Friday, 16 November 2012

Izmir, Turkey

I'd never been to Turkey before. Knew next door Bulgaria very well, once – and Greece – but Turkey didn't seem to have a lot to offer. Winewise. But as we found last year with Vinart Kalecik Karasi Syrah ... it has now.

So last week, with Justin MW and Beth, I flew to Istanbul and then down to Izmir and its vineyards on the west coast.

There was a great opportunity there. In the past we would have to do our own research. But a large group of wine fanatics – or 'bloggers' as they prefer – were assembling in Izmir to have a long, hard detailed look at Turkish wine in 2012. A 'Digital Wine Communications Conference'.

Too good to miss. A great assembly, and much concentrated brainpower. Chance for us to get clued up quickly.

Some very impressive people.

E.g. Joel Butler MW, from California. Has spent months checking out every wine region in this vast country. Learnt all the grape varieties. Publishing a book. 'Divine Vintage'. 1,200 Indigenous Turkish grape varieties, I think he said he'd found. (I still find it hard to listen, drink and write at the same time). Can you imagine that? 1,200 just about doubles what I thought we had in the world.

Must get that book. And Jancis' new book on grapes. 

Mount Ararat was his start point. Where Noah planted a vineyard and started the whole thing. Or if you prefer more secular archeological evidence, it was the Hittites. They probably had the first winery, just uncovered, 8000 years old. No bottles left, sadly.

An early example of wine marketing
Hittites came up with the first NAME for wine, which got modified by Greeks then Romans to ...'Vino'!  They made lots of wines here in Ancient times. But modern Turkey, although still a secular state, is mostly a Muslim country. Vines still grow all over, but instead of making much wine, they eat a lot of grapes. The country is still fifth in the world for grapes, but only just beginning to show on the charts for wine.

Vineyards today are still roughly where they were thousands of years ago. They still 'layer' their vines here. Means when one gets old they bend down a branch and bury it. It then grows a new stem. This means that vines – as long as they don't catch a disease – never really die. Could there be thousand year old plants here? 2000? 8000? Interesting thought.

There are about 100 wine producers. There was just one in the seventies when I gave it a try. 'Buzbag'. Made by the State Winery. National Wine! It’s been privatised now so it’s better.

A fair few of the hundred were at the show which was handy.  We set to work. There is no formal AOC system but there are several distinct regions from the far east near the Euphrates to the west coast. From Thrace in the north to the Syrian border (best avoided, just now).

We tried The Big Six indigenous varieties;

Emir is a white grape. We tried one; a simple fruit white with bitter finish. From alien planet-looking vineyards with weird, Trulli-like vineyard huts in Cappadocia. Many Cappadocia vines grown ungrafted; on their own roots – it’s so sandy and cold the phylloxera bug can't live there. We also tried the Yapincak grape from the Thracian shore of the Sea of Marmora. We liked the 'Narice' white grape grown on the Red River near the Black Sea. Its all colour coded here! 

In reds we liked the Kalecik Karazi; a Pinot noir-like grape with spice. Light coloured wine. 
Kalecik Karazi Reserve by Vinkara was a really nice spicy burgundy- type, oaked style; soft. The Okuzgozu seems a juicy, red zinfandel-type grown in Eastern Anatolia near the Euphrates.
Best of all though was Bogazkere.

You can see where we'll have problems selling these wines, especially this one; "Waiter, bring your finest Bogazkere!" Mmm. We'll have to work on those names. Its pronunciation isn't bad: 'boy az keray'. We certainly can't mention it means 'throat burner'. It’s a nice burn anyway.
I met this last wine at the event's bring a bottle party. The girl was a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty. I drank whatever she gave me. Maybe too much. Only half a mile back to the hotel. Took me an hour. The girl had left me of course, but I remember I acquired this four-legged friend. She either took pity on me or thought I might be good to eat when I finally collapsed. 

Lovely girl. Knew the streets well. Such sad eyes. But they wouldn't let her in the hotel. 

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