Tipsy in Thrace

Tipsy in Thrace

Aylin Öney Tan -
Tipsy in Thrace There was once a myth that every devoted drinker had deep faith in: The rumor was the best rakı, the national distilled anise spirit, had to be from one particular distillery in the northwestern province of Tekirdağ.

It was the years of Tekel, the state monopoly of high alcohol spirits, and though supposedly every distillery in the country had to have the same standard, nobody had complete trust in others when compared to the reputed distillery in Tekirdağ in the heart of Thrace. Eventually checking bottles became a national sport, a tipsy one! Here is how:

In order to spot the best product there were several tricks; checking the bottom of the bottle for a hidden mark, or inspecting the production series number had become habitual rituals seriously observed by drinkers. As if the taste differed, the self-anointed connoisseurs would endlessly express admiration for their meticulously chosen bottle and brag about their expertise in spotting the right one. Speculations were often grape-centric; expert verdicts included whether fresh or dried grapes were used, and so on. Myth or truth, the name of the town always had good connotations in the drinking world. Now, Tekirdağ acts as the epicenter of another grape-driven phenomenon, the rise of Thracian wines, together with the neighboring provinces of Kırklareli, Edirne and Çanakkale. 

Thrace, or Eastern Thrace, the tiny European bit of northwestern Turkey, has always been known historically for its vineyards. During the Byzantine times, the heavenly perfumed Thracian wines used to be directly exported to the ports of Venice and Marseilles. There had been a gradual decline in winemaking in the past century, initially after the vineyard-sweeping 19th century phylloxera epidemic, and later probably because the best bunches ended up in the famous state-owned distillery instead of being fermented. Until recently, wine making was greatly confined to cheap table wines, often not of the best quality. Tainted with the bad reputation of bootleg bottles, often referred to as dog-killers, the region was far from having a high standing in quality wines. This was almost like an oxymoron; having such amazing local grapes and ideal conditions for international varieties with excellent soil quality and climate, the region surely deserved more. 

Luckily, there has been a renaissance, viticulture gets more and more progressed every year, with dedicated, pioneering, family-owned wineries, now its renowned grapes are processed into fine wines gaining international recognition. A couple of years ago, these small boutique wineries, together with their bigger rivals in the region and the support of the Thrace Development Agency, initiated a project titled the “Thrace Vineyard Route,” not only to advertise their wines and vineyards, but also to promote sustainable tourism in their region. Serving as a lifesaver for the sector, more and more initiatives keep popping up. Since last year, Burçak Desombre, the founder of Vinipedia Wine Consultancy, started a wine tasting with internationally reputed master of wine (MW) and master sommelier wine experts. This year, 2nd Thrace Wine Competition will take place on Sept. 5-6 (the big tasting is actually today), in parallel with the Thrace Vineyard Harvest and Ecology Festival organized by the Süleymanpaşa Municipality and Mayor Ekrem Eşkinat. 

An impressive first-class trio of international judges, London based MW Peter McCombie, co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge and Wine & Spirit Education Trust Accredited Tutor, Manhattan-based MW Christy Canterbury, an acclaimed wine journalist, writer and judge; and Andreas Larsson, Best Sommelier of the World 2007, from Sweden, will be having a hard time checking 62 bottles made with 100 percent Thracian grapes. Every time you have a chance, check wines from Thrace, this time no need to search for the hidden sign to find the perfect bottle, any bottle you open will prove to be a revelation in discovering the reawakening of Thracian vineyards. 

Bite of the Week

Recipe of the Week:
If grapes go into bottles, the vine leaves go onto plates. That is the way to go in Turkey, and I’m not talking about the ever-present wrapped vine-leaf dishes. This corn bread called Loznik is cooked between layers of vine leaves, kneaded with yogurt with a fresh touch of spring onions and leek. Combine 2 cups each of corn meal and yogurt in a mixing bowl. Add gradually 1cup oil to obtain a pourable cake-batter. You can use olive oil but in Tekirdağ the abundant sunflower oil is used. Chop finely 3-4 spring onions, 1 leek and a few fresh mint sprigs, and add to the mix with 1 teaspoon each sugar and salt, and a good pinch of hot red pepper flakes. Grease a large skillet with oil and line the pan with overlapping vine leaves. Pour the batter over the leaves and carefully lay another layer of vine-leaves to cover the whole thing. Cook over medium/low heat until the bottom crisps and turn the vine-leaf encased cornbread upside down with the aid of a large plate. Crisp the other side and serve while still warm. Memorable with a generous knob of butter!

Fork of the Week: Actually, not fork but glassware of the week; Nude makes a difference! The latest series of Paşabahçe Nude glassware (also one of the sponsors of the competition) are elegantly designed and worth adding to the shopping list in the vineyard harvest season. Available at Paşabahçe stores, or browse their website to pick your ideal glass, check the Timeless Collection, especially the Terroir, Vinifera, Vintage and Whisper series.

Cork(s) of the Week: Here is the list of 16 competing wineries in the 2nd Thrace Wines Competition: Arcadia, Arda Bağcılık, Bağcı, Barbare, Barel, Chamlija, Chateau Nuzun, Doluca, Ergenekon Bağcılık, Gali, Gülor, Kayra, Saranta, Suvla, Umurbey and Vino Dessera. Wishing them luck, they will have tough competition. 

News of the Week: Hopefully, this will be the topic of next column: Belle Epoque Patisserie in London is one of three finalists for the BIA, the Baking Industry Awards in Britain for The Craft Business Award, to be announced on Sept. 7. Wishing luck to the husband and wife team Eric and Hülya Rousseau. Relation with Turkey: the wife! Hülya R. Koç was in fact the first female Turkish cyclist to cross Africa and South America on bicycle.