Turkish Wine 101
The most common question I get about Turkish wine is an incredulous “Turkey makes wine?” Yes, it does! Unintentionally, Turkish wine remains a well-kept secret; but one well worth discovering. To help you do so, I offer a little primer on wine in Turkey.
Modern Turkey is the product of thousands of years acting as a crossroads between the East and the West, a fact that Istanbul uses as one of its big tourism selling points. It is famously the city that straddles two continents, and this cultural melting pot has greatly influenced wine production in Turkey. The Hittite Kingdom ruled Anatolia from 1700 BC to 1200 BC and called the area “Wiyanawanda” or land of the grapevine. The Hittites, who used wine for religious ceremonies in addition to enjoying the beverage themselves, laid down numerous laws to regulate both vine growing and winemaking. After the Hittite Kingdom fell, subsequent peoples like the Assyrians, Phrygians, and the Greeks and Romans continued and contributed to Turkey’s winemaking traditions. Winemaking in Turkey continues today, and those looking for off-the-beaten-track enotourism can find wineries in all corners of the country. For those looking to expand more than their wine horizons, history buffs will be delighted by the number of UNESCO historical sites, including ruins, monuments, underground cities, ancient churches, and archaeology museums that are within easy reach of wineries.
In the early days of the Twentieth Century, the Ottoman Empire’s Greek population was largely responsible for wine production. Then the population exchange in the 1920s saw the loss of both that population and wine production know-how. Modern, commercial wine production in Turkey, now by ethnic Turks themselves, was born in the 1940s. It began slowly and was of dubious quality. However, government grants in the 1990s helped small production wineries get off the ground and drive a movement away from quantity to quality.
Today, Turkey produces approximately 8 million liters of wine annually. The country is home to 146 wineries making wines in all styles (still, sparkling, sweet, and fortified) and domestic and international grape varieties.
 Tütün ve Alkol Dairesi Başkanlığı: https://www.tarimorman.gov.tr/TADB
Unlike the majority of wine-producing countries, Turkey has no legally defined Geographic Indications (GI). Wineries tend to associate themselves with the seven administrative states in the country, rather than climate. However, if one takes climatic differences into account, Turkey has, in fact, eight grapegrowing regions: Aegean, Black Sea, Central Anatolia, Eastern Anatolia, Marmara, Mediterranean, Southeastern Anatolia, and Thrace.
If you’ve encountered Turkish wine in Turkey or abroad, you may have been a little hesitant to try some either because you couldn’t comprehend wine in Turkey or due to unfamiliarity with the grape’s name. Turkey is home to a vast and rich array of native Vitis vinifera grapes to delight all wine lovers from the neophyte to the geekiest of wine geeks. While some of their names might be a challenge to say, they are a joy to drink. Recently the international community has embraced Georgian grapes, and its flagship red grape, Saperavi, now graces many wine bar menus and store shelves. Who knows? A Turkish grape could be the next Saperavi success story!
Below are the six most popular white and black varieties.
Bornova Misketi (bor-NO-va mees-KET-tee) is a likely offspring of Muscat Blanc á Petits Grains. Native to an area outside of Izmir called Bornova, Bornova Misketi is a highly aromatic grape that makes wines with distinct rose and orange blossom aromas and fruit flavors ranging from rich citrus to tropical fruits. Bornova Misketi grapes develop high sugar levels and have been traditionally used to make late-harvest, semi-sweet, and fully sweet wines. But the last few years have seen dry wines made from this grape increase in popularity.
Narince (nar-EEN-jeh) comes from Tokat in Turkey’s most northerly growing area along the Black Sea. It takes its name from the Turkish word “narince” meaning “delicate.” But, while this thin-skinned grape is delicate, it gives full-flavored wines with notes that run from green fruit, citrus, and floral to robust tropical fruits. Narince takes well to various winemaking techniques such as malolactic conversion and both lees and oak aging. As a result, Narince wines may also include flavors of butter, pastry, and nuts.
Emir (eh-MEER) is the premiere grape of Turkey’s well-known tourist area, Cappadocia. This high acid grape gives light-bodied and lively wines known for their recognizable streak of salt-like minerality alongside fruit and floral flavors. Although sometimes found in blends, the best Emir wines are single-varietal and unoaked.
Öküzgözü (uh-KÜZ-guh-zü) is the most widely planted native variety in Turkey. Soft tannins, high acidity, and red fruit and herbal flavors give this tongue-twisting grape a versatility that enables it to make varietal red wines, blends, and refreshing rosés. Oak aging adds richness and flavors of brown spices and chocolate.
Kalecik Karası (KAHL-eh-djik kar-RA-saih), often referred to as Turkey’s answer to Pinot Noir, hails from the area around the country’s capital, Ankara. It makes light-bodied red wines with red fruit, pepper, horse stable, and distinct cotton candy flavors. Many consider Kalecik Karası to be the country’s most age-worthy wine.
Boğazkere (bow-AAHZ-keh-reh) is one of the most tannic grapes Turkey has to offer, so much so that the grape’s name, Boğazkere, means “throat burner” or “throat scratcher.” Because of its high level of tannins, Boğazkere is often found blended with other black grapes, most notably Öküzgözü. But Boğazkere can be an herbaceous, full-bodied wine with red- and black-berry flavors accompanied by secondary notes of spice and leather—when made well and softened with oak aging,.