Is it possible to be one of the world’s oldest wine-producing countries, yet remain a somewhat niche option? The wines of Turkey fall into a fascinating middle ground for today’s avid wine drinkers, somehow popular and rather quaint all at once.
While France and Italy are the go-to locations for traditional wine culture, they’re still not the origin of the craft. Historians believe Turkey (as well as nearby countries like Iran) to be the home of the oldest winemaking cultures.
From the ancient Romans to the Greeks, Turkey has cultivated a fascinating evolution that continues to this day.
Are you considering dipping into Turkish wine? Continue reading to learn about this country’s winemaking history, today’s leading Turkish wineries, and native varietals you should try.
A Brief History of Turkish Wines
Turkey is an utterly fascinating location for wine creation, boasting both the novelty of original wine production as well as a suitable Mediterranean climate.
The very first Turkish winery was established in the early 1900s after a brief prohibition on the production, consumption, and sale of alcohol.
The establishment of the Turkish Republic reversed this ban, allowing anyone aged eighteen or older to consume wine and beer. Turkish wines today boast impressive commercial wine production numbers, home to over two million acres of grapevines.
Although drinking alcohol isn’t as common a pastime in Turkey as in Italy or the States, there are many passionate winegrowers and brewers working hard to keep their culture alive.
We’ll be taking a look at a few Turkish wineries below to get you started on your journey.
What Wine is Popular in Turkey?
Turkey is home to a multitude of indigenous wine grapes, such as Çal Karası and Kalecik Karası. The go-to wine types in Turkey are usually still red blends, though you can also find single origins and white wines.
Other indigenous Turkish wine grapes include:
The Wine Regions of Turkey
Turkish wine regions are extremely diverse thanks to the country’s large size and proximity to the ocean.
While Turkey doesn’t have official wine regions like France or Spain, it still has several key locations characterized by unique blends and subtle terroir.
The Aegen wine region boasts the most expansive coastline in the country, able to enjoy blisteringly hot summers and relatively mild winters.
You’ll find many well-known wine grapes produced here, such as Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Tannat. Due to the Mediterranean climate, Carignan and the native Turkish grape Çal Karası.
This wine region is both small and densely populated, functioning as a bridge between Turkey and the rest of Europe.
Its humid and warm climate makes it a peak choice for staples like Merlot, Papazkarası, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
This landlocked wine region has a trickier climate and soil quality than its seaside cousins. As such, it produces fewer wine grapes that are usually of indigenous Turkish origin.
Kalecik Karası, Papazkarası, and the relatively unknown white wine grape Hasandede are grown here. Kalecik Karasi originates in Anatolia and is famed for its supple, ripe dark fruit notes.
Predominantly surrounded by arid land, this large wine region is characterized by high altitudes and its famous lakes.
High altitudes are favorable for wine production due to exposing the grape to more sun, toughening the skin, and encouraging richer flavor. Öküzgözü and Kabarcık are frequently made in Eastern Anatolia.
Last but not least, we have Southern Anatolia. Expect to find Dökülgen, Horoz Karası, and Boğazkere produced here.
Wineries in Turkey
The majority of wineries in Turkey produce table grapes, a term for grapes designed to be eaten fresh instead of saved for wine. Nonetheless, Turkish regions boast dozens of wineries that offer wine tastings and tours.
What better way to start off your foray into the ancient world of Turkish wines than with the oldest winery in the country? Kavaklidere originates in Ankara, Turkey’s capital and the crown jewel of traditional art.
Boasting the distinction of being the first private wine sector in Turkey, Kavaklidere has been crafting impressive vintages since 1929.
They offer up to sixty-five different wines in any given year, committing to sustainable growth by investing in agricultural engineering.
Their portfolio is divided into a multitude of categories based on their lots, vintage date, and type. Native Turkey grapes like Öküzgözü and Kalecik Karasi are here, as well as more widely grown grapes like Syrah and Chardonnay.
Wineries often cultivate and sell supplemental products to get the most out of their land. Gemici Winery is no different, providing jam and olive oil on top of traditional wine.
