A predominantly Muslim country might be one of the last places you would expect produces wine—good wine, in fact—but Turkey has been resurrecting their very ancient (allegedly between 7000 – 15,000 years-old) wine traditions over the past few decades, making significant strides in quality in recent years. Thus, the arrival of Vinkara to NYC, a winery founded ten years ago and largely focused on the indigenous varieties of the country, couldn’t be timelier–very soon, foreigners may be the only ones buying Turkish wine.
Back home, the Turkish government, led by President Abdullah Gül, seems set on passing increasingly restrictive alcohol laws to protect the nation’s youth from the “evils of drinking” and stop a nation’s alcohol consumption that hovers at a mere 1.5 liters per person annually (compared to 10.7 in the European Union, according to a 2012 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development health study.) Sounds like a commingling of politics and ideology, no? Particularly if 83% of the country doesn’t drink?
Although there are, what some might consider, not wholly unreasonable “regulations”—no alcohol sales between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., no bottles displayed in see-through shop windows and no wine sold at restaurants and shops near schools and mosques, there is one component of the new bill that is not only vague but strikes at the core method for a winery, especially a newer one, to exist and grow—advertising.
Under the new legislation, signed into law on June 10, all sorts of advertising campaigns will be completely banned–promotions, sponsored activities, festivals and free giveaways. The sole exception will be the international fairs that facilitate the global marketing of wines and other alcoholic beverages—so the rest of us depraved drunks can support the industry. Under the bill, alcohol companies would no longer be allowed to promote their brands and logos except within the facility itself. So, no winery logos on business cards? What about websites? And the punishment for violating the ban that you might know you violated is a fine ranging from 5000 to 200,000 Turkish liras or the U.S. equivalent of $2591-$103,648. Yikes.
So why do we care about this? As Americans and wine lovers who have experienced our own varying degrees of alcohol regulation, much of it absurd and leftover from prohibition, I believe it is important to show solidarity with the folks overseas working within this restrictive environment while trying to resurrect native varieties. Turkish Merlot is already a tough sell, let alone trying to convince people to buy wines they can’t pronounce or spell. And if the industry doesn’t survive, most of us will never taste these fascinating grapes. Maybe that’s partly selfish motivation—if the wines stunk would we care about preserving Turkey’s vinous heritage? Well, that question need not be answered today because I sampled four of Vinkara’s wines at Corkbuzz two days ago, and they are definitely keepers.
I tasted with the founder of the winery Ardic Gursel. She was in town for a week promoting the launch of her line-up in the NY market. Of lovely demeanor and quite enthusiastic about the industry’s potential, despite the problems at home, she explained the winery’s location and their philosophy. “We are located northeast of Ankara, near the region of Kalecik, a beautiful place and famous area known for its vineyards with a very ancient history and tradition of winemaking. We have worked hard to understand what varieties are best suited for our land and grow those grapes. Why should we make wines from international varieties and compete on that level when we have truly unique grapes of our own? We want to be known for growing Turkey’s grapes. They are wonderful.”
I tasted wines from two native varieties: Kalecik Karasi and Narince. Taken from Vinkara’s promotional material:
Kalecik Karasi (pronounced: Kah-le-djic-car-ah-ser with ‘er’ as in British ‘father’) is an indigenous red grape varietal originating and named after the town of Kalecik, in Central Anatolia. A close relative to Pinot Noir, the Vinkara Kalecik Karasi is medium bodied, low in tannin, fruit forward with a lively, crisp acidity.
Narince (pronounced: Nah-rin-djeh meaning ‘delicately’ in Turkish) is a white grape originating from Tokat province in the Black Sea wine growing region.
Out of the four wines, I preferred the un-oaked Narince 2012 and the oak-aged Kalecik Karasi Reserve 2010. (The other two wines were an oaked Narince and un-oaked Kalecik Karasi.) What I found fascinating about both bottlings was their utter familiarity—the only thing unfamiliar were the varietal names on the label. If consumers sampled them both blind in a retail store, they would not only find them delicious but would be unable to put their finger on what, just exactly, it was they were tasting.
The Narince 2012 ($15.99), clean and crisp with touches of apricot and tropical fruit, had a texture similar to Viognier, reminding me of a cross between that and perhaps cooler-climate Chardonnay. The Kalecik Karasi Reserve ($25.99) had a lightness and brightness that reminded me of Pinot Noir and a fresh, fruity Gamay. Although aged in French barrels, the oak was so well-integrated, the purity of the red and blackberry fruit remained intact.
To find these bottles in New York, and I highly recommend that you do, check these stores:
Ambassador Wines & Spirits, Manhattan
Sip Fine Wine, Park Slope, Brooklyn
For the rest of you, try wine-searcher.com. If not available now, Vinkara is fighting for a place on your shelves, so check back periodically.