When I first came to Turkey, I didn’t know a lot about Turkish wine. In fact, I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t even aware that Turkish wine existed. It doesn’t get a lot of press outside Turkey, which I think is completely unfair given what I know about it now.
I came to experiment with Turkish wine in the way that most foreigners here do – by discovering that imported alcohol is taxed so heavily, you have to use the booze you bought to drown your sorrows over how much you paid for it. As soon as I saw the price difference between imports and the local stuff, the decision was made. I asked the liquor store owner to recommend some good Turkish wines for a beginner. I pointed toward some of the more expensive bottles with a questioning look. He shrugged and said, “sure, you can start with those, but you don’t need to pay so much to get a good Turkish wine.”
Turns out he was right. I rarely spend more than about 10 or 15 lira on a bottle, and I’ve gotten to try some of the most exciting and unusual wines I’ve ever had. There’s such a huge variety of winemaking that goes on here – the range of choice is mind-boggling. Sometimes I think I could try a different kind of Turkish wine everyday and go at least a year without repeating. One of the things I’ve discovered recently is the Süryani Christian tradition of winemaking in the southeast regions of Turkey. The process is fascinating: grapes and mahlep (a type of cherry) are pressed together to make the wine, which is then poured into ceramic rather than wood casks. The casks are then taken down to ferment in cellars for only 40 days, which sounds like a ridiculously short amount of time, but the resulting wine is absolutely gorgeous, and bears no hint of immaturity.
Süryani wine, like many specialised wines in Turkey, is very much regional. I never thought I was the kind of person to go out of my way for a specific type of wine, but now whenever friends travel to Mardin or any of the nearby towns, I always ask them to pick up a few bottles of Süryani wine for me. There are also wines that are specific to the west coast, the Marmara region, and so forth. It makes me wonder if at some point I’ll want to organise a tour of Turkish regional wineries.
Still, when you come to Turkey, you can walk into any local wine store or corner market wherever you are, and find a decent variety of wines to choose from. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going for the absolute cheapest ones (let’s face it, if you’re paying 3 lira for bottle of wine, you’ll get a 3-lira bottle of wine, end of story), but certainly for a tenner you can pick up some decent table wine for dinner. And Turkish wine compliments the local cuisine so perfectly – there’s nothing like having lamb cutlets with some beautiful local red wine to wash them down. After dinner, you can sit on the balcony and enjoy the evening breeze with a second glass… or a third.