LAYOVER 7: Turkey. Despite many challenges, wine is on the rise



Turkey’s wine history is marked by contradictions, paradoxes and challenges. It is a country whose wines display an immense variety of organoleptic profiles due to the different climates and cultures that, like Turkey itself, lie at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, East and West.

Turkey boasts one of the most extensive areas under vine in the world and yet, paradoxically, only a little more than 3% of grape production goes to making wine.

Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the secular republic, ordered the construction of state-owned wineries in the 1920s to convince the Turkish people of wine’s many benefits. This ensured the survival of indigenous varieties in the Anatolia region, which now provide us with clues about the origins of viticulture.

Historical challenges and resurgence factors

The lack of a domestic consumer market, the ban on imports, steep tariffs and the influence of Muslim culture: these have always been the main obstacles to developing a wine culture in Turkey, where more than 95% of production goes to table grapes and Raki, a local aniseed liqueur.

However, Turkey seems to have awoken from its slumber and, since the beginning of the 21st century, has witnessed a wine boom of sorts, largely due to the following:

  • The growth of tourism in general and wine tourism in particular.
  • A rise in domestic consumer demand.
  • A lift on the import ban, which has introduced local consumers to wines from around the world.
  • The privatization of the state monopoly, which has improved wine quality considerably.
  • The interest in wine culture among younger Turkish generations, who are less religious and more influenced by the west.

However, a lack of structured wine legislation continues to complicate the task of articulating this new liberalization within the society at large.

About Turkish regions and their wines

Marmara, in western Turkey, has the highest number of wineries in the country, yet grape-growing for winemaking purposes comes to less than 16%. Marmara could be called the country’s most “European” region, not only culturally, but also in terms of the soil types and the warm Mediterranean climate.

The country has close to 150 wineries, of which more than a 100 are in Marmara or in the Aegean region.

The region mostly grows international varieties, but there is a growing interest in exploring the potential of local varieties like Papaskarasi and Karalahna, both red.

The heartland of Izmir, in the Aegean region, produces more than half of all Turkish wine. This extraordinary area reveals its history in a wealth of archaeological sites and vineyards known for their white wines.

Narince (indigenous), Misket (Muscat Blanc) and Sultaniye (Sultana) produce clean, fresh wines.

The vast Anatolia region stretches from the country’s center to its easternmost part, where it meets Asia. Here one finds various subregions with their own distinct characteristics:

The higher-elevation vineyards in Central Anatolia produce 14% of all Turkish wine, whereas Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia combined barely produce 12%. In contrast to the extensive vineyards of Marmara or the Aegean region, Anatolian winegrowing consists of small vineyards with a handful of rows at most.

A particularly interesting wine region in Central Anatolia is the recently created Côtes d’Avanos, located in a remote, typically Cappadocian, volcanic area. Here the secrets of winemaking go all the way back to the Hittites.

The region’s varieties include Emir, a fresh white grape, and Kalecik Karasi, a red with flavors reminiscent of cherries, which is a favorite among locals.

As for the vineyards of Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia, they experience such harsh winters that they need to protect themselves from below-zero temperatures.

This means that the growth season is much shorter than in milder climate regions like Marmara.

Despite a number of new wineries opening in these eastern regions, the bulk of the fruit is transported west for vinification, which exposes the grapes to the dangers of the sweltering Turkish summer.

The varieties that represent the best reds of Eastern Anatolia are Oküzgözü and the more tannic and rustic Bogazkere. Together they produce a blend that is very popular with Turkish wine lovers.

Despite the challenges, Turkish wine is looking at a bright future. These days, small wineries are leading the effort to produce wines of greater complexity and quality. Among them we find Büyülübag, Corvus, Idol, Lykia, Kocabag, Pamukkale, Sevilen, Turasan, Urla, Vinkara and Vinolus.

Turning the enormous heritage and potential of the country into a reality that can be enjoyed around the world is only a matter of time and proper wine legislation.

Rafa Moreno

Categorías: Wine