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Turkish Wine 101

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[1] wineries making wines in all styles (still, sparkling, sweet, and fortified) and domestic and international grape varieties. 

[1] Tütün ve Alkol Dairesi Başkanlığı:

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.