When the invitation to visit Turkey’s largest wine producer arrived in my inbox in January, I paused for all of a nanosecond before bashing out the acceptance of an overexcited puppy on its first visit to the park; the opportunity to explore, if only briefly, the vineyards of a country whose existence as a wine producer had only relatively recently hit my radar, was just impossible to turn down.
One thing about going wine-hunting in a country of whose wines one is in compete ignorance is that you have few preconceptions. Actually, on reflection, that is not strictly true, the preconceptions that you do have tend to be at the lower end of the spectrum and, with current Turkish regulations restricting much in the way of website development for wine companies, opportunities to bring oneself up to speed before departure are few and far between.
Our hosts for the 72 hour trip were the family firm of Kavaklidere, established in 1929 and still fiercely independent. With significant vineyard holdings in across many of Turkey’s principal wine producing areas and an ongoing programme of investment in place, they have an unshakable faith that this, a country credited as one of the first to produce wine, can go on to be one of the best.
Their latest project and the base for our brief stay, is in the west of the country in Pendore, not far from the historical sites of Sardis. Before a single wine was tasted, a stomach churning visit to some precipitously steep vineyards demonstrated their total focus on quality and sustainable viticulture. Use of chemicals in the vineyards is kept to an absolute minimum as they use only their own natural manure as fertiliser and encourage natural predators to prey on vineyard pests as an alternative to spraying. Bearing further witness to their commitment to quality is their own vine nursery, providing all the plants for their ongoing expansion whilst their ultra modern winery is equipped with stainless steel tanks fabricated by themselves. Viticulture and winemaking are risky businesses at the best of times, but by taking ownership of as many aspects of the process as possible they are leaving as little as they can to chance.
Having been given every encouragement as to the quality that we might expect, the tastings that followed, conducted by the all-female winemaking team of Ahu Camli Tokgoz and Sanem Karadeniz did not disappoint. In fact, I would go as far as to say that they far exceeded expectation. Using a blend of Turkish and International varieties, they have created a distinctive range of wines bursting with character. Not only that but the overriding feature across reds, whites and rosés was one of elegance – fears of blowsy whites and supercharged, alcoholic and anonymous reds evaporated as the arrival of each wine prompted unanimous murmerings of approval.
All being well, our first shipment will arrive in the next few weeks but in the meantime here is a flavour of what to expect:
1) Altin Kopuk Stand aside Prosecco, I really loved this Charmat method fizz from the native Emir grape variety. It has a lovely richness and creaminess, a gentle mousse and a very clean, fresh finish.
2) Kavaklidere Misket 2014 I should probably come clean and admit that we were introduced to this delightful dry Muscat over a sun-kissed vineyard lunch. It is just a perfect al fresco white – full of grapey Muscat aromas but elegantly balanced with a crisp acidity and a bone-dry finish.
3) Cankaya 2014 Produced across two sites in Tokat and Cappadoccia, this is a really interesting blend of 35% Narince, 35% Emir and 30% Sultaniye. It has a slightly spicy, herbal nose with an aniseed edge. Dry and mineral with a savoury note on the finish.
4) Prestige Narince 2014 7 months in French oak lend some extra dimension to this understated, mineral white. One of my most frequent notes across the whole range of wines was “balanced” and this is a case in point. Refreshing and savoury with a lovely freshness on the finish.
5) Cotes d’Avanos Narince/Chardonnay 2011 If you need an example of how good Turkish wines can be, this is a great place to start. Multi-layered and rich, the spiciness of the Narince marries seamlessly with the softer, creamier textures of the Chardonnay. This is really very fine indeed.
6) Egeo Rosé 2014 Almost Provencal in style, this is a beautifully structured rosé with a real depth to it. Retaining a subtlety and with gentle herbal notes, this is perfect summer drinking.
7) Ancyra Kalecik Karasi 2015 This tiny, thin skinned grape has produced a marvellously refreshing red, bursting with red fruit character. Really lovely, summertime style of red – mid-weight and with a long, supple finish.
8) Ancyra Okuzgozo 2015 Okuzgozo derives its name from the large berries said to resemble a bull’s eye. This is generously flavoured with hints of cherries and redcurrants, very soft tannins and a lively acidity on the finish.
9) Vin & Art Kalecik Karasi/Syrah 2014 This is really delicious with a mouth-wateringly juicy “drinkability.” Its got a spicy red fruit character to it and a meaty richness but retains real elegance and has some fine savoury tones on the finish.
10) Egeo Merlot/Syrah/Caberrnet Franc 2012 This is probably more familiar territory and is certainly easier to pronounce which might make it a useful gateway into Turkish wines for those uncertain where to start. Generously flavoured with a fresh, juicy edge, this has got great balance and a long, supple finish.
11) Prestige Okuzgozo 2009 One of the more interesting details to come out of the tastings was the ability of some of these wines to age really well. Granted, 2009 is not exactly antique but by comparison with so many of the vintages that you see on the shelves over here it certainly classes as mature. With very soft tannins and savoury, meaty tones in abundance this is worryingly easy to drink. Its acidity continues to provide a lively freshness and I would suggest that this is a wine which is only just starting to show its true colours.
12) Pendore Syrah 2012 Ultra-stylish, multi award winnning Syrah. Deeply coloured with ripe, brambly tones and a mouth-filling intensity on the finish. Perhaps the most “international” of all the wines tasted, it is a real crowd pleaser is a perfect wine with which to surprise your dinner guests.