Category Archives: M

Georgian Wine Tasting in Istanbul

Georgian wine has been gaining in popularity for several years now. Not even Istanbul can resist the charms of neighboring Georgia’s wine and cuisine. While we don’t get a huge variety of Georgian wine here we at least have a steady supply.

While the wine tastings I lead are usually Turkish wine-focused, several months ago we shelved the Turkish wine in favor of some of the Georgian wines available here. Apparently not even sharing a border with a country makes it easier to import alcohol. The selection here is limited to a few basic table wines from a couple of Georgia’s large, commercial producers; particularly Chateau Mukhrani and Telavi Wine Cellar.

Georgian wine

Chateau Mukrani is one of the largest wineries in Georgia. The winery was originally established towards the end of the nineteenth century by Prince Ivane Mukhranbatoni on the family’s Mukhrani estate. By 1896 winery production peaked with twelve wines and international awards and popularity. Unfortunately the chateau and vineyards suffered during the twentieth century. In 2002 an investment group formed to restore the chateau to its former glory. By 2007 they were producing wines from newly invigorated vineyards in the eastern Georgian village of Mukhrani.

In the middle of Alazani Valley, lies Kakheti’s largest city, Telavi. It is just outside the city where, in 1915, Telavi Wine Cellar was founded. Telavi Wien Cellar belnds innovation with a sense of history, keeping faithful to the noble traditions of Kakhetian winemaking, while adapting to modern methods to produce wines that would please the most refined, and discerning global palate.

Georgian food

Of course no Georgian wine tasting would be complete without some traditional Georgian food. I made several dishes including both Imeretian and Megruli khachapuri, a chicken salad, and my favorite Georgian starter: eggplant rolls with garlic walnut paste.

And now, the wines!

Chateau Mukhrani Goruli Mtsvane

Chateau Mukhrani Goruli Mtsvane 2014 Tasting Notes:

There are some dozen different grapes with the word Mtsvane in their names because in Georgian, Mtsvane just means “green.”  Many grapes are called Mtsvane Something, and typically the Something part of the name has to do with where the grape is from (or thought to be from).  Mtsvane Goruli (or Goruli Mtsvane) means “green from Gori,” which is a town in the Kartli region in the Caucasus mountains of south-central Georgia.  This and Mtsvane Kakhuri, which means “green from Kakheti” are the two most common varieties found.

We tasted the Chateau Mukhrani Goruli Mtsvane. Bright and fruity with white and yellow plums and citrus on the nose, the sur lie ageing add some depth of flavor while keeping the wine’s freshness and easy to drink nature.

Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli

Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli 2014 Tasting Notes:

Rkatsiteli is probably the most common white wine grape variety in Georgia; particularly in Kakheti. It is used to make everything from table wine to European-style wines, qvevri amber wines, and even fortified wines.

Like the Goruli Mtsvane above, the Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli was also aged sur lie. Flavors of yellow and white plums, white mulberry, and citrus are highlighted by refreshing acidity. A warm finish hints at both the sur lie ageing and the depth of character of which this grape is capable.

Kondoli Rkatsiteli

Telavi Wine Cellar Kondoli Rkatsiteli 2011 Tasting Notes:

This Rkatsiteli from Telavi Wine Cellar was much more complex than the young and fresh version by Chateau Mukhrani. The wine was aged 70% in French barriques (35% new oak, 35% old oak) and 30% in stainless steel.  Fruity and aromatic, the nose is warm with the scents of apricots, white peach, melon, and toasted nut. Minerality balances the fruit on the palate keeping them fresh instead of saccharine and hints of hazelnuts and slight buttery finish from the oak give this Rkatsiteli some very interesting layers.

Telavuri Saperavi

Telavi Wine Cellar Telavuri Red Tasting Notes:

Unlike the other wines from the tasting, this wine from Telavi Wine Cellar is a non vintage blend from the winery’s Kakheti vineyards. Part of the winery’s table wine line, this dry red is a Saperavi-lead blend of local Georgian grape varieties. While not particularly complex its fruity aromas (largely black fruits like blackcurrants) and velvety texture make it perfectly quaffable.

Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi

Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi 2012 Tasting Notes:

The final wine of our tasting was the Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi 2012. More complex than the non vintage from Telavi Wine Celler, this Saperavi was aged 20% in French, American and Caucasian oak barrels after undergoing malolactic fermentation. A beguiling bouquet of black mulberry, blackberry and cherry tempt you to explore further while light florals, balsamic, and echoes of soft oak on the palate complete this wine’s seduction.

Kayra Cameo Sparkling Wine

Turkish sparkling wine is fairly new to the market. While previously there may have been one or two, it feels like the industry exploded with them over this spring and summer. Now you can find sparkling wine offered by a variety of producers including Vinkara, Pamukkale, Suvla, Kayra, and others.

Previously I posted about Leona Bubble, one of the two sparkling wines made by Kayra. The Kayra Cameo is a blend of the same grapes but is a higher-end version of the Bubble.

Cameo

The winery’s name is taken from the Turkish word “kayra” which means benevolence, grace, and kindness. A family endeavor, Kayra has two main bases in Turkey, one in Elazığ and one in Şarköy. The Elazığ winery in Eastern Anatolia was established in 1942, and the Şarköy winery in Thrace was established in 1996. With assistance from lead winemaker Daniel O’Donnell, Kayra produces an impressive 10 labels each with its own unique characteristics.

Leona Bubble

Part of the Kayra series, the Cameo is a well produced sparkling wine made in the tank, or charmat method. Unlike the traditional method (think Champagne), whereby wine goes through a second fermentation in the bottle to create bubbles; in the tank method the second fermentation happens in a large pressurized tank. The sparkling wine is then bottled and sealed.

I’ve had the pleasure of drinking Kayra’s Cameo several times now. In fact it formed the basis of a yacht-board wine tasting I hosted this summer! It doesn’t get much better than drinking sparkling wine while on a private Bosphorus cruise!

Cameo

Kayra Cameo Tasting Notes:

Like many sparkling wines, the Cameo is a non vintage-meaning it is a blend of wines harvested in different years. The blend includes Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Misket. Between the lovely flavor and the relatively low alcohol (11.5% abv) this is definitely a wine that is dangerously delicious!

The Cameo has a lovely aromatic nose filled with delicate fruits and cream. White peach, citrus (grapefruit particularly), and pineapple all vied for attention. Bubbles are fine and tight giving the wine a nice, frothy mouthfeel. It almost feels like the flavors of peach, lemon pith, blood orange, and grapefruit burst out of the bubbles as they dissipate on the tongue.

So far my favorite Turkish sparkling wine is the Cameo! While it seems that sparkling wine is often reserved for a special occasion at an average price of 99 TL the Cameo won’t break the bank if your special occasion is as simple as opening a good bottle of wine!

Büyülübağ Shah 2010

Before we talk about the Büyülübağ Shah, let’s talk about Büyülübağ itself.

Located on Avşa Island, Büyülübağ is one of Turkey’s Marmara region wineries. Alp Törüner founded the winery there in 2003 with a view of continuing the island’s wine making history. Working with an architect and an oenologist, by 2005 he built Turkey’s first (and I believe only) gravity-flow winery.

So new question: what’s a gravity-flow winery? First of all, it’s not a legally defined term which means there’s a lot of room for variation. The idea behind a gravity-flow winery is to cut out all the pumps, conveyors, and other machinery most wineries use to move grapes, must, and wine during the wine making process. Instead gravity moves the wine through the process. Rather than cutting costs by eliminating pumps and conveyor belts, gravity-flow wineries are expensive to build though. Theoretically you would need to put each process on a different level. Which also means workers are scrambling up and down ladders all day, every day.

shah

If it’s potentially more expensive and more work then why do it? According to Wine Spectator, gravity-flow wineries allow wine to be moved around much more gently. Too much force, too much rough-and-tumble handling, and a wine might become overextracted or too tannic, or experience too much oxidation.

