From the reviews I have made about wine production around the Mediterranean, readers will know that it was the Phoenicians who established the cultivation of vines leading to wine production over 5,000 years ago. They brought this knowledge to the region from the area we know as Turkey.
Archaeologists have found evidence that vines were first cultivated in Turkey over 6,000 years ago. Over 1,000 different indigenous grape varieties have also been discovered.
During the reign of the Ottoman Empire, grapes were grown in abundance, but only for eating. It was not until Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern day Turkey that grapes were once again used to produce wines. The winemaking industry today is therefore a relative newcomer, only beginning production in 1925. It was Ataturk himself who established the first winery. Over the years this evolved into the largest producer in the country. Operating under the name Tekel—which translates as “Monopoly”—it was a subsidiary of the tobacco company British American Tobacco.
Turkey is a large country that has a number of very different regions, and great variations in climatic conditions. The majority of the country is mountainous. Most of the flat land is found along the shores of The Black Sea and the Mediterranean. This topography ensures the country has a diverse range of terroirs and climates which greatly influence the grape varieties that can be grown successfully and how the resulting wines taste. What is surprising to many is that, by production volume, the country is the worlds 4th largest grape producer, but only 41st in the table for wine production.The bulk of production though is not consumed by Turks as the country remains predominantly Muslim. My own trips to Turkey have shown me that there is a minority, around 16%, who do enjoy their wines. However, there is a majority who love beers and raki. Only around 25% of the country do not partake in any forms of alcohol for religious reasons.
The most commonly used indigenous grape varieties are:
Red wines - Boǧazkere, Öküzgözü, Kalecik Karası, Karasakız, Papazkarası
White wine - Narince, Emir
Rosé - Çalkarası
Wine producers also use internationally known varieties. These include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz (Syrah), Cinsault, Grenache, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Alicante Bouschet.
60% of wine production comes from the coastal regions with the rest from small pockets scattered around the country. The region of Thrace which runs along the Sea of Marmara accounts for 40% of production. The region that runs along the Aegean coastline, predominantly within the area of Izmir, accounts for 20%. The only other coastal area where wines are produced is Çanakkale. This is a province that sits on the southern coast of the Dardanelles. A sizeable community of Jewish refugees settled here after being expelled from Spain during the Reformation. They mainly developed a shipping industry which took goods and Turkish wines to countries around the Mediterranean.
The remaining wine production comes from 7 regions surrounding major towns and cities located inland. These are all mountainous with local topography and climates having a major influence on the wines produced. The 7 regions are, running from the west of the country to the east, Manisa, Denizli, Ankara, Nevsehir, Tokat, Elazıǧ and Diyarbakır. The climate is rough and dry in Diyarbakır, with extreme temperatures in summer and quite high average precipitations per year. Soil is made up of sandstone to red clay. The region contributes to just over 3% of the country’s total wine production. The main grape varieties are Öküzgözü and Boǧazkere. However, there are no established wineries operating in this region due to its harsh conditions. The grapes under cultivation go to wineries outside the region and are used for blending.
Apart from wine, grapes in all regions are used to produce the national spirit—some say firewater—raki. This was traditionally made using raisins, but now is made from a wide variety of grapes. It is an aniseed flavoured drink that typically comes in at 40% ABV. This style of spirit is very popular across the whole of the Balkans. I have enjoyed it when visiting Turkey; on a few occasions my Turkish hosts have chosen a raki to go with our food rather than wine. Ardent raki drinkers enjoy it in small glasses with a large ice cube over which the spirit is poured. Raki featured in the James Bond movie From Russia With Love. The head of British secret service operations in Turkey, Kerim Bey, described the drink to Bond when they were at a gypsy camp for dinner (and information) as “Raki, filthy stuff”. Personally I love it.
Here is a look at the different wine regions of Turkey and a few of the country’s wine producers, including some examples of what they produce.
• Region 1 - Thrace
• Region 2 - Izmir
• Region 3 - Çanakkale
• Region 4 - Manisa
• Region 5 - Denizli
• Region 6 -Ankara
• Region 7 – Nevşehir
• Region 8 – Tokat
• Region 9 – Elazıǧ
I hope you enjoy this exploration through Turkey and its diverse range of wines. If you have a Turkish supermarket or restaurant near you, do sample what they have to offer.