A Quick Guide to Turkish Wine

Turkey’s winemaking heritage dates back nearly 7,000 years and its contemporary wine culture continues to evolve. While some of the world’s oldest known grape varieties in production are grown here, in recent years low domestic consumption and a 2013 law banning the advertising and marketing of wine or spirits have led many Turkish wine producers to focus on the export market.

Those wishing to explore Turkish wine can delve into its distinctive native grape varieties, regions of cultivation, and complex economic, cultural, and socio-political histories.

Mardin, Turkey/Getty

The history of Turkish wine

Archaeological remains show that grape cultivation began in the Tigris-Euphrates valley of modern Turkey in the fifth millennium BCE and continued through the Hatti, Hittite, Phrygian, Greek and Roman cultures. Winemaking continued throughout the Ottoman Empire, which lasted around 700 years until its dissolution in 1922. During the Ottoman period, production was often carried out by non-Muslim communities in the countryincluding those of Greek or Armenian descent.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as phylloxera ravaged European vineyards, demand for wine unaffected by the plague increased. Exports of Turkish wines to Europe amounted to 340 million liters in 1904, a figure significantly higher than the 75 million liters the country currently produces each year.

From 1920 to 1924, Turkey briefly banned the sale, production, import, and consumption of all alcohol. This period lasted four years until the United States’ seven-year Prohibition; but, like the American experience, its impact endures. During this same period, Ottoman rule ended and the new Turkish Republic was formed.

Grapes to know

Currently, Turkey is one of the largest grape producers in the world, although many are eaten as table grapes or raisins. About 30 of Turkey’s 800 native grape varieties are vinified in commercial quantities.

Kalacik Karasi Turkish Wine Grapes
Kalacik Karasi grapes at Vinkara Winery, Turkey / Courtesy of Vinkara

The most cultivated red grape variety in Turkey, Öküzgözü is at its best when made with very little or no oak. Much of it is grown at high altitudes, where cooler nights help it retain high acidity. Its name means “bull’s eye” in Turkish, and its black cherry, pomegranate, lavender, chocolate and bramble flavors are ideal for young, easy-drinking red wines.

Named after his hometown in Anatolia, Kalecik Karasi means “black of Kalecik”. One of the most widely grown grapes in the country, it can produce elegant and complex red wines with aromas of strawberries, cherries, black pepper and cloves with a hint of icing sugar.

Originally grown in ancient Mesopotamia, Bogazkere its name means “throat burner”. Its powerful tannins and moderate acidity give red wines to age. Although it is often mixed with Öküzgözü, monovarietal versions are increasingly popular. Expect flavors of blackberry, raspberry and dark cherry with accents of mocha, anise and baking spice.

Narince, pronounced nar-een-jah, translates into English as “delicately”. The most widely grown white grape variety in Turkey, it has a medium body and good acidity. It has flavors of lemon, grapefruit and pineapple intertwined with floral notes. Narince leaves are often used to make dolma, stuffed vine leaves.

In addition to these native grape varieties and others, Turkey also produces many international varieties, including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Red blends are very popular and rosé is gaining ground.

Turkish wine Tina Lino
Tina Lino, winemaker at Buradan Winery, Cesme, Turkey / Courtesy of Buradan Winery

Turkish wine regions

There is no official appellation system in Turkey, which is divided into relatively large wine regions. To the west, the Aegean coast benefits from proximity to the sea. It has a Mediterranean climate, while further inland elevations reach up to 2,500 feet in a more continental climate. The Aegean region is home to around half of the country’s approximately 150 wine producers.

The second largest region is Marmara, which holds around 30% of the country’s vineyards and wineries. This region is surrounded by the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Marmara and enjoys a cool continental climate.

Anatolia is divided into northern, southern and central sub-regions. The Tigris-Euphrates Valley is centered here, and the region is home to mostly native grapes like Boğazkere and Emir.

Turkish Wine Kavaklidere Vineyard
Kavaklıdere vineyards in western Turkey / Getty

The Modern Turkish Wine Industry

According to some sources, 80% of contemporary Turks do not drink alcohol. The national average of wine consumption is estimated at one liter per person per year, compared to 40 for Italians.

The decline in domestic consumption is partly due to regulations introduced under Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gül in 2003 and enforced by his successor, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A teetotaler, Erdoğan said that the national drink of the country is not local beer, wine or raki, but rather ayran, a non-alcoholic yoghurt drink. Policies adopted and maintained during Erdoğan’s presidency have limited the advertising, marketing and sale of beer, wine and spirits in Turkey.

Turkish wine Turgay Gumus
Turgay Gümüş, owner of Buradan Winery in Cesme, Turkey / Courtesy of Buradan Winery

Turgay Gümüş, owner of Buradan, a winery in Çeşme, a resort town on Turkey’s Aegean coast, says marketing restrictions put in place in 2013 remain one of the biggest challenges for contemporary winemakers to reach the steps. “The main [hurdle] are the restrictions on marketing programs related to sales of alcoholic beverages, including wine,” says Gümüş. “The impact of these restrictions is very heavy on ‘new’ producers like us, who may also have a unique story or style to promote.”

Buradan winemaker, Italian Tina Lino, feels challenged by the lack of intergenerational winemaking traditions and “high-level training courses for the study of oenology,” she says. “There are only three para-university schools with many educational limitations and very few students, which means that most winemakers in Turkey have been trained abroad or are foreigners like me.”

Two of Turkey’s best-known winemakers today are fellow countryman Marco Monchiero, who makes wine in Vinkara, and Frenchman Stéphane Derenoncourt, who consults in Kavaklidere.

Turkish Wine Vinkara Vineyard
Vinkara Winery, Turkey / Courtesy of Vinkara

How to find Turkish wine

Until recently, wines from Turkey could be hard to find in the United States. In addition to some wineries exporting their own bottles, New York-based importer House of Burgundy (HOB) currently imports 20 brands of 10 different Turkish producers. It distributes them in 25 states.

“Over the past three years, we have seen a significant growth in interest in Turkish wines,” says Lillian Lai, Vice President of HOB. “The wines previously on the market were mainly available in Turkish restaurants. Today, with more Mediterranean-style restaurants opening in the northeast, there is more room for Turkish wines in a wider range of wine programs and greater visibility.

Marco Monchiero Turkish Wines
Marco Monchiero, winemaker at Vinkara (left) and Vinkara Vineyards (right) / Courtesy of Vinkara

Some American sommeliers and wine managers also want to serve more Turkish wines in restaurants.

“The New York market offers a range of wines from around the world, but Turkey is still very underrepresented,” says Amy Racine, beverage director for New York-based JF Restaurants, whose properties include IRIS and The Loyal. . “It was exciting to bring them to customers who are also hungry for something new.”

New York’s Contento Restaurant has a section on its wine list devoted to what it calls “ancient world wines,” including one from Turkey.

“One of my favorite wines we have is…Paşaeli from Turkey, made from Yapincak,” says partner Yannick Benjamin. “We have an amazing pork katsu that is salty and pairs beautifully with its acid and citrus flavors.”

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