Poised on the border between Europe and Asia and arguably part of the cradle of civilization, Turkey boasts a rich and ancient history ... and a key role in the early history of wine. Then called Anatolia, Turkey was home to cultivated vineyards and a commercial wine industry as far back as 6,000 years ago.
Although Turkey's largely Muslim population drinks little wine in modern times - per capita consumption is less than 1 liter of wine per year - Turkey is a secular republic with a strong commitment to globalization, and its wine-producing industry remains surprisingly strong, with nearly 50 Turkish wineries producing some 275 million liters per year, ranking far behind the leaders in the world wine sweepstakes, but not too far below Canada and well ahead of such other Middle East producers as Lebanon and Israel.
Even so, exports to the U.S. are limited, so I was quite surprised to spot a fresh, relatively recent (2002 vintage) bottle at a local retailer the other day. Naturally I snapped it up ... at $4.99 a bottle, what was there to lose?
It took a fair amount of research to parse the label, but here's how I make it out: Kavaklidere is the wine producer, one of Turkey's largest, based near Ankara, the national capital. Oküzgözü is the grape, a native Turkish red variety grown around Elazig, a city of 270,000 on the banks of the Euphrates River in mountainous eastern Turkey. And Yakut is the winery's label name for this particular wine style, "dry red wine of a certain standard quality ... the best selling red wine of Turkey."
Recalling youthful experiments with Algerian and Corsican wines, not to mention cheap Eastern Bloc wines from Iron Curtain days, I wasn't expecting too much. In fact, I had a modest Spanish red in reserve for dinner in case this one was a disaster.
But ... hey! It's not bad! Crisp and fresh, not overly complex but tartly refreshing like unsweet black-cherry juice, it somewhat reminded me of Beaujolais, not in terms of varietal character but its fresh, snappy refreshing quaffability. It went nicely with simple fare, and certainly left no room for complaints at the price. It makes a good introduction to Turkish wine, and is certainly worth the minimal investment if you can find it.
For an intriguing, long interview with Esat Ayhan, proprietor of La Cave, a wine shop in the affluent Cihangir neighborhood in Istanbul, see the archives of the English-language Turkish Daily News,
Interested in comparing the world's wine-producing nations ranked by production? You'll find a thorough list at Wine Institute,
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Kavaklidere 2002 "Yakut" Oküzgözü d'Elazig ($4.99)
Clear ruby in color, this Turkish red breathes pleasant if subdued aromas of black plums and cherries with a smoky back note. Crisp tart-cherry flavors are clean and fresh, simple but appealing, somewhat Beaujolais-like in their simple, refreshing fruit. Nicely balanced, a good food wine and a pleasant suprise from Turkey, an excellent buy at this bargain-basement price. U.S. importer: The House of Burgundy Inc., NYC. (Nov. 7, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Perfect with an Italian-accented meat loaf.
VALUE: Lack of knowledge of Turkish wines in the West, and the concomitant skepticism about them, keeps prices low; for $5 it's a steal.
WHEN TO DRINK: The light, crisp and fresh nature of this fruity red wine suggests that it's best drunk up young, and information from the winery underscores that. It won't die in the next year, but don't cellar it, and be cautious about older stock.
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Wine Lovers' Voting Booth: Political preference?
On rare occasion, we open the Wine Lovers' Voting Booth to a non-wine-related topic, seeking just for the fun of it to sample opinions of the Internet wine-loving community on topics that have varied from favorite pets to favorite musical genre.
In the aftermath of the recent U.S. presidential election, we can't resist taking a light-hearted look at the way wine lovers label themselves politically as we ask citizens of all nations, what's your political preference?
To take part in this informal ballot, click to the Voting Booth,
This week on WineLoversPage.com
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Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: Who really made that wine?
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Finding words for wine (Nov. 5, 2004)
Speaking of Ohio (Nov. 3, 2004)
WT101: What's for Dessert? (Nov. 1, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Oven "fries" and cheese sauce (Nov. 4, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Nov. 8, 2004