Is it worth it? Well my experience with Büyülübağ wines says yes. Törüner produces some really nice wines. However other vintners in Turkey are also producing really nice wines without this system. For now let’s say that it works well for Büyülübağ.

shah

Büyülübağ Shah 2010 Tasting Notes:

The Büyülübağ Shah is a Syrah-lead blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. We all know that I’m not a Syrah fan and often avoid them. I’m not gonna lie here; I bought the Shah because I love the label. Thumbs up to Büyülübağ’s marketing and design team!

Velvety black fruits and black pepper dominate the nose. Twelve months in French oak add an underlying toasty sweetness of clove. Elegant tannins and a strong acidic core lead to a long finish with plump, juicy blackberries.

Kastro Tireli Karkaia 2013

I haven’t yet dived fully into Kastro Tireli’s wines. Outside of the Narince-Viognier I previously reviewed I’ve only also had this Karkaia, a Bordeaux-blend style wine. However I’m so pleased to see that their wines are pretty widely available now. Especially as I’m a fairly lazy individual and still haven’t made it to their storefront in Bebek.

Committed to quality over quantity, Kastro Tireli, which began planting in 2004, does everything by hand. The winery is also dedicated to organic viticulture. If you cannot visit them in Akhisar and want a bigger experience than just picking up something in the bottle shop-head to Bebek. And then mock me with how great your experience was. Maybe then I’ll stop being lazy and finally make a visit!

Karkaia

Kastro Tireli Karkaia 2013 Tasting Notes:

The Kastro Tireli Karkaia is a big, bold blend of traditional Bordeaux grapes. This beautiful, deep ruby wine combines not only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot but also Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

The alcohol is quite high (14.9%!) so you’ll want to give this some breathing time or otherwise aerate it. Without the benefit of breathing the nose is initially quite tight and alcoholic. However once it does have a chance to settle, the nose is redolent with fruit and spice. Black fruits (black currant, blackberry, and black plums) are mingle with vanilla and sweet, baking spices. It’s saved from being too sweet any syrupy by a zing of green bell pepper. Beautiful, round tannins support rich fruits and spices on the palate.

Overall the Karkaia is a well-balanced and elegant wine that only increases my estimation of Kastro Tireli as a whole. I look forward to trying more of their wines!

Late Harvest Urla Symposium 2015

Many people I know are turned off by the term: late harvest. “I don’t like dessert wine.” “It’s too sweet.” For many ‘late harvest’ means a wine that is syrupy sweet; but it doesn’t have to mean that at all. Late harvest wines can be super sweet, dry, and everything in between.

The late harvest Misket Urla Symposium is an excellent example. It is not a dessert wine but a lovely, light, semi-sweet. So if late harvest doesn’t automatically mean sweet wine; what does it mean?

Late harvest grapes are just that. They are grapes that have been left on the vine longer than a typical harvest (an additional one to two months). When grapes are left to hang like this they slowly begin to raisin. A concentrated “raisined” grape contains lower amounts of water and higher amounts of sugar. The resulting juices are therefore super concentrated in both sugar and flavor.

The must from late harvest grapes is then vinified. While this usually results in sweet wines, notably German Riesling and French Sauternes; it doesn’t have to be. Late harvest wines can be vinified completely dry. Wines made in this style will often be fuller in body and more intensely flavored than they would be had grapes been picked at the usual harvest time.

Now that the lesson in late harvest wines is over that leaves the question: where does the Urla Symposium fit? Somewhere in the middle but definitely on the sweet side of the fence.

Urla Symposium

Late Harvest Urla Symposium 2015 Tasting Notes:

The Urla Symposium is a late harvest Borovina Misket. Its pale color and relatively low alcohol (11.5% abv) provide the first indication of the wine’s overall elegance. The nose was what I’ve come to expect from Misket; but more so.  Intense honey and orange blossom saved from being overly sweet by an underlying zing of lively citrus.

The palate was restrained; like fragile, perfumed gossamer. Orange blossom, honey, and lemon curd gracefully twine just enough acid to keep the wine from tipping over the syrupy saccharine line. Sweet for certain and slightly thicker than standard Misket. A perfect sweet wine for those who like

Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane 2014

Tanini was one of my favorite winery finds at Tbilisi’s New Wine Festival this year. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a bottle of their rose to bring home though. The Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane amber wine more than made up for any disappointment though!

