Grape challenge is back!

Grape challenge is back!

Grape challenge is back

Imagine a huge salon bringing most of the leading wineries in the country together, from the big players to the smallest family-owned boutique producers, all bottles lined according to the grape variety. Imagine an amazing wine tasting where you can take your glass and start sampling hundreds of different labels side by side, grouped according to their grape variety and density, starting from bubblies to light whites, walking through all grapes available in the country, sipping medium-bodied whites, full-density whites and then cheering with the newest rosés, then getting to know light-density reds and advancing towards big body reds and eventually to fortified wines. Meantime you occasionally stop to chat with another wine enthusiast or eavesdrop on a heavy discussion of professionals and winemakers. This is the true ground for exploring Turkish wines and viticulture, the place to be to taste, to swirl and sip, to compare the brands and terroirs, all grouped on the grape variety, not according to their producers. This way it is possible to compare how the grape performs in different terroirs, see the difference in vintages, find out about producers and get to know about novel brands entering the market.

Despite heavy taxes and restrictions on advertising, the Turkish wine sector has made tremendous progress in the past years. Every single year, there are new small wineries stepping into the market, all very anxious to experiment with the local grapes of their own region, reviving long-lost varieties, as well as trying their takes on international grapes. Since advertising is not possible, the only means of learning about what is new in the market is through social media, but of course, that cannot include the tasting part. Wine tasting events come to the rescue, but they are usually restricted to only a small number of audiences, and cannot cover all the wineries in the country. The one and only true ground to see the whole wine scene in Turkey is the WAT - Walk Around Tasting which is part of CMC-Challenging Master Classes, organized by Gustobar. Titled “Tat-Tanış” in Turkish, which is translated as “Taste & Talk” is a walk-around tasting arena where visitors can taste wines and meet the producers or winemakers, and also other wine-enthusiasts. Actually, at the end of the day, the middle ground is usually cramped with groups of connoisseurs discussing the bottles in the ground, strongly recommending each other their favorite picks. It is convivial and fun, great also for connecting with people, let alone for gathering the most thorough and latest info on the grapes of Turkey.

Turkey is home to grapes. Together with Georgia, Armenia and interestingly Iran, the eastern part of Anatolia is considered to be the birthplace of grapes and viticulture. As early as the Bronze age, there was this what I call the grape-belt, flowing from North to South, and there were traveling vine tenders that went from North to South each spring, tending vineyards, pruning vines and then traveling from South to North, monitoring the harvest in fall. The viticulture was elaborated, especially during the Hittite period which spans between 1700-1200 B.C., when a set of legislations were established regarding vineyards. There are countless indigenous grape varieties in Turkey, most unfortunately not applied to wine anymore, but mostly consumed as fresh, dried, or turned into grape molasses. Nevertheless, every single year we hear about newly re-discovered varieties, usually resulting in exciting new wines from old vines. The challenge for winemakers is huge, a lifetime is not enough.
This annual gathering of the Turkish wine sector is organized by Ayça and Taner Öğütoğlu of Gustobar, the couple who had previously founded the “Wines of Turkey” platform back in 2008. This is the ninth meeting of such, they started with Sommeliers’ Selection in 2017, adding Challenging Master Class to their portfolio on the way. Just before the pandemic, The Sommeliers’ Selection was held in November 2019, but unfortunately, the pandemic halted such events like wine tastings and judge panels happening, but slowly the wine sector is getting back to normal. The great grape challenge is back, Challenging Master Classes 2022 will be held this weekend at Fairmont Quasar Istanbul Hotel on May 28-29. Under the umbrella of CMC, there will be a non-wine section dedicated to artisanal cheeses, olive oil and beers, and a great selection of books by Homer independent bookstore. Another not-to-miss section is Workshops and Master Classes in designated rooms where experts, producers and chefs will talk about their areas of expertise and products.

But of course, the most exciting of the whole event is the jury, the incredible duo of judges. Imagine a jury that consists of two people, complementing and challenging each other in the most compelling way, namely Oz Clarke OBE and Caro Maurer. Having these two judges in Turkey is a challenge for Turkish grapes alone. Clarke is considered the most trusted palate and living legend, breaking the rules in the wine world being the co-chairman of the “International Wine Challenge,” the most intolerant, impartial and influential wine competition in the world which is now going on for 38 years. He visited Turkey for the first time in 2010, and has been a part of this event regularly since 2017, and continues to taste Turkish wines intensively at CMC events. For this reason, Oz Clarke OBE can be said to be the only name in the “top caliber” and international level that dominates Turkish wines and local grapes. The other judge is Caro Maurer, Member Admissions chair of the “Institute of Master of Wine,” the most respected institution of the wine industry in the wine world, and Mediterranean Region Panel chair in the Decanter Wine Competition. These two judges will blindly taste the wines served in front of the guests, without knowing about those wines, and will score them without knowing each other’s notes. They will share their scores with the guests in the session at the same time, and in case of different scores, they will try to convince each other by arguing with each other in front of the guests, if they cannot agree, they will seek the opinion of the guests they consider as “Grand Jury.” What a challenge to witness!

Note: If you like to taste your wines in a blind tasting with this duo, reserve your places fast. Due to the high standards of quality of the CMC 2022 event, the Walk Around Tasting section will be limited to only 500 persons per day, workshops to 36 each and the Master Classes to 70 each day. Tickets are available at, or contact, For detailed info check

Aylin Öney Tan,