Turkish wines really are good. Really they are. Often when I start talking about Turkish wines to people outside the country I’m met with the same slightly shocked faces and something along the lines of “They make wine in Turkey?” Yes they make wine in Turkey! Turkey, together with Georgia and Armenia, forms the cradle of wine making.
While I can understand outsiders’ surprise at the Turkish wine industry; I take almost personal affront when people living here don’t know or appreciate it. This was especially so in a recent Facebook group post from someone asking for wine recommendations. It was killing me! So of course I’m writing about it.
To be fair and honest, when I moved here five years ago I shared the opinion that all Turkish wine was bad. Then two things happened. One: I realized that I was an adult and I should (be willing to) pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine. Two: The Turkish wine industry went (and is still going) through an amazing transformation.
When I started my foray into Turkish wine I admit that I drank the cheap stuff. I neither knew much about wine nor had a lot of money. And back then the Turkish Lira was a great deal stronger against the US Dollar. So yeah; I drank the Savas and Yakuts of Turkish wine. And regretted it more often than not.
Some lower cost wines really aren’t bad. Melen‘s bottom shelf line goes for about 30TL and I’ve had a few of those that are quite acceptable. Suvla, always at the top of my list, has wine prices that run the gamut from 18 to 300+ TL; and they’re all nice. Varying degrees of nice of course; but none of them are drain cleaner.
Eight to ten years ago (so I’ve heard from friends) Turkish wine was pretty much all bad. Things have changed since then. Yes alcohol taxes are insane high and wine here costs more than it should. But wine is good now. No longer are there only a handful of producers. I swear every time I go to La Cave I see a new wine by one of my favorite producers or a wine from a new winery. I can barely keep up with the boom. And I drink. A lot.
What’s also changed is that you can now get some decent wines for under 30TL. However you don’t have to spend even a hundred TL to get really good wine anymore. There are a whole range of mid level wines now going for about 50-60 TL that are lovely. So when I see recommendations for ‘decent and affordable’ wines including the drain cleaner level wines it hurts my soul. You’re killing me, Smalls! Killing me!!
After a while I stopped being so cheap and started trying some of the up market wines. By doing so I learned something. Turkish wines can be beautiful. More than that; they can occasionally even be amazing. Do I still have moments when I drink a mid level Italian wine; swoon with wonder; and say “oh that’s what wine tastes like”? Sure. However I now put that down to the lack of variety in Turkish wine rather than quality. Yes they can be beautiful. But no matter how beautiful they are you can only drink so many Bordeaux blends, Cabernets, Syrahs, and Öküzgözü-Boğazkere blends.
There’s also terroir to consider. Nif makes great Italian grape-based wines. Likya and Chamlija make nice Malbecs. But the land and growing conditions here aren’t the same as they are in Italy, Argentina, France, California, et cetera ad nauseum. So you will not get a Turkish Bordeaux blend that tastes like Bordeaux from the Medoc. Will you find a Turkish Sangiovese that tastes like Chianti Classico? No. You will find exception Turkish Bordeaux blends (hello Chateau Kalpak), and perfectly lovely Turkish Sangiovese. You cannot compare apples and oranges. Appreciate Turkish wine, and the hard rode its traveled, for what it is.
There’s an expression in Turkish: “köpek ölderen” which means “dog killer”. This is how they refer to the worst of the worst wines. And it’s how I would classify most of the wines people in this thread recommended. Not only recommended but described as “yummy”. That person I want to kick. Am I a wine snob? You bet I am. Personally I think everyone should be a bit of a wine snob. If you’re drinking just to get drunk then either drink the dog killer and don’t complain about it; or go straight for the hard stuff. On the other hand if you’re drinking wine because it’s the drink of the gods and it elevates every situation; then stop bitching that it costs more than 20TL a bottle.
Eventually I had to stop reading this thread. I was sending impassioned and furious messages to a friend of mine who moderates this page; begging her to sanction anyone who recommended a dog killer. Not everyone has the same palate. I know that; it’s fine. But if you’re one of those willing to drink any old, cheap plonk please just don’t recommend it to others. Especially with comments about how “yummy” it is. Wine making is an art and it should be appreciated like one.
What I find the most upsetting about these “recommendations” is that they perpetuate the belief that Turkish wine is bad; and it isn’t. While Turkey might be one of the oldest wine making countries in the world; it’s also one of the ‘non-traditional’ wine making countries. It’s extremely difficult for these non-traditional countries to not only get their wines on the international market but to be taken seriously. Especially when, like Turkey, they have to fight their own government to make the wine in the first place.
So for those Turkish wine makers out there, battling oppressive government regulations and making beautiful art anyway; have a little respect.