Tanini is the brain child of Emzar Vasadze who makes traditional Georgian wines in Kakheti. Using only native grapes, he produces Saperavi, Tavkveri, Mtsvane, Rkatsiteli, Kisi, and Saperavi Rose wines; mostly in qvevri. Georgian wines, particularly qvevri wines, are knows for being pretty tannic and he took the name of his wine, Tanini, for that quality.

Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane

But wait, what are qvevri and amber wines? I am by no means an expert on Georgian wines and recommend checking out Exotic Wine Travel and Taste Georgia. In a nut shell though:

A qvevri (kve-vri) is an egg-shaped earthenware vessel used for making, ageing and storing the wine. They are made in all sizes with large wine producers using vessels large enough for a man to climb into. Usually they are buried in the ground. After pressing the grapes the juice, skins, stalks, and seeds are all poured into the qvevri which is sealed. In this style of wine making the cap is not punched down, nothing is stirred or messed around with. In a few months the seal is removed from the qvevri and the wine is siphoned out.

Amber wine, also known as orange wine, is kind of the reverse of a rose. Whereas rose wines are red wines made in the style of white wine; amber wines are white wines made like red wines. In short; they ferment for a time in contact with the grape skins (and seeds and sometimes stems). The more skin contact the wine has had, the darker amber (or orange) color the wine will achieve. While Georgia is possibly the most well-known for its amber wines; they are not the only ones who make them. You can find amber wines throughout the Balkans, north east Italy, and elsewhere.

Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane

Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane 2014 Tasting Notes:

You can see from the picture what a deep amber color this is. Mtsvane simply means “green” in Georgian and indeed the grapes are very green. So it takes some amount of skin contact to achieve this burnt orange color!

To me, qvevri amber wines always smell overwhelmingly of apple cider. Quite possibly because I grew up drinking fresh pressed, unpasteurized cider so that raw quality that Georgian amber wines have must prick a memory. The Tanini Qvevri Mtsvane had a lot of that aroma for me. I also detected peaches, peach skin, mineral, and a smokey something.

This is also an unfiltered wine meaning no finding took place to clarify the wine. While it’s got only 11% abv, the wine making style ensured that this still packs a big punch! It explodes in your mouth with massive, chewy tannins. Yeasty apple and peach flavors wrap around a solid acidic and mineral core. There’s not a lot of progression in this one; it’s a full attack from start to finish.

There’s a growing movement in the wine world, including Georgia, for “raw” wine. Raw wine takes organic wine making a step further. Basically the rule of thumb, as I understand it, is nothing extra in or out. It’s just the grape and what it brought with it. So no foreign yeasts to aid fermentation, only the yeast that lives naturally on the grape. No fining, no filtering, no manipulation of any sort is done. I believe that that Tanini followed that practice with this Mtsvane. However for me a better description of this particular wine would be not “raw” but “wild”.

 

Villa Antonori Bianca 2015

I love Italian wine. Red or white. I don’t care. I love it all. And when you find a trusted producer, like Marchesi Antinori, you are guaranteed that even the lower end wines will be nice. Such is the case of the Villa Antinori Bianca 2015.

The Villa Antonori Bianca is a Tuscan wine. A white Tuscan wine! Surely not! Surely yes! Tuscany is not just about red wines. The red wines might be more well-known but there is no shortage of white wine in Tuscany.

Villa Antonori Bianca

Marchesi Antinori is the famed producer of Tignanello-the herald and (still) standard bearer of Super Tuscan wines. Antonori produces far more than Super Tuscans though; and they’ve been doing it for 26 generations. They have eight estates producing wine in both the Toscana and Umbria IGTs (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), three DOCs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), and three DOCGs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita).

Antinori produces many high-end wines and are lauded, rightfully, for their excellence. It’s so nice to know that the same sense of excellence and commitment to quality extends to all their wines. The Villa Antinori Bianca being included.

Villa Antonori Bianca

Villa Antonori Bianca 2015 Tasting Notes:

The Villa Antonori Bianca is a testament to a master blender. The wine is a blend of five grapes: Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Trebbiano, Malvasia Toscana, and Rhine Riesling. How a body is supposed to be able to pick out all those grapes is beyond my comprehension.

