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After a road trip like no other, taking in many of the best of Turkey’s burgeoning wineries, Kevin Gould and the Cornucopia tasting panel raise a glass (or several) and recommend the best of an impressive bunch
THE RETURN OF THE NATIVES
After decades of planting European vines, winemakers are now excelling with indigenous grape varieties. Hot regions around the world could take a leaf out of Turkey’s book, says Kevin Gould
When we die, our lives pass into fiction as others give their varying accounts of us. Attempting to manage our legacies is fruitless: we will be remembered not as we intend, but as others wish.
But in vino veritas. Winemaking takes place mostly in the vineyard. Carefully grown grapes can make a bad wine, but poor grapes will never make a good one. When we taste a wine we are tasting the place it came from, transliterated by the skill, sensitivities – and ego – of the winemaker. When grapes are crushed, a great winemaker allows their juice to live, and its stories to develop and multiply. In its wine glass, the fruit of the land – pressed, fermented, aged and bottled – retails its stories to our senses and our minds. Thus the job of the taster is simple. It is not cleverly to analyse the wine’s flavours, as that is an exercise in futility. You suggest “raspberry notes” and I suggest that “raspberry” means ten different things to ten different people, and that its “notes” make it more, say, redcurrant, which in turn suggests ten different ideas of what a redcurrant does or does not taste of.
There are two schools of winemaking, as there are in cooking. In the first, the winemaker/cook takes ingredients and teaches them a damned good lesson, manipulating them into some vision of how Nature should express herself. I admit to finding this method boring, old-fashioned, insolent and conceited. Wines and dishes made this way may be intellectually interesting but are an elaborate fiction.
The second school takes the best of what there is, and does as little as possible in order for those ingredients to achieve their highest potential. Making food or wine this way requires respect, sensitivity, great skill and confidence. The intention is to honour, and not to subordinate the ingredients. There is great complexity in this simplicity, and great luxury in it, too. The trend in Turkey is now to make wines in this way.
I have been honoured over the past 35 years to taste some excellent Turkish wines – and more than a few horrors, too. As a Turcophile, I admit to wanting to like Turkish wines; as a wine lover, I am duty-bound to call out bad winemaking whenever I taste it.
The Turkish wine industry has certainly come a long way. The Neolithic settlements at Çatalhüyük and Göbeklitepe prove that wine has been made and drunk in Anatolia since at least 10,000 BC. Add to this history the widely accepted fact that the area around southeast Turkey is where vitis vinifera, the grape that has colonised the world and its wine glasses, was first grown. The Hittites and Phrygians loved a drop of it, and wines have been made here continuously, by Turks and non-Turks, ever since. As they should: Turkey is the world’s fourth-largest grower of grapes.
When I first started tasting in Turkey, winemaking was caught in the one-handed grip of the state monopoly Tekel, apparently made by people who had either never tasted the real stuff, or who had and hated it. Inevitably in this diverse, dynamic and contrary country, courageous and often wildly gifted individuals and corporations have driven the wine industry forward. The journey has not always been linear. But the direction is forward, and Turkish winemaking now deserves its place in the world’s wine glasses. There are challenges – and more international awards – ahead. And as anybody who knows anything about Turkey knows, these will only add to Turkish resolve.
In the 1990s, and led by the late, lamented Güven Nil of Sarafin wines, there was a rush towards planting European grape varieties. Many of these made good – and some great – wines. European and American experts were (and are) employed to bring Turkey up to speed on vine and clone selection, viticulture techniques and winemaking. This phase may now be coming to an end. While the local market may be learning to appreciate the virtues of a Turkish Cabernet Sauvignon, Turkey’s winemakers must also look to export markets to secure future growth. As such, a Turkish Cab Sav will have to compete with Cab Savs from South America, Europe, Australasia and China. In this competition, the consumer is the only winner, as increased supply and choice drive down prices. And because Turkey’s generally hot (for winemaking) climate means that European varietals usually clock in with high sugar and therefore high alcohol, pleasing, ageable acidity is in short supply.
