Turkey, Winemaker Profiles

Bazaar not Bizarre: Modern Turkish Wine

A mark of intelligence is how to answer stupid questions in a smart way. And before I went to this year’s London International Wine Fair, I had many stupid questions about Turkish wine.
Are Islamic countries allowed to make and sell alcohol? Is it going to be rough traditional wine that will give me headache? Can you buy wine in restaurants there? Where is this wine drunk? How do you even pronounce the grape? Is it a grape or a style of wine?
Yes, all stupid questions. In response, the Turkish wines represented at LIWF answered them all smartly (and patiently). Unlike some other country’s stands at LIWF, I did not have one sigh from the patient people at the Turkish stand. It would have been fair to answer my ignorance like this:
Yes. We do. Make wine. In Turkey. And they’d be forgiven. Look at a map, will you: Turkey is the crossroads between the ancient birth place of wine, Syria, and Europe. Turkey has been making wines for hundreds of years. There are nearly 1500 native varieties, nearly, but not quite, as many as in Italy.
But not one person rolled their eyes. Even as I blindly tried to pronounce the Turkish grape names…
Turkish wines have great names. But they are almost unpronounceable to most English speakers. The translations are brilliant. The name that caught my imagination the most, the native variety, Kaleck Karesi, means “black grape from the small castle.”
The Rose made from Keleck Karesi was fresh but profound, like the colour of rosehip tea.
At first, the names were a little bizarre to me, but really, the wines are Bazaar, and of the fashionable Harper’s kind rather than traditional Turkish market.
What makes these wines modern is the freshness of the acidity. Some traditional wines can plod along. Again, here I had my ignorance gazumped: Modern Turkish wines are driven by fresh acidity, partly due to modern winemaker’s decision to use only 0-10% of oak.
See contemporary winemakers such as Asli Odman, a woman who trained in Bordeaux with one of my favourite winemakers, Denis Dubourdieu, are the new Turkish vanguard, making world class wines in small quantities from traditional grapes such as Okuzgozu and Bogazkere, as well as traditional French grapes such as Syrah. These are serious wines.
I asked Asli, what’s the hardest thing about making wine in Turkey? Again, I expected something about being a woman winemaker in a remote Islamic countryside. Or how some Islamic grape growers won’t sell directly if they know the grapes will be used to make alcohol. The predictable answer. Interestingly, Asli responded, the hardest thing about producing wine in Turkey is there is not a strong culture of drinking wine with food in the restaurants.
Which is a shame, because I couldn’t think of anything better than her Pendore Okuzgozu, a red wine from the grape Okuzgozu, with a plate of Felafel and more. Matured in stainless steel vats, it’s the freshness of the wines that make it very attractive and more-ish, especially with food.
So thank you wines from Turkey, my ignorance was answered with freshness, humour and transparency at London International Wine Fair, which just shows how intelligent the modern wines really are coming out of Turkey.

Image: Anne Polaskenski, Turkish Delight: Çintamani Obliteration, 2008, 16 x 16 inches, C-print and gouache on paper.