Grape Expectations

Turkey’s new wines call for celebration. Kevin Gould meets a happy wineseller

Wine is now the most popular alcoholic drink on the planet, says Esat Ayhan, “and we in Turkey are benefiting from this positive wind”. Owner for the past twenty-two years of a fashionable Cihangir şarküteri stocking everything from De Cecco pasta to bacon and pate, Esat Bey took the opportunity four years ago to expand its renowned La Cave wine section into an entire floor devoted to the grape.

Wines are now stacked skirting-to-cornice – there are 40,000 bottles in stock, of which only five per cent are imported, the rest being consigned from sixty Anatolian producers who between them contribute 250 brands. “Ten, even five years ago, this enterprise would not have been possible,” reflects Ayhan, nursing a glass of Pamukkale Shiraz and pulling on a stogie. “Turkey’s associate membership of the EU, along with positive press support, has given impetus to the wine-making industry.” Esat Bey also cites the ground-breaking furrows ploughed by Giiven Nil and Ahmet Kutman at Sarafin (see Cornucopia 24): “They opened everyone’s eyes to what could be achieved in Turkish wine.”

Sarafin’s marriage of local micro-climates with modern grape varieties and French barrelling was the starting point for other fashionable wines from such makers as Giiler Sabançı, whose chic G brand Cabernet Merlot and elegant Sangiovese vie for space on La Cave’s shelves with equally trendy bottles from the Pamukkale Winery, as well as old-stagers from Kavakhdere and various members of the Kutman family. For all of them, the Turkish wine revolution has meant smart new wine styles, labels and caps, and a renewed vigour for wine education and product marketing. In education, Doluca is leading the way, operating a tir-buşon diploma for sommeliers and amateurs alike. Cellar-door visits and winery tours are offered at its Müirefte facility, and at that of Pamukkale Winery in Denizli.

The charge that Turkey is merely aping European and US wine-drinking fashions is firmly refuted by Esat Ayhan. “We have an ancient, deep-rooted connection to viniculture that goes back to pre-Byzantium times. Also, every well-built Ottoman mansion in this area had a purpose-built wine store.” Plus ça change: today the home accessory most demanded by Turkey’s nouveaux riches is a built-in humidity and-temperature-controlled cellar.

The days of doddery scions of Ottoman families visiting Esat Bey’s emporium are numbered, as most of his customers now are from the university-educated middle classes. “It makes me happy,” he smiles, “that wine-and not rakı - is their drink of choice.” This is not to say that La Cave sells only wine. A huge stock of whiskies is maintained, not to mention other spirits. Even fortified wines make an appearance, most notably in Küp’s extraordinary cherry wine, a rich, smooth mouthful that delivers sweet cherry flavour, but also complex notes of wild thyme and dried mint.

La Cave also features regular samplings of the wine-maker’s art, an interest in which need not be expensive: prices start at a modest TL3 million ($1.50) for a brash number from Tekel and rise to about TL100 million ($50) for an imported champagne. Wine investors are also catered for. A small stock of French vintage wines serves canny buyers, who can pick up a Margaux ‘83, say, or an ‘86 Chateau Latour at a fraction of the prices they might command in Paris or London.

No such market yet exists to any great extent in Turkish wines, although Esat Ayhan points to Sarafin’s Merlot and Külüp’s Boğazkere as demonstrating craft, fruit and style enough to merit laying down for a few years. Turkish labels have yet to achieve the legendary status accorded to the best European wines, but in La Cave there exists at last the venue to exhibit the fruits of an ancient industry, recently reborn.

La Cave, Sıraselviler Caddesi 109, Cihangir/Beyoglu, Istanbul.
Tel +90-212 243 2405 / 0532 414 1584 lacave@lacavesarap.com

Food writer Kevin Gould is the author of ‘Loving and Cooking with Reckless Abandon’ (Quadrille) and ‘Dishy’ (Hodder & Stoughton).

Other Highlights from Cornucopia 27
  • The Platonic Bowl

    The pots of Alev Ebuzziya Siesbye have an ideal serenity and timeless beauty, as visitors to her retrospective in Istanbul have discovered. But their cool simplicity belies the passion that goes into creating them. Alistair McAlpine met the artist in Paris.

  • Drama in the Round

    Robert Ousterhout, who fell in love with the Kariye Camii, the Church of the Chora, 25 years ago. Here he makes an impassioned case for preserving this 14th-century masterpiece.

  • Travels with Turhan

    Brian Mathew pays tribute to the late Turhan Baytop, Turkey’s pre-eminent botanist

  • Fine fast food

    Most fast food is heavy, greasy and bad for your health. Güllaç pancakes, by contrast, are beautiful organza-thin leaves, light as a feather and made from the simplest ingredients. What’s more, they keep for an age. Berrin Torolsan sees the best gullaç in the making

  • Parallel Lives

    Both were ambitious men with a penchant for poetry who suffered extremes of fortune. David Barchard charts the ties between two dominant figures in nineteenth-century Turkey, the British Ambassador Stratford Canning, and the Ottoman sultan Mahmut II

  • Beaufort’s Hunt

    Francis Beaufort’s epic 1812 survey of Turkey’s southern coast and its classical sites sparked a European treasure hunt. It also very nearly cost him his life. By Nicholas Courtney with photgraphs by Kate Clow and James Mortimer

  • Wish you were here

    Max Fruchtermann (1852 –1918) was the publisher who took the postcard to Turkey and thereby took Turkey to the world. His cards sold by the million. Mert Sandalcı – historian, archivist and librettist – has assembled thousands of these cards into three mammoth volumes. Elizabeth Meath Baker leafs through their pages.

  • The Birth of the Big Apple

    Wild apples, with their pink or white blossom in spring, are still a common sight in Turkey. They are collected in the autumn, when they ripen, and preserved for winter.
    More cookery features

Buy the issue
Issue 27, 2002 Sublime Simplicity
£12.00 / $16.18 / 56.63 TL