As a country where the art of wine production goes back thousands of years, it’s no surprise that modern viticulture has resurged in Türkiye, through the passion of a new generation of visionary winemakers.
Türkiye’s rich viticulture goes back millennia, a fact proven by ancient wine accessories, ceremonial cups and jugs that are now on exhibit at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. However, the Turkish wine culture of today is everything but archaic. It is young and dynamic, boutique and château, resurgent and respectful of endemic grape varieties. The long wine lists in İstanbul’s fine dining restaurants proudly present bottles from Turkish vineyards only, because there are now so many, with more being established regularly, experimenting and pleasing palates, bringing home international awards and complimenting contemporary plates by pioneering local chefs.
Once the country’s best-kept secret in terms of wine, the Thrace Vineyard Route connects 19 boutique wine producers located in Kırklareli, Tekirdağ, Şarköy and Gelibolu -all explorable during a weekend escape from İstanbul. Here, a day of wine tasting might be accompanied by a meal in the restaurant run by the vineyard itself and even a stay in one of the estate’s own rooms overlooking its splendid vineyards. Since antiquity, Thrace’s wine cultivation has benefitted from its shores that open up to the sea as well as its warm summers, gentle winters and high humidity rates, where harvests have flourished and made wines flavourful and specific in their taste spectrum. Wines that are made of local varieties such as Papazkarası and Adakarası, as well as international varieties like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cinsault, Gamay, Merlot, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, Shiraz and Viognier can all be found and enjoyed here. Either, whilst picnicking outdoors in the summer breeze with a selection of local cheeses and charcuterie, or at the vineyards’ hotel restaurants, in elegant dining rooms overlooking the countryside.
A little bit further away, Bozcaada island (better known as Tenedos since the ancient era) has 3000-year-old viticulture off the Strait of Dardanelles, with the northern winds bestowing this island with perfect conditions for wine cultivation. Here you will find the endemic varieties of Kuntra and Karalahana for red, Çavuş and Vasilaki for white, which Bozcaada wine producers experiment with to create balanced and well-defined vintages. Among the winding cobblestoned streets and signature stone houses of the island, restaurants proudly serve the local wines, accompanied by the best of local specialties, celebrating how such delicious simplicity can elicit the deepest of human joys.
Whilst on the island, the annual Grape Harvest Festival is an event that should also not be missed. Every September, locals and visitors alike head to various vineyards on tractors for the grape harvest, bringing grapes back to the town square in large baskets carried by horses and donkeys, as has been the tradition for so many years. For the next three days, the town square becomes the epicenter of celebration with wine competitions, concerts and exhibitions.
Some of the most exciting vineyards of Türkiye have lately begun to sprout and flourish in Urla, an area near İzmir that’s been the center of earthly pleasures with its fertile soil. In a province famous for Temple of Dionysus in Teos, the historic marble site dedicated to the god of wine, it comes as no surprise that the district of Urla has become a center of Turkish viticulture. Here among the olive groves and lush valleys animated by the Aegean breeze, the Urla Wine Route touts its ancient winemaking tradition through the resplendence of its young and boutique vineyards. With the advantage of having a characteristic terroir that benefits from its proximity to the sea, rich soil culture and iodized air, the wines produced here are exceptional in their taste. Apart from international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sangiovese, the visionary and entrepreneurial Urla winemakers are taking pride in local grapes such as Bornova Misketi and Sultaniye. Once considered a lost variety in the region, the ancient Urla Karası has also been proudly reproduced in the vineyards here and blended into one of Urla’s most surprising signature wines.
In Urla you will also find wineries making biodynamic wines, using the flow technique via natural gravitational force and avoiding the use of chemicals with a clear preference for good agricultural practices. Some of the vineyards have their own restaurants with tasting menus, benefitting from a region where the climate is not only perfect for wine cultivation, but also for the harvest of ingredients that form the basis of the refreshing Aegean cuisine. After spending the day visiting Urla’s ravishing vineyards, spend the evening dining on creative dishes made from the best of local and seasonal ingredients.
Apart from The Aegean coast, the Anatolian heartland boasts several important winelands to explore as well. Famous for its mystical landscape of fairy chimneys and underground cities, Cappadocia is a nucleus of Turkish wine culture, most notably vintages produced from the local Emir grapes. With a unique terroir that contains natural volcanic tuff, Cappadocia is the perfect place for Türkiye’s best white varieties like Emir and Narince to reach their flavor zenith. Wine vaults carved into the soft volcanic rock are also special to this region, where wine tasting is formidable at any time of the year, in combination with historic landmarks and natural wonders.
From its islands to its inland treasures, where the natural elements have created the most unique terroirs, Türkiye’s vineyards and local grape varieties are certainly an off-the-beaten-path experience for wine enthusiasts who are yearning for something new. An experience of exceptional wines and settings offered by passionate winemakers, who are in love with bringing a tradition back to life in all its flavourful glory.
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Sardines Grilled in Vine Leaves
30 big sardines (750 gr)
15 fresh vine leaves
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of fresh tarragon (chopped finely)
Salt and pepper
Wash the boned sardines and then season them well with salt, pepper and tarragon. Slice the lemons finely. Wrap two sardines and a slice of lemon in each wine leaf. Brush the wine leaves with olive oil, before grilling or pan-searing each side of the wraps for three minutes. Serve them immediately.
You might prefer refreshing whites like Bornova Misketi, Emir and Narince, as well as rosés made of Öküzgözü or Kalecik Karası.
A Brief Guide to Turkish Wine and Cheese
Around 300 types of cheese have been registered in Anatolia. Here is a shortlist of the best artisanal Turkish cheeses that would pair perfectly with local grapes.
Divle Obruk Cheese: This rare cheese is left to age in sheepskin for 4-12 months inside underground caves near Karaman. After melting this blue cheese, spread it on a slice of bread and pair it with a medium-dry local Misket (Muscatel).
Bergama Tulum Cheese: This special cheese made in the town of Bergama (by the ancient city of Pergamum) is best paired with with a glass of Turkish champagne made of white Emir grapes.
Kars Gravyer: Being one of the best artisanal cheeses of Türkiye, this Gruyere-like variety goes well with red wines made of Kalecik Karası, and White wines made of Narince grapes
Aged Kaşar Cheese: Made of a mixture of cow and goat’s milk, this aged variety is the perfect choice for a cheese platter that would fit a glass of red Öküzgözü – Boğazkere coupage very well.