Turkey’s wine delights


A few weeks ago, I was supposed to be heading to Turkey on a ‘Mommy Jolly’. That’s code for a trip away…’sans children and hubby’. Every parent deserves at least a few days away from the hustle and bustle of family life to relax and recharge…otherwise we burn out!! One of my closest friends owns a beautiful home in Bodrum and graciously invited me to join her for a week of exploring and enjoying all that this beautiful, yet culturally complex country has to offer. Doesn’t that just sound like the perfect plan?

Wait one jolly second…there’s a Coronavirus pandemic and no one’s going anywhere!!

Plans scrapped…

Flights cancelled…

So rather than head off for a week of blissful relaxation, I’m actually stuck in the house with my lovely (they can be at the right moment!!) children who continue to hound me with moans of boredom and endless complaints about someone or something…anything!! Why anyone would be bored in our house is beyond me? There’s plenty to do…and that’s no lie!!

Did anyone not see the pile of laundry literally cascading from the dryer?

Maybe building Mommy an annex out of the 1 million LEGO pieces you never use might keep you busy for at least 10 minutes?

Okay…enough with the infinite schemes I could conjure up to help my children manage their boredom. It’s time for me to manage mine! Since going to Turkey in person was out of the question…bringing Turkey to me, via my wine glass, would be the next best thing! Sounds good…right? Well, yes and no. The tiny little hurdle is that I was supposed to be going to Turkey to learn about their wines, as I had never tried them before and knew absolutely nothing about the various grapes varieties grown in Turkey. Therefore, I decided to revert back to my student days and set out to do my research. One thing was certain…I needed to learn about Turkish wines quickly, as I wanted my ‘holiday’ to begin pronto!!

As I began delving into all things Turkish wine related, I was surprised to learn that it is one of the top 10 grape producing countries in the world. Ironically, it is nowhere near the top in terms of wine production, despite having a history of winemaking that spans some…7,000 years!?!?!?

How could this be?

Well, the answer lies in the fact that Turkey’s current government instated a new set of laws in 2013 that severely restricted the sale and marketing of alcohol, as the consumption of it is forbidden in the Islamic religion. According to the Quran, there are certain things that people are permitted to do (Halal) and those which are forbidden (Haram), and alcohol is on the ‘forbidden’ list. Additionally, only 15% of the Turkish population actually consumes alcohol, so there isn’t necessarily what you would call a huge market for it in Turkey. As a result, those who do produce wine are definitely not having an easy time of it. At present, wine can only be sold in stores and restaurants. This may sound alright; however, new boutique wineries are struggling to stay afloat because without the ability to market their wines, they continue to be passed over, as consumers choose to drink wines that are from more established, better known brands. Wow…what a loss for Turkey! I completely respect the Islamic religion’s choice to avoid alcohol, but technically speaking, Turkey is a secular country, without a state religion. Why isn’t the government upholding secular beliefs? I’m sure this is quite controversial and that I’m not the first person to question the role of alcohol in Turkey. However, as a wine enthusiast, I simply see such a lost opportunity!

So in my pursuit to order Turkish wine in the UK, I really struggled to find a wide variety of choices and the ones I did find required me to purchase at least half a case! Thankfully, I managed to find the The Wineman’s website and was able to order a few individual bottles. I contacted him directly to see how long my shipment would take. He assured me that it should be with me in only a few days and he was right! Thank you! After perusing the Turkish wine selection, I decided to order the Kayra vineyards, Okuzgozu (red), Chardonnay (white) and the Bayaz Kalecick Karasi Blanc de Noir (rosé). Kayra has been around since 1944 and is one of the oldest vineyards in Turkey. Currently, the winemaking is being managed by Daniel O’Donnell, who is from California, and was hired after the investment firm Texas Pacific Group (TPG) acquired the Kayra brand in 2006, when the government allowed wineries to be privatised after a longstanding state-run monopoly. At least Turkey has dissolved the state-run monopoly; however, it would be great if more people knew about and could sample Turkey’s amazing wines! After all my research, I was so eager for my shipment to arrive and begin tasting my three intriguing Turkish wines!

The first bottle I tasted was the 2013 Kayra Okuzgozu, which is a ruby red coloured wine with 14% abv. The Okuzgozu grape is native to eastern Anatolia (eastern Turkey) and creates more approachable, medium-bodied wine than Boğazkere, which is another popular native wine grape that has very high tannins and is more full-bodied. Okuzgozu wine often has high levels of acidity which enables it to age well. On the nose this wine presents ripe black fruit aromas mixed with earthy notes. Lucious blackberry and plum flavours accompanied by subtle hints of mint, tobacco and spice greeted my palate along with medium tannins and a long finish. Wow! I love this wine! Welcome to Turkey! If this is just the beginning…then I’m never heading going home. To enhance my experience, I paired this wine with a lovely köfte recipe by Rick Stein. It was a perfect pairing!

My next Turkish treasure was a surprisingly expressive and beautifully golden coloured 2013 Kayra Vintage Chardonnay. I love tasting chards from a variety of regions and was eager to see how one from Turkey measured up. Well, let me say…this bottle definitely did not disappoint and I might just purchase a few more. This particular wine was created using whole cluster pressing followed by mixing juice that was both tank and barrel fermented. This clever winemaking decision created a beautiful balance between the tropical and citrus flavours followed by a refreshing acidity, delightful secondary flavours of butter and tertiary flavours of nutmeg…an indulgent journey!

Finally, the 2018 Kayra Bayaz Kalecick Karasi Blanc de Noir was a bit of a wild card for a few reasons. I love rosé wines…good ones at that! In order for me to really enjoy a rosé, something has to be distinctive and memorable. This particular rosé was filled with aromas of citrus and orange blossoms followed by flavours of grapefruit, orange peel and subtle ginger notes on rather long the finish. A lovely, well balanced rosé with memorable flavours to enjoy on a hot summer afternoon!

With my three bottles empty, and only a mere drop left in my glass, I was abruptly brought back to the reality of my life in lockdown and realised that travelling to Turkey might still not be possible for quite some time. However, when I am finally able to go, at least I can say I’ve tried Turkish wines and know a little bit more than before. Now, I am even more determined to further explore and discover the hidden treasures within Turkey’s wine industry. It’s not often that I come across a wine that I really love, but I highly recommend Kayra’s wines.

Hopefully, we can travel together again soon and not just from the comforts of our homes. Fingers crossed!!