The great grape fraternity

The great grape fraternity

Aylin Öney Tan -
The great grape fraternity Throat Scratcher and Bull’s Eye… Not exactly the ideal words to provoke one’s appetite to a new culinary experience. But these are the key words to a surprising coupling of Turkish wines yet to be discovered. In Turkish they are known as Boğazkere and Öküzgözü, two red grape varieties lovingly known by Turkish wine connoisseurs. Anatolia is home to a rich viticulture with an amazing range of indigenous grape varieties, but it is hard to explain the potentials of Turkish wines to the wider public and make Turkish wines globally recognized. 

Now there is a chance. At least in London, where the Turkish Wine Alliance is launching a campaign to introduce Turkish wines to the British market. I like to call the Turkish Wine Alliance the “Great Grape Fraternity;” 10 producers from across Turkey that joined forces to promote their wines worldwide. They are also members of Wines of Turkey, a larger organization that promotes Turkish wines in overseas markets.

Turkey has an ideal climate and soil for vines. Growing grapes has an uninterrupted history of thousands of years in Anatolia. Viticulture is not only for winemaking but also for the famed dried grape varieties like raisins, sultanas and grape molasses, not to mention the use of vine leaves in cooking for dolmas and sarmas. Even in the Bronze Age there was a vine belt, maybe the world’s first, in East Turkey, stretching to Armenia and Georgia and all the way down to the Syrian border. Actually, Eastern Turkey is home to the hard to pronounce Boğazkere and Öküzgözü grapes, the Throat Scratcher and Bull’s Eye. I tend to liken these two grapes with the legendary two rivers of the Euphrates and the Tigris, Fırat and Dicle in Turkish, both with their characters and their mutual love for each other. Like the rivers, these two grapes are destined for each other, with Öküzgözü, the more civilized, taming the wild natured Boğazkere. Both grapes are also perfectly outstanding on their own, the Öküzgözü is vibrant and spicy, the Boğazkere intense and serious, but it is their bound affinity that makes them special together.  

The great grape fraternity

Of course not all Anatolian grapes have such quirky names. Some, like Narince, give a clue about their nature, meaning delicate-ish. Last week in London, Sarah Abbott was explaining delicately the delicacies of Turkish wines, pointing out how delicate Narince is, and the lovely fresh and creamy white wine made from it. As one of the activities of the Turkish Wine Alliance, there was a Turkish Wine Masterclass lead by Abbott at Vinopolis, just off Borough Market. Abbott has traveled to Turkey many times over the years, and really knows about the leading Turkish grape varieties and wine makers. However, it is not that easy to navigate through all the grape varieties in Turkey; there are about 600 native indigenous grapes, many specific to regions, or even to villages. That makes winemaking so exciting in Turkey, and despite the discouraging taxes and imposed laws on the restriction of advertising, new boutique wineries are blooming like mushrooms every other year. Of the 600 grapes, not all are applied to wine, but we can easily talk about the big six, adding to the list Emir and Sultaniye, two great whites, and the versatile red Kalecik Karası, shortly known as KK. In addition to the big six, international grapes also adapt to the Turkish climate and soil well, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Shiraz, to name a few. The marriage of international grapes with local varieties offers new challenges in the winemaking industry. 

The Vinopolis tasting reminded me of another potential. Just as local grapes blend perfectly with international grapes, Turkish wines can go perfectly with world cuisines, not necessarily with Turkish food only. The last wine we tasted was of the winery Büyülübağ (which translates as Magical Vineyard) and had a plummy richness with hints of licorice and star anise that called for a duck confit or crispy duck rolls. I wanted to grab the bottle and go directly to my favorite roast duck diner in Chinatown to test my idea. Actually, of the 10 great wines we tasted, all would easily find their existence comfortable on a global table. I truly appreciate this great grape fraternity and it was remarkable to see rival companies all under the vaults of Vinopolis. 

Bite of the Week

Corks of the Week: The Vinopolis wine masterclass lead by Sarah Abbott had 10 wines from Turkey. Grab a bottle of those wherever you find one, here is the complete list: 

Whites: Diren Collection Narince 2012; Doluca Karma, Chardonnay-Narince 2013; Arcadia Odrysia Gri 2012; Vinkara Doruk Narince 2013.

Reds: Pamukkale Meridies Kalecik Karası-Shiraz 2010; Kayra Öküzgözü 2012; Kocabağ Boğazkere 2013;Kavaklıdere Pendore Boğazkere 2010; Barbare Elegance 2010; Shah Büyülübağ 2010.