Grape challenge

Grape challenge

We are almost at the end of the grape harvest season. The last bunches of grapes are already picked, and the winemakers are busy tasting, sipping, smelling, imagining and dreaming what may come out of the bunches they monitored during the picking period. It is the most challenging period of the year for them. Amid all the flurry of the harvest excitement, another big challenge took place in Istanbul, namely the Turkish Wine Challenge (TWC).

The Turkish wine industry has been making huge leaps forward in the past years. After the restrictions on advertising alcoholic beverages, the wine tastings and judge panels were the only means of getting to know about the new vintages and new brands in the sector. In the recent past, before the pandemic, the Sommeliers’ Selection was the only big event to get to know the new exciting bottles on the shelves. This annual gathering of the Turkish wine sector was organized by Taner Öğütoğlu of Gustobar, who had previously founded the “Wines of Turkey” platform. It was also a friendly convivial event to bring the producers together, often turning to a huge party towards the end of the day. We truly miss this conviviality. The pandemic halted such events, wine tastings and judge panels from happening, but slowly the wine sector is getting back to normal with new events popping up. The TWC is a new player in the wine scene of Turkey and aims to go big and global. The event took place in the same usual venue with the Somm’s Selection at The Marmara Taksim Hotel on Oct. 15 and 16.

The TWC is an international wine competition open to all producers from around the world. This first edition had about 80 wineries participating with 284 wines to be tasted by a panel of 14 judges, seven women and seven men, with a 50:50 gender split, from countries Austria, Georgia, Germany, Lebanon, Netherlands, Romania, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States and Turkey. The organization is the brainchild of Serhat Narsap, the founder of London-based Sonvino Ltd., who settled in London after graduating from Istanbul Technical University (ITU) as a civil engineer. His love for wine led him to pursue his passion, eventually getting training on the topic. Besides being a wine trainer and organizer of excursions for wine lovers, he participated as a jury member in more than 20 international wine competitions.

The organizing team has several experts, including Technical Adviser Sue van Wyk, IT Manager Kathleen Smith, Sales and Marketing Manager Hilal Taskintuna and Finance Consultant John McHale. Narsap states that he wants to bring his experiences to his country to grow the technical pool in wine and do his best to help Turkish wines reach the place they deserve in the world. Together with his colleagues, they have been working on this challenge for the whole past year. “We set out with the goal of making the competition that we started this year, the focus of attention of many manufacturers from different countries, such as Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East, by growing every year,” he says.

“I work with Turkish wine producers in London and also in Turkey. I write annual reports on Turkish Wines. I see the positive quality going up year on year. However, it is so sad that still almost no-one knows there are amazing quality wines. The only way to promote the Turkish wines is to create new channels and establish new professional networks. Combination of all the above led me to establish the Turkish Wine Challenge, to create a wider network for the Turkish wine sector, to promote high-quality Turkish wines around the world and finally create new trade routes between Turkey and other countries.”

The TWC aims to bring several positives to the Turkish wine scene celebrating the highest quality wines and award medals to the very best by conducting blind judge tastings objectively with international standards and helping increase recognition of medal winners by exposing them to international wine professionals via many channels internally and internationally. Last but not least, of course, the international members of the jury that are invited to the competition will have the opportunity to get to know the Turkish wine producers closely and this will enhance relationships with the wine world outside. Such events surely do create many opportunities for informal networking between participants connecting the wineries and professionals. The TWC hopes to raise the bar a little higher and create new challenges for Turkish grapes.

The TWC details:
Judging Panel:
David Forer (Master of Wine, USA)
Mike Best (Master of Wine, UK)
Darrel Joseph (Wine writer, Educator, Jury, USA/Australia)
Peter Douglas (DipWSET, Wine Purchasing Director, UK/Germany)
Diana Pavelescu (WSET Advanced, Wine Expert/Educator, Romania)
Miranda Beems (DipWSET, Netherlands)
Elie Maamari (Export Manager/Academician, Lebanon)
Ketevan Jurkhadze (WSET Advanced, Wine Specialist, Georgia)
Gence Alton (DipWSET, Wine Specialist, Turkey/USA)
Şenay Özdemir (Journalist and Communications Consultant, Turkey/Netherlands)
Kathleen Smith (WSET Advanced, Web Design/Sales, USA)
Hilal Taşkıntuna (WSET Advanced, Sommelier, Turkey)
Nazlı Eralp Mumcu (DipWSET, Entrepreneur, Turkey)
Cihan Keskin (WSET Advanced, Export Manager, Turkey)

Three grand gold, 23 gold and 83 silver medals were awarded.

The breakdown per color category is Red Wine with three grand gold, 19 gold and 56 silver medals, White Wine with four gold and 22 silver medals and Rosé Wine with one gold and five silver medals.

The top 38 percent of participating wines were awarded a medal.

The results can be seen at

Save the date for Sommeliers' Selection on Nov. 20-21.