Just a couple of weeks after the unsuccessful coup attempt against Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government and at a time when he has imposed greater restrictions on the sale of alcohol, a remarkable tasting of Turkish wines took place in London. Astoundingly, the administration provided the majority of the funding—a sign, perhaps, that even the Erdog˘an administration knows the potential value of the wine export market for Turkey.
The tasting was organised by Isa Bal, the resourceful and independently-minded head sommelier at The Fat Duck restaurant. He had been planning a tasting of Turkish wines before the attempted coup and in the aftermath convinced producers that there was no better time to reach a sympathetic international audience. He was right.
Wines from several regions were on offer, some influenced by the Aegean and the Mediterranean, others by the continental Anatolian plateau. Quality was uniformly high, but what provided the greatest pleasure was the opportunity to taste some novel flavours along with some old favourites. Chief among the latter, and a clear contender for the category of interesting white wines, are the dry, amber coloured wines made from Narince, a native Anatolian grape variety. In the right hands, it produces wines with strong citrus notes, Sémillon-like oiliness, steely acidity and a waxy finish suggesting the pith of an orange. Like Hungary’s dry Furmint, which it partly resembles, it opens up a new flavour range to savour just before dinner, as appetite quickens.
The expressions of Narince on offer went from good to very good. Vinkara’s 2014 Narince was refreshing; while the Nodus 2013 Narince, whose grapes were grown in Güney at an altitude of 750 metres, was mouthwatering, thought it was perhaps showing just a little too much oak. Kavaklıdere, one of the most renowned estates, produced a prestige cuvee in 2014 with grapes from Cappadocia. The single variety wine is fermented in French oak barrels and spends a further seven months maturing with plenty of bâtonage, or lees stirring in the barrel, to give it a rich character.
The reds were made mainly from Öküzgözü or Bog˘azkere, or a blend of the two; or from the lighter, Kalecik Karası. The latter is like Pinot Noir, while Bog˘azkere’s tannins are reminiscent of Nebbiolo at one end of the scale and Uruguyan Tannat at the other. Öküzgözü, however, provides its own distinctive range of cherry flavours. It was the Sevilen estate and their blending of Öküzgözü and Bog˘azkere that was the show-stopper. An elegant wine with a slightly austere old-world character of marzipan seamlessly accompanyed by cherry fruit.
Kavaklıdere also produces an Öküzgözü-Bog˘azkere blend, but it is the single varieties of each from their Pendore vineyards near Manisa, two hours from Izmir, that show best the potential and will help you to fix their distinctive flavours in the mind. Their very drinkable Kalecik Karası could make a lovely summer red and could be easily enjoyed without food.
On the Aegean coast, Kavaklıdere grow grapes for their international blends: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Their attempts are pretty successful, but the experiments with Cabernet Franc are much more promising. The grape, so well understood in the Loire and in Bordeaux, has started to show more in the vineyards above the Napa Valley, in the south of Brazil and now in Turkey, where wine originally made for blending may now be reserved to make wines of promise. Despite many obstacles, the signs—oenological and administrative—look propitious.