Table of Contents
Welcome to Turkey
Turkey, surprisingly, has the fifth largest vineyard area – not just in Europe but in the entire world – of 517,000 hectares. However, the vast majority of the grapes never end up in a wine bottle.
Over 90% of grapes are eaten fresh, used for drying, made into molasses, or distilled into raki, whilst less than 5% of grapes become wine. Despite a relatively low volume of wine production, the quality of and the global and domestic interest in Turkish wine has been rising in the 21st Century, with local varietals mostly leading the charge.
Turkey’s history with wine and, more broadly, alcohol is complex at best. Combine a rich history in viticulture, wine consumption, and wine export with a religion that forbids alcohol consumption. The result is a complicated relationship between the government, the people, and alcohol.
Several ancient civilizations inhabited the land that is modern-day Turkey, including the Assyrians, Thracians, Greeks, Romans, and later, the Ottomans. The former few cultures had strong wine-making practices, and some even had wine-making laws and specific trade routes.
With the advent and subsequent spread of Islam in the 11th Century, however, Turkey entered a tumultuous period with numerous prohibitions, resulting in significant regulations and taxes that continue to exist.
Following WWI, several Armenian and Greek settlers were forced to migrate, resulting in a substantial dip in Turkish viticulture. However, a few Alavi and Syriac villages continued their wine-making practices predominantly for their own consumption.
Rebuilding the Wine Trade
As Turks attempted to rebuild their wine culture, the focus was on sales and marketing instead of producing high-quality wine. That changed in the mid-1990s. A handful of boutique wineries in Thrace began planting their own vineyards with international varietals and began producing single-varietal wine.
The quality of the wine did improve; however, domestic wine consumption was low, and wine producers were forced to look to the exports, where the market was crowded with international varietals. It became clear that for Turkey to build a brand in the international wine market, producers would have to focus on native varietals instead of traditional international varietals.
Turkey has no officially designated wine regions – the focus is mainly around individual producers. That said, there are several unofficial wine regions, including the Aegean, Marmara, and Cappadocia.
The Aegean region is responsible for the majority of wine production in Turkey. Around the coast, the climate is typically Mediterranean and continues to be as far inland as Manisa.
Further inland, the climate shifts to a semi-arid continental climate, where the local Çalkarası grape is used to make a sparkling rosé. Bornova Misketi and Sultaniye are the two white varietals that the Aegean is most known for. The former is used in both dry and semi-sweet wines and an increasingly popular dried-grape wine.
In terms of dark-skinned grapes, a couple of recently discovered local varietals and the traditional varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and Petit Verdot produced wines with rich structure.
Behind the Aegean, Marmara is home to roughly 40% of all registered wine producers. Two low mountain ranges, Ganos and Strandja, run through the region, and the most valuable vineyard area can be found in the foothills of the mountains, where there is a unique terroir.
The soils are varied with decomposed granite, limestone, terra rossa clay, and quartz gravel. In Marmara, the Karalahna grape yields wines high in tannins and deep in color.
The Adakarasi grape from the island of Avşa is often used for rosé. A handful of native white varietals in the area has helped revive a new wave of plantings for Yapincak and Kolorko. The late-ripening Papaskarasi yields crowd-pleasing fruity red wines with lively acidity.
Notable wineries in the region include Doluca and the formerly state-run winery, which is now named Kayra. Cappadocia sits over 3,000 feet above sea level with sandy, volcanic soils.
Characterized by a continental climate, Cappadocia experiences frigid, snowy winters with hot and dry summers. Frosts running late into the winter and early spring can cause problems amongst the vines. Emir is the most notable grape in the region, producing dry and sparkling white wine. Narince, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay have also done well in the region. Kavaklidere and Turasan are the most notable vineyards in the area, the latter being located in the famous town of Ürgüp.
Future of Turkish Wine
Turkey’s complicated history with wine has resulted in a somewhat fragmented wine-making culture – especially from a consumer standpoint, with no official wine regions designated.
With the lack of official geographic designations, consumers need to know specific producers that make quality wine. For Turkey to continue to improve its standing on the international wine stage, it would certainly be helpful for there to be official designations.
Beyond that, local varietals will be the key for the Turkish wine industry to flourish. The last thing sophisticated wine consumers are looking for in an already crowded international wine market is another Cab.