This family-owned winery originated as a passion project between two food engineer graduates. After working throughout several food sectors, the owners established a factory to provide a range of healthy, homegrown products.
Gemici Winery (also known as Gemici Winery & Jam Shop) is a popular tourist destination for visitors who want to load up on all sorts of goodies before heading back home.
If you’re eager to be inundated with romantic images of rolling green vineyards and rustic cottages, Usca Winery will set your imagination alight.
If you’re ever in Turkey, Usca Winery is eager to show you the passion behind Turkey’s legendary wine history. The owners regularly offer wine tours, wine tastings, and history lessons for visitors.
Best Wines of Turkey
The wines we’ve chosen here are representative of the country, focusing on their native grapes and the preference for red blends. That said, we’ll also include foreign grape varieties to really showcase this country’s diversity!
Pendore Öküzgözü 2017
The best way to get started with Turkish wine is to choose a native grape. Öküzgözü is widely planted due to its favorability with Mediterranean climates, boasting large grapes and vivid dark skin.
This wine won medals from both Decanter and the Sommelier Wine Awards back in 2020. Expect to enjoy a medley of oak and spices from several years of aging, as well as classic red fruit.
Consider pairing this wine with yellow cheese, pork, or chicken.
Kavaklidere Yakut Red
Your Turkish wine journey is not complete without trying out a bottle from the country’s first winery! This Yakut Red is made from Öküzgözü grapes and is a great representation of what makes it so popular.
This wine is both tannic and rather balanced, leaning toward dark fruits like blueberry, blackberry, and black currant. Expect a smoky, leathery finish and a whiff of baking spices on this complex bottle.
Kavaklidere Cankaya White
For white wine fans, consider trying Kavaklidere’s white wine offerings. This bottle is crafted with Narince grapes, a lesser-known white grape variety that originates from the Anatolia regions of Turkey.
Narince bottles are brilliantly floral and lean toward the full-bodied side, so consider pairing this bottle with delicate foods like salad, crackers, or mild cheeses.
Sevilen Kalecik Karasi Red 2018
Curious about the beloved Kalecik Karasi? This aged bottle gives you nearly five years of refinement, pushing out a tart finish without diminishing its classic sweet red fruit flavors.
Expect rich cherries and a touch of pomegranate on top of a buttery smooth finish. This bottle would pair nicely with a salty or savory dinner.
Want to experience the Turkish spin on classic grapes? Vinbodrum has a delectable Shiraz offering that will bode well for fans of more mellow red wines.
This Shiraz is chocolatey and rich with a faint earthy finish. Soft, rustic wines like this go nicely with roasted vegetables, red meats, and just about any dinner with a smoky contrast.
Usca Winery Sonnet 64 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot
Turkish red blends are amazingly balanced and highly complex. You’ll enjoy several flavors in just one sip, especially if you take the time to aerate your wine first.
This Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend give you the high tannins of the former with the black fruit notes of the latter. This wine will bring out the smokiness of barbecue or the starchiness of a potato-based dish.
Usca Winery Sonnet 99 Viognier Chardonnay
Let’s wrap up the list with a white blend. This subtle bottle combines a highly popular white wine grape with a rarer variety for a result you won’t soon forget.
Expect a very dry mouthfeel with yellow fruit notes and a long, oaky finish. Chill this bottle briefly before pairing it with white fish or a vegetable kebab.
Why Should I Try The Wines of Turkey?
Turkish wines are a flashback in a bottle. This country’s winemaking culture is steeped in rich history, dramatic setbacks, and modern ambition all in one scenic spot.
Wines of Turkey tend to lean toward native varieties such as Öküzgözü, Kalecik Karası, and Boğazkere. Red blends are extremely popular, though white wines can still be found in abundance.
You can also find foreign varieties like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon thanks to the country’s Mediterranean climate. If you want to expand your palate and experience some of the oldest winemaking techniques around, put Turkish wines at the top of your to-try list.