I was thrilled to attend the November 2012 EWBC (European Wine Bloggers/Digital Wine Communications Conference) in Izmir, Turkey. Like most of the conference attendees, I sampled perhaps hundreds of wines.
While the conference in Izmir’s SwissHotel was stellar, I was perhaps even more thrilled to have toured some of the central western Turkish countryside and wineries during the three days afterward. Being comfortable, fed, and educated in a lovely hotel is great no matter where it happens. But to have the privilege of exploring the countryside with a gifted tour-guide and translator—that, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road. The post-conference excursion offered a much more complete snapshot of the country and a few of its winemakers.
New winemakers there usually play it safe for several years, making Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and other traditional and culturally accepted wines. They build the demand for their wines before growing, making, and marketing their own indigenous varieties, which are less known than the “usual suspects” despite being native to their own region.
And, some of the traditional European wines and blends made in Turkey were delightful, just as good as any traditional wines I’ve ever tasted. The wine pictured here, the Selendi 2010 red blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc), was just delicious.
Still, I positively adored four of the indigenous Turkish varieties I tried, and would seek them out here in the U.S. any day. They’re daunting at first to pronounce, but if you put on your Deepak Chopra face and imitate his deep voice and accent, you’ll come close.
The first wine I fell in love with was the white Narince (pronounced “Narinja”), meaning “delicate” in Turkish. While one could argue on behalf of its delicacy in that it is well-behaved, I think it in fact has quite a bit of power with its golden color and aromatic florals, citrus, and exotic fruits. One of the Narince wines I tasted was 70% blended with 30% Chardonnay and aged light-handedly in oak, and I thought this was simply a world-class blend.
Next for me was the charming Kalecik Karasi (pronounced kah-led-jick car-ah-sah). (For my review of one of these, go to http://www.thefrugalwinesnob.com/?p=1528) Although it translates to “the black from the small castle,” in fact the wine is anything but black. It is actually Pinot Noir-like in that it is lighter in color than most reds, with a similar weight and complexity to a good Pinot Noir but yielding a little cassis, spice, and cherry; it is dry, yet round and fruity, and similar to Pinot Noir in appearance and food-pairing function, but way different at the same time and well worth seeking out. “Just say yes.”
Boğazkere (boy-oz-keh-reh) means “throat scraper,” for the firm tannic structure in the wine. Indeed, when this wine touches oak for any length of time at all, it lives up to its nickname—but from my experience, when it was aged without contacting oak, it was delicious. This one is frequently used to good effect in blends, but it’s equally good by itself as long as its skins and pips are the sole source of the tannins and not oak on top of it. Please note: I am not an anti-oak person, and in fact usually expect and appreciate it if it is done deftly—but I also don’t like over-the-top, mouth-puckering, ashtray/teabag-like effects.
In addition to their indigenous grapes, when it comes to the “traditional” grapes, the Turks are often quite creative. For example, at the Kavaklidere winery, I enjoyed a Muscat which was amazingly and beautifully dry, yet deliciously fruity and friendly at the same time. Here in the States, Muscat is derided and stereotyped as being sweet, a beginners’ wine—yet the Kavaklidere version was masterful, whether for a beginner or an experienced wine aficianado. In my personal wine life, I generally prefer reds, yet in my week of experiencing Turkish wines, this Muscat would be the second (both of them white) Turkish wine that I would characterize as a world-class libation (Narince is first).