So it is with pleasure and relief that I can report that the lessons learned from growing international grape varieties are being transferred to Turkey’s historical native grapes. The very best wines we tasted for Cornucopia were made with indigenous grapes. Where once Öküzgözü made a thin and tart wine, we found brilliant, rich, complex versions that would grace any dinner table. With her patrimonial grapes and unique terroirs, Turkey will be differentiated, special, sought after.
Another pleasure was to meet young Turkish winemakers who are making fresh, exciting, brave wines. That some of these are women only adds to Turkey’s potential to become a force in international winemaking. In moving away from following others to following its own star, Turkey’s destiny may well be to lead the way for other hot-climate winemakers. As ever, the country’s future is tied to its past.
Were there a strong, internationally minded marketing body for all Turkish wines, its next step would be to delineate five or six Appellation areas to promote both quality and consumer recognition.
For this survey of Turkish winemaking our editor suggested a winery road trip, followed by a comprehensive tasting in Istanbul. The road trip would start around Izmir and meander tipsily north, turning right at Gallipoli before reaching Istanbul via Thrace. It would have been churlish to refuse…
ON THE ROAD
By good luck rather than good judgement, the Cornucopia road trip included visits to a representative cross-section of Turkish winemakers. Our tasting notes from each winery are included in The Cornucopia Wine Tasting in Cornucopia 56
URLA The 2 Rooms (2roomshotel.com) is the swanky B&B above Urla’s shiny high-tech gravity-fed winery (urlasarapcilik.com.tr). I am in one room, gazing out over a dramatic droplet-shaped vineyard to the pine-hairy hills beyond. These are studded with stately wind turbines turning in lazy harmony. Among the vines, a white sculpture of boots represents the population exchanges of 90 years ago that removed the region’s Greek winemakers, the descendants of Ionians who made wine here for at least two millennia.
Here’s Can (pronounced Jan) Ortabaş, whose family came from Crete – a man with a vision and with no time to waste. “I was a rich guy before I started making wine,” he smiles, Villiger cigar in hand. “And now I’m a happy man.” Can sees himself as a farmer, and his duty as remembering and reviving the culture of winemaking in Urla’s kind climate.
Can is in the vanguard of Turkish oenotourism, and conceived and constructed the Urla Bağ Yolu (Urla Vineyard Route), where visitors from Izmir, Alaçatı, Çeşme and far beyond taste at eight local wineries. Eighty thousand of them came to Urla last year, and Can sells 35 per cent of his boutique-sized production direct to them.
There’s a constant and well-dressed procession of them through his airy, modern room for tutored tastings. We taste with Hasan Deniz, Urla’s young Margaret River-trained winemaker. Nearly every wine we taste includes some indigenous varieties: Can has been energetic and diligent in identifying local grapes. “This peninsula the wine report is the site of 12 Ionian cities,” he offers, “and even 100 years ago it produced 72 million litres of wine.” (Turkey today makes 60 million litres.) “I visited every village on the peninsula and tasted over 60 varieties before finding our own native grape, Urla Karası.” This grape (along with Can) gets its own mention in Wine Grapes, the magisterial bible by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz.
Can drives us around his vineyards, where we unearth Ionian amphorae and thousand-year-old terracing, and see his horticultural nursery with its 800-year-old olive trees. As we leave Urla, more thirsty tourists turn up for their tutored tastings…
The journey continues to Sevilen, Taşköy, Corvus, Suvla and Chamlija… The Cornucopia Wine Tasting is held at the Adahan, with the generous assistance of Wines of Turkey.
NOTES AND LINKS
TURKISH WINES AROUND THE WORLD
In time for the Festive Season, the Cornucopia Market Place has started offering Turkish wine. First up are some fabulous wines by Chamlija, Paşaeli and Selendi, now available to readers in the UK. Allow two days for delivery.
For a full list of wine producers and international distributors, click here
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