I know you probably thought that there is no such thing as a quality wine from Turkey. Turkey is famous for it’s Raki, kebabs, baklava, and smoking Hookah pipes. Today I am in Istanbul with my friend and fellow sommelier, Dilara Yilmaz. We will be sharing some wonderful wines that are readily available in the States.
“Gregory, I would like to begin by saying that we Turks have been producing exceptional wines since antiquity. The Hittites were known for their wines and popularized them throughout the Mediterranean world,” Dilara paused for effect. “Turkey is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world.”
“I was quite surprised when I first learned that there are more than 600 indigenous wine varietals in Turkey.”
“Perhaps,” my response was flat and without emotion. “There are only 60 grape varietals that are available commercially so this is where we will start.”
Our table had been set with an assortment of mezes, hamsi, a Black Sea anchovy, kebabs, olives, rice, baklava, and local honey.
“A meal for a the Hittite king, Hatusili,” I nodded my approval.
“I am also quite sure that our first wine will also meet with your approval.” Dilara presented me with a bottle of 2003 Kavaklidere Okuzgozu d’ Elazig.
The standards for Turkish wines were set in the mid-1900s by the Kavaklidere and Doluca vineyards. These vineyards are located in the eastern part of the Anatolian plateau. The name for the Okuzgozu grape means “ox eye” in Turkish.
“Serefe,” we toasted each other.
Our first wine was totally different from what I had expected. There were bright cherry aromas. The flavor was crisp and slightly tart with a mild finish. Much lighter than what I had expected.
Dilara sensed that I was mildly amused and poured me another glass. I like this light wine very much,” she smiled. “It is slightly reminiscent of a yellow Merlot.”
“I was expecting a much bolder wine,” I paused as I savored the Okuzgozu. “Something like a Spanish red.”
“Interesting, Dilara smiled softly. “Okuzgozu pairs perfectly with Turkish cuisine.”
“Indeed it does,” I nodded in approval. “I would have thought that with the robust cuisine of the area, our meal would call for a more full-bodied wine.”
“Okuzgozu is a distinct grape with different characteristics,” Dilara assured me. “It is a wine befitting Turkey. A wine that is apropos for a land that lies at the crossroads of East and West.”
“What is our next selection?”
This wine emphasizes the unique characteristics of the Kalecik Karasi grapes. The varietal is quite fruity and a favorite among the Anatolian grapes. I found our Doluca to be easy to drink, smooth, and medium-bodied.
“Yes, a very easy wine to drink. I also find the Kalecik Karasi to be the most aromatic of Doluca’s wines.”
“I agree,” pausing to savor the wine. “Kalecik Karasi invokes the aromas of figs, roses, and strawberries. Indeed a very charming wine.”
“I would recommend this wine with most grilled, steamed, or creamy-sauced fish dishes,” she paused for my response.
“Yes, of course, “ I nodded in approval. “Grilled or roasted white meat with a cream sauce would also pair nicely.”
“I would also serve this wine at about 60 degrees fahrenheit,” Dilara paused to collect her thoughts. “I would also recommend decanting the wine about 30 minutes prior to serving.”
“Nicely done,” I was most pleased with her assessment of the Doluca Kalecik Karasi. “What is next?’
“A real throat burner,” Dilara seemed quite amused with herself. “I have selected a Bogazkere. The name translates as ‘throat burner’ in Turkish.”
I quickly surveyed the botltle of 2008 Pendore Bogazkere (Bow-aahz-keh-reh), and nodded my approval. “An excellent choice.”
Dilara smiled enthusiastically. “I know you are fond of Tannat and I believe you will find Bogazkere somewhat reminiscent.”
On the nose our Pendore Bogazkere was rich with the pleasing aromas of black cherry, raspberry, blackberry, black mulberry, pepper, cloves, eucalyptus, tobacco, leather, pine forest, dark chocolate, and licorice. The wine itself was very dark in color, full-bodied, dense tannins and a complex flavor profile. “I think that our Bogazkere would do nicely with a bit of age.”
“I agree,” Dilara replied flatly. “Wines from the Bogazkere strike a nice balance with a bit of aging.”
“I would pair this wine with spicy meat dishes, kebabs, and BBQs.”
“Have you had our local speciality, Tandir?” Dilara queried.
“Bogazkere goes nicely with Tandir,” She smiled widely. “I also enjoy this wine with intensely flavored cheese.”
“Now there’s a thought,” I grinned with anticipation.
“Nope. I was thinking more of slow roasted lamb.”
Leb-l Derya Restaurant,” we laughed in unison.”
“But that my friends is another story …