Straw yellow with faint green highlights the wine is full of light and life in the glass and the nose. The nose is aromatic; brimming with flowers and citrus. Flavors of lemon and grapefruit wrap around a highly acidic core. The acid was something of a surprise after the delicate nose but it was perfect for cutting through the saltiness of what we were eating.

It’s a lovely wine perfect for pairing or sipping on a hot day.

Barbare Libra 2012

Barbare is perhaps one of my favorite Turkish wineries. Their wines range from perfectly lovely to truly special and the Libra is no exception.

Sitting between the villages of Barbaros and Yazır in Tekirdağ, Barbare grapes are cultivated with organic and biodynamic farming methods. Founder Can Topsakal focuses on international, red variety grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre.

Barbare’s most important ideology and conviction is “to give back to the soil what it has taken” and as a result, is dedicated to cultivating the choicest grapes and organic farming. To endorse this commitment, Barbare received the hard-won Ecocert certification. Ecocert was established in France in 1991 and is an independent inspection and certification body recognizing and certifying organic farming and has been a benchmark in organic certification worldwide ever since.

Libra

Recently I hosted a wine and chocolate pairing tasting. I needed a Bordeaux blend to pair with the bitter chocolate so I took myself off to La Cave in Cihangir to find one. I had a few ideas in mind but as soon as I saw the Libra label all those ideas flew right out of my head. A Barbare wine I hadn’t yet tried?! How could this be??

It’s rare that I offer a wine at a tasting I haven’t already drunk myself. What if it’s bad? Or worse-what if I’m stumped and can’t provide accurate tasting notes to my group?! With a Barbare though I knew I wouldn’t have to even remotely worry about the first possibility. As for the second…it’s Barbare. I could tell people it smells of unicorns and they’d believe it because it’s that good.

(Because it’s that good. Not because I’m that convincing of a talker).

Libra

Barbare Libra 2012 Tasting Notes:

To begin, the Libra is not a shy wine. At 15% abv it is a big, powerful velvety fist. The nose changes and evolves a lot. Each time I went in for a sniff the Libra revealed new layers. Aromas of blueberries and herbs gave way to earthy tones of leather and tar which softened to reveal the wine’s oak influence. If deep, purple red could be a sensation then that’s how this would feel in the mouth. Luxuriant, velvety tannins wrap themselves around the tongue and linger for a long, rich finish.

This is a limited addition from Barbare with only 20,000 bottles produced.  I really hope that the Libra is part of a planned Zodiac series of wines. If it is; please you beautiful people at Barbare, make the Leo amazing!!

Kayra Leona Bubble

For years I avoided most sparkling wines. I found that almost all of them made me ill; instant migraine. Maybe I’m just getting more drinking practice now because that hasn’t happened in a while; freeing me to explore Turkish sparkling wines like the Leona Bubble.

Kayra, one of Turkey’s largest and most prestigious wine companies, produces two sparkling wines: Cameo and under its Leona label, Bubble. Both are relatively inexpensive although the Cameo (review soon!) is definitely the higher quality of the two.

Leona Bubble

There are six different ways to make sparkling wine: traditional method (Méthode Champenoise, méthode traditionnelle), tank method (or charmat), transfer, ancestral, and continuous (the Russian method) methods, and simply adding carbon dioxide. Wine Folly has a great article detailing each method; but briefly:

Traditional: In 2015 UNESCO awarded the traditional method, used largely to make Champagne, with heritage status. In this most celebrated, and expensive method, the base still wine is made as any other wine would be made then bottled. Then in tirage, the winemaker then adds yeast and sugar to the bottled wine to start the second fermentation and wines are bottled (and topped with crown caps). The second fermentation happens in the bottle. The CO2 gas created by the fermentation process has nowhere to go so it turns into liquid and dissolves back into the wine creating the bubbles. The wine is then aged, riddled, disgorged, a dosage is added (or not depending on the desired style), and finally corked.

