Most people have never tasted Turkish wines, and up until about four months ago, tasting Turkish wines was something that I too had never done. My son has visited Turkey a couple of times and brought back various wines with him, so we decided to make a mini wine tasting for our Reg’s Wine Blog tasting panel to broaden our palates. Last February we tasted six wines, one from Romania, another from Bulgaria, and four from Turkey.
With little to no previous tasting experience with wines from this region, I frankly had no idea what to expect. One of my objectives was to learn more about the region’s wine history, comparing Turkish wines tasted in this tasting to those from other countries, and to try to understand the reasons why there is not more of an international market for Turkish wines.
The tasting panel started with a Romanian wine, the Prahova Valley 2016 Special Reserve Feteasca Neagra, made by Halewood Wines, purchased from the LCBO in Ontario for $14.95 (product # 143628). The label describes the wine as “Full Bodied Barrel Matured”, which I should point out might just as easily apply to about 70% of the other wines made on the planet, so this really does not belong on the main label. Anyways, on first taste the wine was very green and vegetable in taste, harsh and bitter. However, after about 15 minutes breathing in the glass, the wine opened up to reveal some fruit, and tasted much smoother and balanced. The wine was now pleasant but not what I would rate as “full bodied”, so I rated it a 7.8/10, a mere average score and nothing to get excited about, but we had now set the bottom score for the evening.
Our second wine was a Bulgarian wine, the Quantum Syrah + Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 by Domaine Boyar, purchased from the LCBO for about $18.00 and no longer available. The wine won 3 international wine awards and promises great things on the label, attention paid to every particle of wine within the bottle. This wine was a very deep dark red in color, and had great legs or tears flowing down the inside of my glass. The wine was dry and spicy, showing a rich shiraz flavor. Lots of pepper and lovely spicy fruit on the palate, without being overly dry. This wine was surprisingly good and well balanced. I rated it 8.3/10.
The next wine was the first of four wines from Turkey, and the reason we had organized this tasting in the first place. We started with the Kayra Versvs Alpagut Okuzgozu 2015 from the Elazig province of Turkey (located well east of Istanbul and north of Syria). The Okuzgozu grape is indigenous to Elazig province and often described as a spicy Rhone type of Syrah. Okuzgozu translates to mean “bull’s eye” which refers to the typically large grapes. This wine from Kayra happens to be made from very old vines, which promises very spicy wines and very fine balance. In our tasting that is exactly what we got, great legs in the glass, a nice spicy, peppery fragrance on both the nose and the palate, finishing smoothly with great balance. A lovely wine brought back from Turkey that cost about 90 Lira (or $23.00 CDN) that I happily rated at 8.5/10. What impressed me the most about this wine was the refined expression of spice without being too raw. A good spiced Rhone Syrah typically takes years in the bottle for the flavors to meld together into a refined and elegant finish, yet this Kayra Okuzgozu seems to have found that elegant balanced finish years ahead of time given its young age.
Our second Turkish wine was the Consensus Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2014 by Lucien Arkas Baglari. Lucien Arkas Vineyards are located in Izmir province near the Aegean coast southwest of Istanbul. The label itself describes the wine as being “aged for 18 months in medium toasted barrels made of French, European, and American oaks”. Indeed it would appear that oak aging is a central theme of Lucien Arkas wines as their entire portfolio of wines are oak aged, even the white wines. I must be a fan of oak aging because I liked this wine a lot. To me this wine tasted round, full bodied, yet soft with lots of fruit and no bite. The oak aging had clearly removed any bite the young fruit would have once had. That makes this wine taste ready to drink without requiring any further aging, and that can be both a good and bad thing – good because it makes a great restaurant wine, and bad because the wine is as good as it will ever get, so it may not benefit from any further aging. Anyways, I gave it a rating of 8.8/10 largely because it was the softest and easiest wine of the lineup to drink so far this evening. This wine, similar to the Kayra wine above, cost about $23.00 CDN (90 Lira) and was bought locally in Turkey.
Next on our list was the Urla Bogazkere 2016 Ukuf Mevkii. The Urla vineyards are in the same Izmir province as Lucien Arkas Vineyards on the Aegean coast. The Bogazkere grape is translated as meaning “throat burner” or “ throat slasher” or “throat scratcher” and is indigenous to the region. This wine has done well in international wine competitions winning double gold medals at the China Wine and Spirits Awards for best value, and another gold medal at the Berlin International Wine Competition. The wine is a little more expensive at about $28.00 CDN (or about 110 Lira). What I tasted was quite dry with light tannins, medium body and soft fruit. This was definitely a blend with other softer grapes such as the Okuzgozu to soften up the finished product. While I liked the wine, it did not blow me away, and I rated it 8.3/10, not as good as the Kayra or the Consensus, which are both cheaper wines.
