The Turkish wine industry is at a crossroads. Increasingly strict Muslim derived rules limiting alcohol consumption and advertising, coupled with lack of government assistance mean that now is not a good time to be making wine in Turkey. But despite the odds being stacked against them, Turkish winemakers have been investing and developing their operations at a rapid pace, with quality advancement evident for both international and indigenous grape varieties. Factors in their favour include rules on alcohol sale and consumption locally being honoured more in the breach than the observance, and the development of a thriving wine tourism industry.
So it was high time that Bristol Tasting Circle got to taste some samples, which we did with guidance from Tim Johnson, Judith Tyler, and Tugba Altinoz (in her absence) on 11 June 2018 at The Clifton Club. (Tugba has to be careful how she provides her input, since it would be easy to fall foul of the rules prohibiting advertising of wine.) We were joined by the West of England Wine & Spirit Association for this event.
We enjoyed 10 wines (some in this photo, some in the photo further down) in a range of styles made from local and international grape varieties, coming from very different (unofficial) wine regions. Retail prices ranged from £9 – 28. Some represented astonishing value for money, while others were, in my view at least, over priced. We all had our favourites, and there didn’t seem to be a consensus as to a standout stunner. My picks were all made from indigenous grapes. So here they are.
Vinkara Yasasin 2014 12%
This sparkling white wine by Vinkara (vineyard photo courtesy of Wines of Turkey) was first produced in 2009, and is the first traditional method wine made in Turkey. It is a blanc de noir, i.e. a white wine made from black skinned grapes. But rather than Pinot Noir and Meunier, the grapes are the indigenous Kalecik Karasi variety which is the most important red wine grape variety in Central Anatolia. It originates from an area near Ankara (termed “mid-Northern Anatolia” by Wines of Turkey, there being no officially defined wine regions in Turkey), and means either “black of Kalecik” or “black from small castle”. It was almost wiped out by phylloxera in the 1960’s, but thanks to research, clones of it were saved. Better quality grapes come from steep slopes beside the river Kizilirmak but in more recent times higher yields from valley floor sites have resulted in lower quality wines – which might account for the example I tried before (see below!).
This sparkling example is highly regarded, and some would say this is still Turkey’s best sparkling wine. This wine has more colour than most sparkling whites, and it has plenty of character on the palate. Aromas of stewed apple, honey and toast on the nose, and flavours of red apple peel, straw and brioche balanced with high acidity and a steely quality. The finish is long and the mousse feels fine. A classy glass and a cracking start to the evening. It retails for £26.99.
Vivino reviews of this vintage seem in tune with mine – though a review of 2013 mentions “blue raspberry” three times – not sure what that is….maybe I need to taste it to find out.
Doluca DLC 2013 13.5%
This still white wine was very welcome, its two predecessors having proved a tad underwhelming. The grape variety is Narince, meaning “delicate” or “fragile”. It is indigenous to the Tokat region classified by Wines of Turkey as “mid-eastern Anatolia”. Tokat is one of two areas in this zone, and is close to the Black Sea.
Narince is the most widely planted white wine grape in Turkey, and is reputed to respond well to oak maturation. It is probably the only white variety which has ageing potential. Wines are generally dry or off-dry with fresh fruity character.
The wine has a medium lemon colour, and pronounced and complex aromas. I identified butter, papaya, mango, baked apple, ripe banana, apricot and honey. To taste, the wine has highish acidity, highish alcohol, and dairy hints, all in balance with the very appealing ripe tropical fruit character. I enjoyed the long finish and in doing so noticed murmurs of appreciation from around the room – which turned to exclamations when Tim advised us not only that Tugba had warned that this wine would probably be past its best, but also that it was on offer – usual price £10.49, now reduced to £6.49!!!!! Mug that I am, I would have coughed up £15 for this (see notes in the photo)! So Cheshire Cat smiley face award for this little number.
A 2015 Vivino review of this vintage was not glowing. It mentions the buttery flavour but found little else. A bit harsh methinks.
Kayra Versus Alpagut Öküzgözü 2013 14.5%
Now this wine, a red, was really interesting (below, 3rd from left at the front).
Kayra is the winery, Alpagut is the name of the vineyard, and Versus is the cuvée. The region is Elazig, again in “Mid-Eastern Anatolia” but this area is some way south east of Tokat, where the influence of Muslim culture is stronger than in more westerly regions.
The grape variety is Öküzgözü, meaning “bullseye” due to its large black berries. It is a fleshy grape with large compact bunches. The photo (courtesy of Wines of Turkey) is from a Kayra vineyard – not sure if these are Öküzgözü but they fit the description nicely!
The wine was deep ruby in colour with a hint of purple – interesting in itself given its age.
However, my nose went into overdrive with pronounced banana leaf, raisin, ink and pencil box aromas which morphed into fruity black cherry and blackberry and a slightly floral perfume.
There were high gritty tannin and spirity alcohol levels, but these were in balance with ripe, punchy and velvety blackberry, black cherry and cedar wood flavours which lingered long and evolved into a more gamey savoury character. I thought it might benefit from being aged to develop more tertiary character.
Overall very interesting, very good, and a wine which took no prisoners. Vivino reviews give a range of descriptors which vary from mine but reflect the same overall character and quality. Retail price £24.99 – a fair reflection of the quality in my view.
A number of the wines we sampled had noticeably high levels of alcohol, a further feed into the contradictions inherent in the Turkish wine industry. While this wine was among them, the powerful flavours, full but rounded body and hefty tannins meant that in this wine, the alcohol did not seem out of balance.
According to Wine Grapes, varietal Öküzgözü is not ageworthy, and is often blended with rougher Bogazkere as it is a relatively light, juicy acidic wine on its own which is best without much oak character. I therefore wondered whether this wine had a backbone of some sort to bolster it. However Kayra’s comprehensive technical sheet does not mention any other grapes, while giving details about the oak ageing of the wine (19 months, 20% in new barrels, both French and American oak). The winemaker is apparently a consultant from the USA who likes an oaky style. It may therefore simply be that this is particularly high quality concentrated Öküzgözü.
Prior to this event, my only record of tasting a wine from Turkey related to a lightweight fruity but short red wine made from Kalecik Karasi, which did nothing to ignite my interest.
It was therefore a revelation to taste fascinating and quality examples from producers who are battling against ever more unfavourable circumstances. What a shame it would be if these quality wines and grape varieties were to disappear.
Only time will tell what will happen to Turkey’s wines. Perhaps now is the time to seek them out – whether to chart their progress, or to experience them before they are outlawed. The place to go, if you are curious, is http://www.tasteturkey.com – or Turkey!
Huge thanks to Tim, Judith and Tugba – I can now update my geeky list of wine grapes tasted. Already a member of the Wine Century Club, I might get my 200 certificate one day…..
Also, thank you to “Wine Grapes” (Harding/Robinson) for the information about the grape varieties, and to Wines of Turkey, Vivino reviewers and the producers’ websites.