Tank: This method, closely associated with Prosecco, starts out similarly to the Traditional method. However the second fermentation happens in a large tank. After the second fermentation ends, the sparkling wine is bottled without additional ageing.

Transfer: This method is nearly identical to the Traditional method until the riddling and disgorging. The bottles are emptied into a pressurized tank and sent through pressurized filters to remove the dead yeast bits (lees). Then, the wines are bottled using pressurized fillers.

Ancestral: This method of sparkling wine production uses icy temperatures (and filteration) to pause the fermentation mid-way for a period of months and then wines are bottled and the fermentation finishes, trapping the CO2 in the bottle. When the desired level of CO2 is reached, wines are chilled again, riddled and disgorged.

Continuous: In this method, used by Russian sparkling wine makers, wine is moved from tank to tank each with a different purpose. After the base wine is blended, the winemaker continually adds yeast into pressurized tanks. Wines are then moved into another tank with yeast enrichments. Finally, the wines move into the last set of pressurized tanks where the yeasts and enrichments are settled out, leaving the wine relatively clear.

Carbonation: In this cheapest method, CO2 is added to the base wine in a pressurized tanks.

Leona Bubble

Kayra Leona Bloom Tasting Notes:

The Leona Bloom was made in the cheapest sparkling wine method of simply adding CO2 to still wine. However it is still a pretty decent bottle of fizz. A blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Misket; it’s fresh, light, and utterly quaffable.

The nose displays a balance of aromas from the three grapes. A slightly musty aroma underlines peaches, white flowers, and grass resulting in a bouquet that is both fresh and deep. Tight bubbles burst with the ripeness of summer peaches and florals for a warm, albeit brief, finish.

A non vintage blend, like the majority of sparkling wine, this particular one was bottled in 2013. With only 11.5% abv the Leona Bloom is an easy and enjoyable drink.

Chateau Kalpak BBK 2011

Even before our trip to Chateau Kalpak with Em and AJ I’d had a few of their wines. One of them being the AWC Gold Medal winner BBK 2011.

Chateau Kalpak is the love child of Bülent Kalpaklıoğlu who began developing the vineyard in 2003. It was not until 2010 that he released his first vintage. His goal for Chateau Kalpak is to create a single chateau-style wine from a single vineyard. In order to achieve this, he picked the best root-stocks and clones of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot to match the vineyard terrior.

Only two blends are released annually: Chateau Kalpak and BBK. They harvest, ferment, and age (30-36 months) each parcel (about 1 hectar) separately. At Chateau Kalpak they use Hungarian oak barriques made out of wood selected for their balance, bouquet, and character. This establishes the basis of their “Chateau Wine”. From their they spend months conducting extensive blend studies for the Chateau Kalpak label. The remaining wines are re-blended to create the BBK label.

BBK 2011

Chateau Kalpak’s story and process are absolutely worth a deeper look and I suggest checking out the website (link above). Bülent Bey elevates wine making to a form of fine art with his thoughtfulness and attention to detail. All of which has paid off for him. Not only does he make beautiful wine but he has the gold medals to prove it. Chateau Kalpak is the only vineyard in Turkey to win a three star rating (2014) from the International Wine Challenge (AWC) in Vienna. Additionally they received six gold and three silver medals from the AWC and three gold medals from the Concours Mondial Bruxelles.

Chateau Kalpak BBK 2011 Tasting Notes:

The BBK might be Chateau Kalpak’s second wine but that in no way means it’s an inferior wine. In fact personally I liked the BBK 2011 more than I did the same vintage Chateau Kalpak. A bold blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot with a 14.7% abv, the BBK 2011 is a wine to be taken seriously.

The nose is a dark, romantic mystery. Aromas of black fruit, baking spices, dark chocolate, and mocha wrap your senses like a silken cocoon. Beautifully balanced with velvety tannins, the BBK held us in thrall and continued to develop and open as we sank into its spell. In addition to the black fruits and dark chocolate from the nose; clove, vanilla, and caramel each vied for their turn to take center stage. The long finish lingered with flavors of smoke and a hint of meat.

We made a pilgrimage in that bottle and found the light. It might have been a brilliant ruby light, but we found it.