all taste and discover Turkish wines and support the producers to experiment with more indigenous varietals and produce unique wines.
Now, imagine yourself sipping wine on a sunny patio, looking out onto vines whose roots have been in the soil thousands and thousands of years…
Jenna Hughes-Anlar, owner and manager of Barbera Hotel, an upscale boutique hotel in old town Istanbul. Her hotel is next to Gülhane Park and is the area's best source for purchasing boutique Turkish wine to take home. Follow her on Instagram for information on upcoming events and offers!