Just over half of all Turkish wine comes from the Aegean region. Within reach of Izmir, the region’s capital, there are plenty of producers, large and small. On a self-drive wine tour you can take in major archaeological sites such as Ephesus and Aphrodisias, top attractions like the Pamukkale hot springs, pretty Aegean villages and of course some world-class wines. Allow a few days, but at a relaxed pace the trip could easily fill more.
A fine restaurant named after Isa Güner, the founder of Sevilen vineyards, awaits visitors to the winery in Menderes, just by Izmir airport. It is a convenient first stop on a self-drive wine tour of the Aegean. Call ahead to be sure of a table for lunch in the lush and shady garden.
Sevilen have another vineyard in Ortaklar, a short sprint down the motorway towards Aydin, near Ephesus and The Muses House boutique hotel – one of the best in the area (open April-October).
Take the old Aydın road via Torbalı and LA Wines. Formerly known as Idol, their output is now much improved under the guidance of Lucien Arkas, from whose initials the vineyard takes its current name. A bottle of LA Wines’ 2010 Chardonnay / Chenin Blanc blend Mon Rêve is, well, dreamy. For Cornucopia’s wine writer Kevin Gould it is ‘the sort of dream that finds you in a bee-loud bowered garden, with scents of sweet flowers (gardenia and jasmine) and warm cut grass’. Rather than carry straight on towards Ephesus from here, you might like to bear inland from Torbalı and explore the wonderfully pretty villages of Tire and Birgi around Ödemiş.
After the obligatory visit to Ephesus, drive inland through Aydın, turn right after Guyucak and visit spectacular Aphrodisas, near the village of Geyre. You can then approach the large town of Denizli from the south, and quickly carry on to the famous hot springs of Pamukkale. There are touristic hotels nearby, but you might be better off finding a small pansyon elsewhere.
The next section of driving involves a climb up to Güney, on its high plateau. Here at Pamukkale’s winery you’ll taste the difference produced by the continental climate this far inland, compared to the more maritime wines you were drinking nearer the coast. Sevilen also have another vineyard here. A diversion via Kula throws into the mix some volcanic cones, thermal springs and pretty Ottoman houses.
The wine trail continues after Salihli and the ancient Lydian capital of Sardis, with Turgutlu, home to a vineyard belonging to big brand Kavaklidere, and much-improved old name Yazgan, in the nearby vilage of Çepnidere. Yazgan’s Mahra is a clever combination of Sauvingon Blanc and indigenous Sultaniye.
Then it is back to Izmir, and about halfway along the Çeşme / Alaçatı peninsular is Urla, a perfect town for a fish lunch and home to a young boutique winery with very grown-up premises. Do not leave without tasting their 2010 blend of Nero D’Avla with Urla Karası – a local variety of the more widespread Karacık Karası, Turkey’s very own black grape. Pick up a bottle and find a beach to drink it on with some barbecued red meat at sunset.
There are car-hire firms to suit every budget at Izmir airport, which is served by a number of domestic and international airlines.
It is generally advisable to call ahead and let vineyards know you are coming. Tell them Cornucopia sent you.