If you are a wine connoisseur, you may wish to be introduced to a whole new world – Turkish wine. Perhaps surprisingly, Turkey is among the largest producers of grapes globally – although many of these don’t make it into wine. Only around 30 of Turkey’s 800 indigenous grape varieties are used to produce wine commercially.
Despite this, Turkey has a rich history of crafting decadent wines. Turkish wine exports to Europe totalled 340 million litres in 1904, a figure considerably higher than the 75 million litres the country currently produces each year. Take a chance on Turkish wine, and you won’t be disappointed.
A Brief History of Turkish Wines
Dating back almost 7,000 years, Turkey’s wine heritage is more extensive than many first realise. Grape cultivation in the region started in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley of modern-day Turkey as early as the fifth millennium BCE. It carried on through the Hatti, Hittite, Phrygian, Greek and Roman cultures. Winemaking continued throughout the Ottoman Empire, spanning some 700 years until its dissolution in 1922. But it wasn’t until the 1980s, with the liberalisation of the Turkish economy, that the industry really began to recover and modernise.
Take A Sip (Or Seven) of Turkish Wines
Turkish wines have hard pronounced names, but they are not hard to drink wines. Turkey’s most popular white-wine grape varieties are Emir, Narince, Sultaniye, and Bornova Misketi, while the red-wine grapes are Çalkarası, Kalecik Karası, Öküzgözü and Boğazkere. Discover more about these delicate and full-bodied flavours below and take notes for your first Turkish wine tasting session!
Translated directly as “delicately” in English, Narince (nar-een-jah) is the most widely grown white grape in Turkey and produces a medium body wine. It leaves behind flavours of lemon, grapefruit and pineapple with hints of floral undertones and has good acidity. Narince’s leaves are also used in traditional dolma-stuffed grape leaves.
Perhaps the most difficult to pronounce of all Turkish grapes, Öküzgözü (Bull’s Eye) originates from Eastern Anatolia and is now produced all over Turkey. It is a medium-body wine full of fruity flavours with hints of raspberry, sour cherry, pomegranate, plum and cherry emanating throughout. You’ll also find a minty eucalyptus flavour with spicy cloves and cardamon touch. Öküzgözü is almost black in colour and is a deep red wine that can be paired perfectly with seafood.
Another classic Turkish red wine, the Çalkarası red grapes, have an intense fruity flavour with light floral hints and high acidity. It is a versatile grape that can produce a range of roses, reds and blanc de noir with a light-medium body meaning it can be paired with a wide variety of meals.
Although once facing extinction, Kalecik Karası is now one of Turkey’s most famous grapes due to its strong candy flavour. A multipurpose grape creates the perfect wine for ageing and produces everything from sparkling reds to a blanc de noir. With delicious flavours of cherry, strawberry and raspberry, this is a grape to add to your must-drink list for Turkey.
Turkish Wines By Region
You may now be wondering where all these fine Turkish wines are produced and the locations you should be adding to your Turkish wine tour. Unlike other wine-producing nations like France and South Africa, there is no official appellation system in Turkey, so many in the industry identify wine production areas by zone – the Aegean Coast, Marmara, Anatolia and recently Mediterranean.
Home to more than half of Turkey’s wine production, the Aegean Coast zone in the country’s western reaches has a moderate Mediterranean climate and although inland, higher altitude areas – up to 800 meters – become more continental. Many native varieties are grown, but international grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot, are also planted in the Aegean Coast’s vineyards. It is also more accessible and popular with tourists as it is surrounded by popular tourism towns.
Home to more than one-third of Turkey’s wine producers, Marmara is another major wine area in the country. It is also Turkey’s most-visited wine destination by tourists thanks to its coastal location and influence that define the local wines’ character. Unique microclimates enable wineries to create a range of wines, from rich reds to sparkling whites. Within Marmara, take note of the windy island of Bozcaada to experience historic Turkish wine production, where traditional viticulture is located, and bush vines are widespread.
Anatolia is the largest of Turkey’s wine-producing regions and is divided into central, eastern, and southeastern zones. Within central Anatolia, vineyards concentrated along the tranquil Kizilirmak River provide a unique microclimate in an otherwise difficult continental climate. Wine is also produced in the famous Cappadocia region, rich in volcanic soils and iconic hot air balloons soaring above the sky. Moving to eastern Anatolia, vineyards are located along the serene Euphrates River, more than 1,000 meters above sea level. This region is well-known for producing high-quality Öküzgözü and is not one to miss. The lower elevations in southeastern Anatolia feature a warmer climate with hot summers, and the better vineyard sites are generally found on hillsides.
Once home to the famous Lycian way, Antalya is becoming a popular destination for winemakers. In recent years, some wineries such as Likya wines find and restore old Turkish grapes, producing unique wines such as Acıkara, Merzifon Karası and Fersun.
Innovative winemakers seem to follow the trend as well; Sagavin Winery in Antalya seems to have received applause from the wine Gusto Mehmet Yalçın.
Check out Yalçın’s notes for Sagavin Syrah:
“In dark burgundy colour. On the nose and palate, slightly jammy red fruity bouquets are accompanied by springy and earthy tones. It is bodied, acidity is evident, and tannins are strong and yet angular. Within 2-3 years, it should be taken to a carafe and sipped with red meats and less spicy kebabs.”
There are also some local grapes such as Margaz from Kaş but the production is currently limited. The Mediterranean region is the newest commercial wine region yet holds enormous potential with its unique climate of the Taurus.
Which Turkish Wineries and Vineyards to Visit?
When visiting Turkey, you cannot miss out on the opportunity to wine taste in the iconic wine-producing zones of the country. Equipped with the knowledge of these often-overlooked Turkish wines, where should you add to your next vacation to Turkey to taste the best the country offers? Here are our recommendations:
- Kavaklidere Founded in 1929, Kavaklidere is Turkey’s first private sector wine producer and has slowly expanded to become Turkey’s leading wine producer. The winery owns 550 hectares of vineyards in Ankara-Akyurt, Cappadocia-Gulsehir and Aegean-Kemaliye-Pandore, the most important wine-producing area of Anatolia. They have a product range of 49 wines.
- Kayra: A relatively modern establishment, the Elazığ Winery in Eastern Anatolia was established in 1942, and the Şarköy Winery in Thrace was established in 1996. Today, Kayra’s refined, unique tastes from Anatolia are listed in many international fine dining restaurants and receive awards in international competitions.