Discover the Unknown Turkish Wine Industry

A Wine Wire Wine Article by Jon Olson

  
Turkey, the present-day territory of the Thracian-born Greek god of wine, Dionysus (Bacchus to the Romans), has an often ignored wine industry. The people of ancient Anatolia were already making “Sarap” – Turkish for wine, otherwise known as the “nectar of the gods” – and tending vineyards by 4,000B.C. Religious texts allude to Noah’s Ark running aground in Turkey, where he discovered grapes and stumbled upon the process of making wine. Unfortunately, the wine industry collapsed during the Ottoman Empire, during which the consumption of alcohol was forbidden for over 500 years. Now, as a secular republic, Turkey has a strong commitment to globalization, and its wine-producing industry is surprisingly strong.

In November, 2006, this author ran aground in the little hill-side Turkish village of Sirince, home to a mere seven hundred inhabitants. It is a short drive fromthe popular tourist destination of Selçuk and the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Originally, the village had been named Çirkince, or "ugly place," as a deliberate attempt by its Greek inhabitants to deter foreigners and to conceal the beauty of their village. However, following WWI, as the Greek population was supplanted by Turks, the village changed its name to Sirince, which translates roughly into "charming place."

Sirince’s wine industry is dominated by one producer: Artemis Sarapevi, or Artemis Akberg Winehouse. Artemis produces a variety of grape and fruit wines. While most Turkish vineyards do grow familiar grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah, for a real experience, try the local grapes like the red: Bogazkere, Kalecik Karasi, Karasakiz, Çalkarasi, & Öküzgözü, or white: Emir, Narince & Sultaniye.

After leaving the Aegean region, and flying to Istanbul, we were presented with a greater choice of recommended, high-end Turkish vintages while visiting local restaurants. There, we sampled wines from producers Kavaklidere & Doluca. Producers like these go to great efforts to produce quality wines with local grapes. They are attempting to preserve the indigenous Turkish wine industry, as many spectacular local Turkish grapes are passed over and may be lost forever as the market is becoming dominated by imported grapes.

Turkey has the fourth-largest vineyard area in the world – yet most of it ends up as raisins or grapes to be eaten as fruit. There are about 1,000 different types of grapes grown in Turkey, although only about 40 can be used for wine production. Most of the country's wine grapes are grown in the regions of Thrace and Marmara, Central Anatolia and the Aegean. Turkey's average annual per capita wine consumption is less than one bottle per person, though that includes a 50% increase in consumption in the past five years. Turkey produces over 275 million liters per year, placing it ahead of the better-known, nearby Middle East producers Lebanon and Israel. With around 100 wineries currently producing wine and increasing tourism, nothing but industry-wide growth is expected.

Today, quality Turkish wines continue to grab attention from their European shelf-mates. While not impossible, it is difficult to locate Turkish wine in many countries. Until the rest of the world embraces this Turkish delight, consider Turkey as a destination for your next Sarap-Sojourn!


  

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Palate: The taste of the wine while it’s in your mouth. Try swishing it around in your mouth, so it hits all parts of your tongue (and thus each of the five basic tastes).