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Turkish Wine

Edouard GuérinTraditionally wine and Turkey have
  not been a good combination — we
  are not talking of the Christmas fowl
  here, but Turkey as a winemaking

VISITORS TO TURKEY frequently opt for beer or Raki, the latter a rather rough and ready aniseed spirit that is often an acquired taste. Never-theless, Raki was the staple alcoholic drink of the country.

On our most recent trip to Turkey we drank some very palatable wines, some made from well-known grapes whilst other grape varieties were both new to us and utterly unpronounceable. Such a revelation needed to be explained, so we stopped off at the Turasan Winery in Urgup — a small and pleasant town in central Cappadocia — to investigate.

There was a milling crowd all tasting wine — the popularity was quickly explained: this winery is the only one confident enough to let the public in for free tasting sessions. We take a letter of introduction on trips as we can often get into places quickly that would normally involve lengthy discussions, and we dutifully handed over our letter (written in Turkish) to the first person we saw. He took one look at it and said, in English, that he could not read it. Quite by chance, we had just happened upon one of the new, young generation of French winemakers!

Edouard Guérin spoke fluent English and had such an infectious enthusiasm that teetotallers would surely change a habit of a lifetime to join his pursuit in making and drinking great wines. We also met Hasan Turasan, the second-generation owner and it was very obvious they have a serious intent to become the best winery in Turkey. Sales are growing rapidly but they are nearing their proposed limit of a million bottles a year; the plan is to move up the quality scale.

Certainly the wines we tasted were many steps on the way, partly evidenced by rows of new barrels made from French oak and numerous new stainless steel vats, each costing the price of a small car, that were all being put to good use.

Most of the poor wines you will have tasted in Turkey are the result of the lack of the tradition of a wine culture. The people who transport and sell wine have had, and still largely still have, no understanding that wines die if they are subjected to temperatures over 20 degrees Celsius. How often have you seen bottles in full sunlight in shops and bars? It is obviously an educational exercise that is needed right through the distribution chain — although not all the blame can be placed directly at their doors.

Cappadocia is Turkey's main wine producing area — that fact is no historical accident as there were many Christians who fled to the area from surrounding countries thousands of years ago. They introduced the wine-making but in the early 1920's there was an exchange of lands and most of the Christians left and, as a result, the wine-making tradition was largely lost.

Turkish winemakers used to have just two recipes; one for white wine and one for red. No account was taken for different temperatures, weather, or any of the many other factors which affect grapes and winemaking. Tasting was carried out sporadically; some of the wineries' owners would only drink Raki, so that must have been a massive handicap in achieving the essential quality tests.

Edouard, being French, has been a great help despite not even looking his youthful 25 years — people have listened and heeded his advice. In his eighteen months in Turkey he has had a steep learning curve too — in France the fermentation is usually up to 20 days whereas in Turkey it is a maximum of just four days.

In Cappadocia the vineyards are frequently located high — up to 1,400 metres. It was thought that the world's highest were 1,200 metres, in Argentina. However, Edouard uses no set rules for his winemaking recipes, tasting twice daily; honing each process from fermentation (colder yeasts apparently produce more flavours) through maceration to blending. The whole process is really more like conducting an orchestra, with each individual element being manipulated to work, influence and contribute to achieving the desired symphony of taste and colour.

Edouard modestly stated his role in the winery was to contribute only 20 per cent to the end result in a good wine; the majority being attributed to the husbandry of the vineyards and handling of the grapes. Turasan buys grapes from all over Turkey: Edouard was about to leave for Izmir to buy merlot grapes — the best in Turkey as they thrive in the Mediterranean weather. Other varieties are sourced from all over this vast country.

There is no temptation here to indulge in the over-flowery language of Jilly Goulden or to adopt the aloof and supercilious approach of Jancis Robinson in describing the wines we tasted. If you enjoy a good glass of wine, why not try a Turasan Seneder with Bogazkere and Öküzgözü which to me and you is a shiraz/syrah blend with merlot — it slips down a treat. Other wines which we tasted showed their potential, even that most difficult to find flavours and character. The rosé, in particular, was very palatable. — Tim and Bonnie Stevens

Useful Information / Links

Euphrates Tours
Given a short brief, effectively every aspect can be organised. They will offer the best operator for specific excursions, not just the one allied to any particular establishment. They also make free telephone calls available to clients via Skype.

Pegasus Airlines
A low-cost operation that has the approach of a good scheduled airline. No charge for allocating specific seats or for a generous baggage allowance. They fly the usual 737s, but with leather seats. They are the second largest airline in Turkey, carried over 4,000,000 passengers in 2007 and are growing rapidly.

Tim and Bonnie Stevens flew London Stansted/Istanbul/Kayseri through the new Istanbul airport which is modern, small and efficient and a better bet than the much larger Ataturk Airport. The only downside is that it is on the Asian side: an hour by taxi at 35 Lira (Ł15). A shuttle bus service is also available. Note that, depending upon the time of day, Istanbul's traffic can be as bad as anywhere and involve much longer journey times.