Turkish Delights

Turkey’s wines remain undiscovered, even though it is the world’s fourth-largest producer of grapes with 6,100 square kilometres under vines and has 60 indigenous wine grape varieties to dip into.

Sourish Bhattacharyya        Print Edition: July 13, 2008

Sourish Bhattacharyya
Turkey’s wines remain undiscovered, even though it is the world’s fourth-largest producer of grapes with 6,100 square kilometres under vines and has 60 indigenous wine grape varieties to dip into.

It was at Istanbul's Lale Restaurant, better known as The Pudding Shop, that I stumbled upon the best-kept Turkish secret. Apoorva Lakhia, back after shooting Mission Istanbul, had recommended this once-popular hippie hangout, doing brisk business in the shadow of another familiar landmark, Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It was there, along with a chicken shish kebab platter, that I had to drown in barbecue sauce because there wasn't a hint of marinade or masala in it, that I had my initiation into the world of Turkish wine. Turkey has been making wine uninterrupted since the time of the Hittites (2000 B.C.) and just one of its big labels, Kavaklidere, produces more wine than all of Indian wineries put together, but for some reason, the Turks have been coy about promoting their great wines.

That's a pity, for Turkey has a vigorous tradition of winemaking. I can say that with confidence, having downed many glasses of Cankaya (chan-kaa-ya) at The Pudding Shop and on the Turkish Airlines flight back home, and then getting over my post-vacation blues with a bottle of white wine from Corvus Vineyards. Turkey, along with Georgia and Armenia, played a pivotal role in the early history of winemaking, and the Euphrates valley in eastern Anatolia was the place where the Biblical Noah's vineyards were located. But it was only after Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey,

Turkish wine: Labels can be a mystery because the wine-makers refuse to communicate in any language other than their own
Flagged off his country's first commercial winery in 1925 that it got into serious wine production. Still, and I can say this with a lot of feeling, Turkey's wines remain undiscovered, even though it is the world's fourth-largest producer of grapes with 6,100 square kilometres under vines and has 60 indigenous wine grape varieties to dip into. After an immensely satisfying evening spent with a bottle of Zeleia from Corvus, I learnt to my surprise that the young winery, opened in 2002, is the love child of Resit Soley, an architect who got into making wine with Israeli expertise after investing 25 years on fine buildings. 

The wine I drank was a crispy dry white (2004 vintage) made from the Vasilaki grapes that are indigenous to the region. The label, reflecting the fierce pride the Turks have in their language, was in Turkish, so I could not figure out what I was drinking till I went to the winer's website (www.corvus.com.tr). It may be another reason why Turkish wines aren't that visible.their labels remain a big mystery. I can assure you that the Zeleia from Corvus will get along famously with murgh malai kebabs, though I must admit that I had it with cabbage soup. At The Pudding Shop,

I had Cankaya with chicken shish kebabs, which can taste painfully dull for a guy who has grown up on masala-packed Punjabi food, so I had to douse them in all kinds of sauces.barbecue, Mexican and 'hot chilli'. That wasn't a good idea, for the Cankaya white loves subtlety.chilli sauce is a bad accompaniment; barbecue sauce is worse. But Cankaya breathed life into the bland chicken steak served by a harassed Turkish Airlines steward.a passenger, having dunked one J&B too many, insisted on calling him darling and the Turk couldn?ft understand what he had done wrong to deserve that greeting. He should've had a Cankaya.

Sourish Bhattacharyya is Executive Editor, Mail Today

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