Our final Turkish wine for the evening was the Prodom 2014 Syrah/Petit Verdot/Cabernet Franc from Aydin province just south of Izmir(and north of Bodrum), again on the Aegean coast. This was the most expensive wine of the evening at about $30.00 CDN (or about 120 Lira). It was also the strongest at 14.9% alcohol, and clearly the best wine of the evening. What also caught my attention was the very unusual blend of Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc effectively blending grapes common to both Bordeaux and Cote du Rhone, but very seldom blended together. In the glass the wine was a dark red color, and long legs on the inside of the glass indicated a high glycerin content. The nose was nice and spicy and the palate revealed lots more spice, lush full bodied fruit and robust kind tannins. The use of oak was soft and gentle, rounding out the finish. There was great body, high alcohol content promising years of further development ahead of it, with an overall impression of being delicate and refined while still being full of spicy hot fruit. This was a very well made wine, one that will continue to improve with age (I would love to follow this wine and taste it again in 5 years, and then again in 10 years time). I rated this wine a 9/10.
The Prodom was the highlight of the evening, and a wine which I would advise readers to watch for and buy whenever it can be found.
And that leads me right to the question of why Turkish wines are so hard to find. I did some internet research and found that Turkey itself is primarily to blame, a self-inflicted problem. Turkey is a Muslim country where alcohol is generally not consumed, and it is against the law to market and advertise alcohol. That being said, Turkey is the 4th largest producer of grapes in the world, but less than 5% of that goes into the production of wine. In 2016 Turkey produced less than 70 million liters of wine, 95% of which was consumed domestically. 2.9 million liters were exported, largely to Belgium, the UK, Germany and the USA, and the total value of exported wine was less than $10 million US. That is a small industry, and explains why Turkish wines are so rarely seen outside Turkey.
There are other issues that the industry is facing. Many of the country’s wine producers are small, with less than 10 years of production experience, so grape vines are still young and years away from maturity. Aging of wine is not common in Turkey, so most producers do not have much experience with older vintages, which takes away from the collectibility of the best Turkish wines. And finally, Turkish wines are expensive, largely because production is small and the export market for their wines is not well established.
With all those challenges ahead, Turkey is blessed with a huge asset when it comes to their wine history. Wine has been produced in Turkey for over 8,000 years, longer than almost everywhere else on the planet. The fact that Turkey is the 4th largest grape producer in the world means that the climate and soil are well suited to grape and wine production. There is a wonderful variety of grape types grown in Turkey, ranging from a full line of the more widely known international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, etc. to a multitude of indigenous grape varieties (up to 600) such as Okuzgozu, Papaskarasi, Karasakiz, Bogazkere, Narince, and Acikara. There is also currently an exponential growth in the number of new wineries raising young vines that will soon be bringing new wines into the marketplace, and most of that destined for the export market.
All of this means that Turkish wines will soon be making themselves known to international consumers. This is like being able to get in on the ground floor of a new opportunity. While that may take 5 years to become evident on store shelves in Europe and North America, what can you do now to access and taste these wines? Simple, check online to find out who sells Turkish wines in your area. In Quebec and Ontario, liquor stores are run by government owned monopolies (the SAQ and LCBO), and while they will on occasion stock the odd Turkish wine, it usually sells out quickly, so it is not readily available on a reliable basis. So go online to see what other options are available.
Fortunately, in Montreal we have a wonderful Turkish wine importer by the name of Can Turkmenoglu who operates Dieu Du Vin (www.dieuduvin.com), a wine importer servicing the Quebec and Ontario markets. On his wine list you will find no less than 24 different Turkish wines (6 white, 1 rosé, and 17 reds), all of which you can buy. He also prides himself in stocking wines from 3 top, up and coming, Turkish wine producers: Chamlija, Pasaeli, and Likya.
So mark my words, within 5 years Turkish wines will become the next major wine region to “get discovered”, just as Chilean and Argentinian wines did 25 years ago. They have always been out there somewhere, but never properly exported in sufficient quantity to come to our attention. Try some Turkish wine today by finding your local importer like Dieu Du Vin, and buying from them direct. Get in on the ground floor and be ahead of the curve with the next wine craze.
Stay tuned for a future blog from me later this summer entitled “Tasting Turkish Wines, Part 2”.
Cheers and happy hunting!