Turkey offers 9,000 years of viticulture - and a variety of modern wines made from indigenous grape varieties
Even if its neighbours in Armenia, Georgia and Iran probably are not really pleased: Turkey is the oldest wine-growing region in the world, and it is getting prepared to be rediscovered. 9,000 years after the first Vitis vinifera in eastern Anatolia, the country on the dividing line between Europe and Asia and its exciting wines have been causing a furore for some time. Thanks to major investments in modern technology on the one hand and a vast treasure of indigenous grape varieties on the other, Turkish wines have now (also with the help of foreign winemakers) reached a level of quality that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. Although names of varieties such as Öküzgözü, Kalecik Karasi or Boğazkere might be a bit of a mouthful – one thing is clear: Some of the most unusual and interesting wines in the world today come from Turkey.
The "Wines of Turkey" stand at the ProWein 2013 trade fair was constantly well visited. A record number of 15 wineries were presented over an area of 190 square metres. Additionally, there were master classes on the first two days of the trade fair with Caro Maurer MW, Hendrik Thoma MS, and Markus Del Monego MW. New Turkish wines are not lacking in praise from authoritative sources. Caro Maurer certifies Turkish wine with having "the best of all conditions for success in the future," because it has history, distinctive and authentic varieties full of character, an optimum climate - "and especially dedicated cosmopolitan winemakers". The white Narince and the red Boğazkere in particular very much impressed the first German with the title Master of Wine.
Grapes have been cultivated in east Anatolia for 9,000 years. With 500,000 hectares, Turkey possesses the fifth largest vineyard acreage in the world, but only around three percent of the grapes are processed into wine. The biggest proportion by far is used for table grapes, raisins and juice production. The consumption of wine is approximately one litre per capita a year. Only 4 percent of the 75 million litres of wine are exported, and 96 percent are drunk in the country – half of which by the numerous tourists the country welcomes. However, the interest in wine has been growing for some years for the somewhat western-orientated Turkish people. In large cities such as Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara, there are modern wine bars and chic wine restaurants such as Mikla, by star chef Mehmet Gürs along with a spectacular roof terrace with a view over the whole of Istanbul. Kayra has even maintained its own wine centre in the metropolis on the Bosporus since 2008, where it is possible to obtain the WSET diploma.
More and more Turkish entrepreneurs are investing in new and old wine goods. The "Wines of Turkey" association was founded in 2008. Its objective: To provide the new Turkish high-quality wines with international recognition and thus boost exports. That this is working well is shown by the fact that Turkish wines have recently won more than 500 medals in international competitions. In competitions at the London Decanter Award, International Wine Challenge, and International Wine & Spirit Competition, for example, 78 percent of wines from Turkey won a medal in the past year; they also performed excellently at Mundus Vini and the Concours Mondial in Brussels.
There is a lot to be discovered in the country on the Bosporus. From Edirne in the far west on the European side of Turkey to Diyarbakir in south-eastern Anatolia, about 800 indigenous grape varieties are cultivated, thirty of which are important for wine production. Besides the red "stars" such as Öküzgözü ("bull's eye"), Boğazkere, Kalecik Karasi, and Çalkarasi, the white varieties Emir, Narince, Sultaniye, and Bornova Misketi are also garnering greater and greater attention. Whether as soloists or blended with Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc: The new generation of Turkish wine shines with stand-out character and nuances of taste which make them unique.
In 2011, after years of research on both sides of the Caucasus, the Swiss botanist and vine genealogist Dr. José Vouillamoz and biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern were in agreement: "With great probability, the domestication of wild vines by the people took place in southeast Anatolia between 6000 and 8000 BC, possibly even earlier." Nowhere else have the DNA profiles of wild wines and Vitis vinifera exhibited such great similarity. In the opinion of both researchers, the wine vine has made its triumphant journey around the Mediterranean from Asia Minor.
Today, forty percent of Turkish wine comes from the mild climate of the Marmara region, Thrace, and the Aegean. There are further wine growing regions in central Anatolia near Ankara, in Cappadocia, in Tokat in northern Anatolia, not far from the Black Sea, in central eastern Anatolia near Malatya and Elazig, and in south-eastern Anatolia near Diyarbakir. There, in the "Wild East", in the harsh mountain climate with sparse vegetation, hot days and cold nights, the Boğazkere vine is at home. Its name means "throat scratcher", and is usually blended with milder varieties due to the high percentage of tannin. The English journalist and master of wine, Tim Atkins, describes it as "like a cross between Nebbiolo and Tannat" - and, just like colleague Caro Maurer, is enthusiastic about the tart, earthy charm of the Anatolian plant.
