The Best of a Classy Bunch

In a decade of monitoring Turkey’s burgeoning wine industry, Kevin Gould has never been more impressed. He and the Cornucopia tasting team enthusiastically sampled this year’s top bottles and nominated their favourites

Now that my eldest son has his first job – on Savile Row, no less – I look at him and think a) how smart he is, b) how lucky I am, and c) how very quickly he has grown up. At a recent tasting of today’s Turkish wines, I experienced exactly the same emotions. It seems only months ago that I was moaning about poor quality, inconsistent winemaking, complacent marketing and a sad lack of innovation and verve.

Re-reading my notes, I see that almost a decade has passed, during which there has been a consistently upward trend towards more drinkable, more interesting and more relevant wines. In a tasting of 43 wines there was, inevitably, the odd stinker, but the majority were good or very good, and some wines were downright excellent. Of particular note are two new wineries from Thrace whose wines, especially their whites, are well priced, well presented and utterly wonderful.

Our crack Cornucopia tasting team focused hard (and drank lustily) to bring you this report, which lists our favourites, in the order in which we drank them.

The Cornucopia Selection

WHITE

Amadeus 2011
Tekirdağ, Thrace
Maçka Winery TL75
Sauvignon Blanc
This grape’s aromas of exotic fruits can be overpowering and cloying. Made near Tekirdağ, on the northern shore of the Sea of Marmara, Amadeus smells initially as you might expect of a Sauvignon Blanc, but this unoaked wine is balanced by excellent acidity, which means it makes you both smile and long for another sip.

Finesse Gris 2011
Kirklareli, Northern Thrace
Arcadia Winery TL25
Sauvignon Gris/Pinot Gris
Sauvignon Gris is not really known for its heft or for the excitement that it can bring to a wine – it is normally used as a blending grape. Most of us know Pinot Gris better as Pinot Grigio. In Italian hands, Grigio is often lean, sharp and slightly spritzy. But in Arcadia’s hands, these two come together in a happy, if unusual, marriage of 80 percent Sauvignon Gris, 20 percent Pinot Gris. This wine tastes of clear, zesty tangerines and drunk by itself it might become wearing, but paired with spicy, strong flavours (I’m thinking of scallops with chilli jam, or perhaps black-pepper crab here), Finesse Gris is a winner.

Voignier 2011
Küçükkariştiran vineyard, Thrace
Chamlija Winery TL85
Voignier
One of the most exciting winemakers that Turkey has produced in the past decade: a star is born in Mustafa Çamlıca. This wine, which has spent nine months in new French oak, is serious, restrained and sophisticated. Mustafa Bey’s daughter is a noted artist, and her colourful work adorns the winery’s labels.

Strandja Chardonnay 2011
Strandja vineyard, Thrace
Chamlija Winery TL85
Chardonnay
A posy of chamomile on the nose, and then this fresh, lively, perky wine fairly skips along… and along, and along. A delicious Chardonnay that deftly avoids the fat, flabby butteriness that so many of its namesakes suffer from.

RED

Terra Beyaz 2011
Denizli, Aegean
Kayra Winery TL106
Kalecik Karası
This fruity, easy-going grape is one of the jewels in Turkey’s crown. In the wrong hands (or given too little sun) it can produce somewhat tart wines, which is why it’s also popular as a blending grape. This undemanding but rewarding wine tastes of warm, soft sunshine.

Anfora 2009
Denizli, Aegean
Sevilen Winery TL67.50
Merlot
Having spent 18–20 months in oak barrels, this big, tough wine seemed hard going at first. But after 15 minutes in the glass it started to soften, revealing itself as an impressive, mouthwatering wine that would stand up well to grilled lamb. Anfora would benefit from being decanted.

Istranca 2011
Strandja vineyard, Thrace
Chamlija Winery TL85
Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Malbec/ Petit Verdot
This is Mustafa Çamlıca’s Bordeaux blend of 40 percent Merlot, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Cabernet Franc, 8 percent Malbec and 8 percent Petit Verdot. And if that all sounds just a bit boring to you, the result most definitely is not. This new wine from a new winemaker is an incredibly assured drop that is not only well-priced but of stellar quality. My sense is that its structure and acidity will allow Istranca to age for a decade or more. Buy it if you see it, or live to regret it.

Evreshe 2010
Gelibolu
Gali Winery TL43
Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc
This is only the second year of production for this winery. The owner, Hakan Kavur, is an admirer of the grands vins of Bordeaux, and has made a concerted effort to produce international-quality wines. The result here is far more interesting than many a mid-range Bordeaux. Get past the early tannins (which will anyway soften with age) to find a glass of delicious, complex unoaked wine that refreshes the palate and excites the mind.

Gali 2010
Gelibolu,
Gali Winery TL35
Merlot/Cabernet Franc
Again, classy winemaking from Gali. Initially the green vanilla of sweet, new oak dominates (it spent four months in new barrels). But wait: lying underneath is a quietly insistent background of minerality that gives Gali interest, and the sense that this wine will continue to develop. Impressive, indeed.

Vourla 2010
Aegean
Urla Winery TL29
Sauvignon/Merlot/Syrah/Boğazkere
By itself, Boğazkere can be a tough drink. But here, in this blend of international varieties it adds interest, depth and structure. This wine is like one of those romantic first dates where you only get to hold hands, but each moment is a thrill. A teasing, romantic number that grabs and keeps your interest with the promise of more to come. One for the winter months and a good book.

Mahrem Tannat 2010
Urla, Aegean
Mozaik Winery TL28.90
Tannat
If you’ve ever tasted a Madiran wine from the French Basque country, you’ve tasted the Tannat grape. Madirans are powerful, robust (often rather chewy) wines that age well. Mozaik have given this 18 months of (French and American) oak, but while I wasn’t really aware of distinctively different oaky flavours in the glass, I did encounter a wine that’s a great quaffer, the kind of unpretentious vin de pays that you feel is a real find.

Cru Turk 2006
Bozcaada (Tenedos), Aegean
Corvus Winery TL30
Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Syrah/Cabernet Franc
This daddy balances power, finesse, fruit and length. Given time in a decanter and then in the glass, its aromas progress from woods and salty winds through to warm, toasted spices – allspice and cinnamon especially. Every mouthful seems to reveal new flavours and nuances. It’s no surprise Cru Turk wins so many international awards. A stupendous, narcotic wine.

Special thanks to Taner Öğütoğlu of Wines of Turkey for calling in these wines for us to taste. www.winesofturkey.com
Kevin Gould is a cook, writer and traveller.
He is writing a biography of Chateau Musar; realfood@dishy.net.
He flew to Istanbul from London Stansted by Pegasus Airlines. Return fares from £100

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Buy the issue
Issue 50, Autumn 2013 Istanbul Unwrapped: The Sultan’s City
£12.00 / $15.97 / 62.60 TL