Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From Land of Contrasts, Turkish Delight in a Bottle

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul. Photo by Stephen Eastop.

BY TAMARA FISH

IS Turkish delight delightful, anyone?
Some think so. Personally, I find the confection smells better than it tastes. I like my roses before my eyes and not on my tongue, thank you very much. But then again, I find that beer smells better than it tastes, too. Who am I to say?

What about Turkish wine?
Now there’s something that’s delightful. Tongue-twisting consonant-congo-line names notwithstanding, Turkish wines show strong potential.

As part of the much promised wRICO commission to break the accidental French wine mafia (http://www.bit.ly/m3ooH0), we at Grape: Wine Talk are proud to introduce our readers to liquid Turkish delight: exquisite wine varietals of Turkey.

TURKEY: A LAND OF COMPLEXITY
A predominantly Muslim country producing wine? Welcome to Turkey, the land of complexity, if not outright contradictions. Turkey: the secular Moslem state. Turkey: the land of East meeting West. Turkey: the land of volcanic soil, dry climate, cool nights. Turkey: one of the top 10 grape producers in the world.

Turkey can’t help producing wines. With more than 1000 indigenous grapes, wine will flow from them there vats. Not to produce wines would simply be silly. From ancient times to the Ottoman Empire’s elegant decadence to today’s modern era, wine has always been a part of its history. Christian and Jewish communities in Turkey often made and served wine, and in the spirit of cosmopolitan Byzantine and Ottoman style, diversity was welcomed and embraced. That openness to difference extends to this day. Ataturk, the founder of the modern secular Muslim state, founded Turkey’s first commercial winery in the 1920s.

Three reds from Klavaklidere, one of Turkey's main wine producers. Photo from WikiCommons.

All that is beginning to change.

The International Turkish Wine Scene
During the past 20 years, Turkish wines have slowly begun to creep onto the international scene. Just last May, a series of Turkish wines wowed critics (http://www.bit.ly/rffjWl) at the London International Wine Fair, reminding one and all of Turkey’s long and distinctive wine traditions. Turkish producers have also gotten rather savvy, seeking entree into European markets by selling primarily to restaurants, especially those which Michelin stars. Create a buzz in the dining world, and the people will buy it for their tables and parties at home.

Now Turkish wines are finding their way into wine boutiques as an exotic find.

Well-Worth Wrestling With the Name: Turkish Varietals
While Turkey has begun to cultivate the more familiar varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, a few of its own indigenous wines are the ones we’ll focus on today: Sultana, Kalecik Karası, Boğazkere and Öküzgözü.

White wine:
Sultana
Take a Californian Chardonnay produced without much sweetness at all and add a crispness that most Chards hope to have. That’s Sultana. Surprising, actually, since its kissing-cousin, the Thompson seedless grape, is the basis for many California white raisins. With little sugar added in its production, Sultana creates stateliness without pretension. Perfect for fish and cheeses on a hot summer day.

Turkey, highlighted in red, is not known for its wines. Photo courtesy of WikiCommons.

Red wines:
Kalecik Karası
One of the loveliest wines on the planet, Kalecik Karası drinks like a dream. Imagine a light red wine with a hint of vanilla. Not too much. Just an unexpected flavor at the end of a sip (smooth finish).

Boğazkere
Its inky-purple hue hints at the complexity to come. Sit down, shut up, and take notice, Boğazkere declares. Boğazkere combines the best of a dry wine (typically not sweet) with hearty fruit (not typically found in a dry wine). Imagine biting into a very flavorful fig, but remove the sugar. The essence of fig remains. Now add heft. Make this wine substantial (oaky). Don’t be surprised if you find yourself contemplating the origins of the universe. This is a deep wine. So deep, in fact, that Boğazkere is often blended with sweeter fruiter wines to lighten up the taste. A favorite table wine in Turkey, Buzbag – yes, that really is the name – is produced from such a blend. But why tinker with a good think? Be bold. Drink Boğazkere straight, no chaser. Just fasten your seatbelt beforehand.

Öküzgözü
Think of the word as being the name of a heavy metal band, and you’ll probably do just fine with the pronunciation: OHH-kuz-GO-zoo. Think of this grape as a tango between a Merlot and a Zinfandel. Jammy and juicy all the way, with more than a touch of sweetness. Now think of traditional Mediterranean fare of grilled vegetables, rich tomato sauces, eggplant, eggplant, eggplant, and roasted meat. Is it any wonder that Okuzgozu is one of the most popular grapes in Turkey? If summer means grilling, Okuzgozu is a wine that will pair well with any dish.

Kavaklidere wines pair nicely with stuffed grapes leaves (dolma). Photo from My Recipes.

Worried that the names will escape you? Makes sense. Let’s substitute some easier ones instead. Chances are if you come across Turkish wine in a fine wine boutique outside of Asia Minor, Kavaklidere or Doluca will be the producer.

Turks and Frogs
To taste these delicious drinks does require a bit of creativity. For those in the New York metropolitan area, Turks and Frogs (http://www.bit.ly/mX5M4u), a wonderful little Turkish-French fusion restaurant in NYC’s West Village, often offers Turkish Wine Seminars, not to be missed. Kaya Kurtisoglu, a very knowlegable, very helpful sommelier, guided me through Turkish varietals very gingerly. We tasted several Kavaklidere wines paired with excellent stuffed grapes leaves (dolma), babaganoush, and other Turkish delicacies:

Angora
Sultana de Denizli 2008
$12

One whiff and one would think this white wine to be a Chardonnay (nose), but the first sip shows something much far less sweet. Tart, crisp, but not overpowering (not fruit-forward), the wine barely lingers and then disappears (clean finish). A great bottle to pop open with friends for a casual summer dinner.

Ancyra
Kalecik Karası 2009
$18 (Kahn’s Fine Wines & Spirits,
http://www.bit.ly/iTGqK4)
Now this was a first: a red wine that smelled so good I almost didn’t want to drink it (strong nose)! Imagine vanilla and cinnamon wafting up from the glass. Kalecik Karası is somewhat fruity, but the hint of spices keeps it from becoming cloying. Waiting after sipping releases a slight light molasses aftertaste (finish). An unusual wine that could even make grilled vegetables exciting.

Angora wines have a Chardonnay nose, but the similarities end there. Photo courtesy of Foods of Turkey.

Yakut
Öküzgözü d’Elazig 2009
$15 (on sale, $12 International Wine Shop,
http://www.bit.ly/pxdVXp)
Labelled Öküzgözü, the red wine is actually a blend of Öküzgözü, Boğazkere and Carignan. Imagine a well-made aethetically pleasing quilt, the colors of which work together to create a seamless whole. That’s what’s happened here. Öküzgözü offers its sweet jammy black cherry (very fruit forward), Boğazkere anchors the flavor with spices and heartiness (nutmeg, fig, and oak), and Carignan weaves it all together. Imagine a Beaujoulais on steroids; an unusual wine worth exploring. Perfect for Mediterranean fare and not-so-sweet barbecue.

Locating Liquid Turkish Delight
The local wine store might not carry Turkish wines, but Whole Foods has been known to do so. In fact, a Whole Foods just outside Cleveland, OH even stocked Kavaklidere a few years ago. Imagine that. From the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame to exotic Turkish wines. Who knew?

Another option is to go online. (Oh, how in the world did we ever live in the days before e-commerce!). Simply click on the links near the descriptions to have the wine shipped to your door).

Next up: Special Independence Day Edition: Rosé for the Red, White and Blue.

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