After centuries of the twilight sleep in the Ottoman Empire (only Christians were allowed to press the grapes to a modest extent), the wine industry in Turkey experienced a new upswing after its legalisation by Kemal Ataturk in 1925. Nihat Kutman, who was trained in Geisenheim, founded his company, Doluca, in 1926 in Tekirdag in the European part of the giant country, and his colleague Cenap And founded Kavaklidere in 1929 in Ankara. Both companies are the biggest in Turkey to date and are responsible for sixty percent of total wine production alongside Kayra, Sevilen, Yazgan, and Pamukkale. However, since the release of the state tobacco and alcohol monopoly in 2001, new wineries have been shooting up everywhere like mushrooms from the ground. There are currently approximately 150 of them, amongst them many boutique wineries from rich investors and career changers who strive for top quality. The biggest obstacle to a higher consumption than only one litre per capita per year are the exorbitant alcohol taxes which have been in place in the country ruled by the Islamist party AKP since 2002. In addition, there is now a ban on advertising, the legitimacy of which is now being verified by the Constitutional Court at the request of the political opposition. The young Turkish wine industry is hoping for wise judges...
The resulting 2008 "Wines of Turkey" (WOT) association with its Director Taner Ögütoglu is using a dual strategy in marketing: On the one hand, it wants to increase exports and position Turkish wine abroad as a high quality brand with a unique character - and on the other hand, to promote wine culture in Turkey in order to also improve sales there. "We were once the birthplace and heart of viticulture in the world," says Ögütoglu, "today we can offer consumers wines that you cannot find anywhere else." The two most important export markets are Germany and Great Britain. In "Almanya" (Turkish for Germany), WOT wants to ensure that in the future more wine is marketed not only in the Turkish shops, but also in normal trade and top gastronomy. ProWein therefore has been a date in the calendar not to be missed. Taner Ögütoglu is very satisfied with the new contacts made at the fair in Dusseldorf: "The quality of international visitors is high, and the fair continues to grow every year."
To date, 31 companies belong to "Wines of Turkey". They cover 99 percent of the total quality wine production. Members include traditional wineries by Turkish standards such as the Pamukkale Winery, which was founded in 1962, and Diren wines, which was founded in 1958 in Tokat, but also many newcomers. Akin Ongor, who began making wine in Akhisar in the Aegean region 13 years ago, was CEO of a large bank prior to that. Selim Zafer Ellialti, former head of Microsoft Turkey, launched his premium winery Suvla near Çanakkale in 2009. Mustafa Çamlica, owner of an Istanbul accounting firm, breathed life into a generations old family tradition when, in 2007, he decided to build his winery Chamlija in Thrace. "For good wine", said the 51-year-old, "I would do almost anything". Can Ortabaş also ranks among career changers who are positively crazy about wine: Before he planted the first vines at the beginning of the millennium on the Karaburun peninsula in Izmir, he worked as a successful entrepreneur with the cultivation and the global distribution of palms and olive trees. A stylish boutique hotel is part of the extremely modern winery Urla, which completely devotes itself to biodynamics.
The Sevilen winery with its 160 hectares near Izmir and in Central Anatolia also relies on tourism. The vineyard's own Isabey restaurant shines with fine French cuisine and selected wines from their own production - naturally created by a French oenologist: Florent Dumeau. Seyit Karagozoglu, owner of the Paşaeli winery, started his career in 1993 as an importer after he had visited wine cultivating regions all over the world. He has been producing himself since 2005. Karagozoglu sees the future of Turkish wine in the niche as a secret tip of high quality. "We need the media, sommeliers, and top restaurants in our most important target countries, such as Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, the USA, Japan, and later also Russia, to become better known. Our wines are unique". Regarding the internal market, Karagozoglu focuses on the rapidly growing number of especially younger Turkish men and women interested in wine - and on another alcohol-control policy of the government: "In a democracy, everyone should actually be able to decide how to live and what they would like to drink themselves".