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The bunch of Narince grapes Ali Riza Diren is holding in his Anatolian vineyard (illustrated in this vintage issue of Cornucopia) is the raw material of a well kept secret. Tokat’s is an ancient wine, and its production was revived by Ali Riza’s father, to the delight of ambassadors and the approval of a Sotheby’s connoisseur.
Serena Sutcliffe, head of the wine department of Sotheby’s and doyenne of London wine experts, was asked by Cornucopia to sample two bottles of wine from Tokat. One was a white 1990 Vadi, the other a red 1993 Karmen.
Her verdict on the demi-sec Vadi was: “Nice fresh nose, a lot of sweetness. Sweetness balanced by a lot of fruit. Very well-made when you consider it is now six years old. Sweet by our standards.” Of the red Karmen she said: “Fragrant, cherryish nose. Soft, easy and palatable to drink. Attractive. Could possibly have had a bit more concentration - were the yields very high? Very pleasant, fruity and attractive.”
Tokat, home to some of Turkey’s best wine, has been the closely guarded secret of both Turkish and foreign diplomats. The wine is rarely seen in even the best Istanbul delicatessens, yet it appears in many a Republic Day celebration in Turkish embassies around the world, as well as on ambassadors’ tables in Ankara.
It was Vasfi Diren, the father of the present owners of the Dimes food group, who revived the ancient art of wine making in Tokat in 1958. The wine was produced at home with a single hand-press. Diren’s eight children, together with their neighbours, helped out and there was only one full-time workman.
While wine production generates only a fraction of the food group’s annual turnover of more than $10 million, it has nevertheless reached 1.2 million litres a year. Vasfi Diren died in a car accident in 1985, but wine making is continued by his children. Orhan, who studied in Dijon for four years, is a qualified taster of the Institut Technique du Vin, Ali Riza is a German-trained beverage technologist and Erol is the administrator. They have inherited their father’s spectacular determination and inventiveness.
Turkey has the world’s fifth largest land area under vine but most of it is used to supply table grapes and sultanas. Weaning growers off what one expert describes as “atavistic habits” is an essential task.
The Narince grapes used in the two white wines, the naturally sweet Vadi and the dry Dörtnal, are grown locally in vineyards overlooking the town, and the Direns are able to keep close control. The red Karmen is made with a blend of Öküzgözü and Boğazkere grapes, less easy to inspect as they grow best in the valleys of Elazığ, 400 kilometres to the south, though great care is taken that the journey is made in the cool of the night.
For stockists, contact Dimes, Tokat. Tel (0356) 214 9160, fax (0356) 214 0531
The Mosque of Esrefoğlu in Beyşehır, is one of the most beautiful in Anatolia. Built in 1298, it recalls earlier Central Asian traditions. Wooden columns with carved capitals support the splendid roof.
Tracing the history of this beautiful fruit is like reading a fairy tale. It spans continents and cultures like no other fruit, from its presumed natural habitat in the foothills of the Himalayas to the scented paradise gardens of the eastern Mediterranean and the orange groves of California.
More cookery features
High on the central Anatolian plateau, the craggy undulations of Cappadocia’s volcanic landscape conceal a silent world: countless Byzantine sancturies and cathedrals lovingly hollowed from the rock. David Barchard finds two valleys undisturbed since the Dark Ages. Photographs by Sigurd Kranendonk
Amasya, Tokat and Merzifon were once on the trade routes to China, centres of scholarship and commerce. Today they are secluded enclaves of traditional pleasures. John Carswell enjoys a feast of delicate architecture and heady wines. Photographs by Simon Upton
Hidden among the concrete blocks of Teşvikiye is a magnificent mansion riddled with mystery. Masquerading as a Venetian palazzo, Tozan House has disappearing passages, secret stairs and eccentricities it shares with its creator
When Mike Read, the plant conservation officer for Fauna and Flora International (FFI), uncovered a large illegal trade in wild bulbs from Turkey in the 1980s, he and his colleagues were greatly concerned…
The finest school of sculpture in all antiquity was in Aphrodisias. Above the valleys of the Meander in Turkey’s Aegean hinterland, this favourite city of the Emperor Augustus remained largely unknown until the photographer Ara Güler brought it to the attention of the Princeton scholar Kenan T Erim in 1959. Here Ara Güler returns to the city and John Julius Norwich recalls Professor Erim and his first impressions of the sculptures that took his breath away.
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