I have history with Turkey. Years ago I ran a flotilla of sailing boats along the Aegean coast and later travelled across the wilds of Anatolia in winter. I went back for holidays on land and sea. I loved the country, the people and the food, but the wine wasn’t very special. We drank beer or ayran (think salty lassi) but avoided the wine.
Years later, I was invited to judge the annual Istanbul Masters of Wine competition that was designed not just to reward Turkish wine producers, but to challenge them, by inviting foreign experts to judge their wines and uniquely, to give them feedback. I judged it three times. The wines were mostly a step up from the wines I remembered; they had become fresher, more interesting and better balanced, although there was still rather too many over-oaked, high alcohol international styled wines. Each year the wines continued to improve. I wouldn’t say we changed the wines, but we did reinforce better winemaking
Judging wine is a privilege. I am always conscious that someone has spent a year making the wine I am judging, so even if I don’t like a wine I still respect the effort that has gone into making it. When you judge a sector or region or country regularly you can’t help developing affection for it. That doesn’t need to effect your judgement: it doesn’t mean you reward mediocrity, but you do enjoy rewarding good wine making. After the judging it is fascinating to see which wines were successful and who the people are behind the wines.
Politics put an end to the competition; the current president doesn’t drink and promotion of wine inside Turkey is banned. It’s no surprise then, that Turkish wine companies are now focusing more on export markets and certainly in the UK there are more Turkish wines visible on the shelves and in wine lists. So what to buy? Some of the most interesting wines are being made from native Turkish grapes, but their hard-to-pronounce names don’t make it easy. So a Gold medal from a competition like the IWC can help. Step forward the delicious Doluca DLC Öküzgözü 2015. But not every Turkish wine enters international competitions. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a reliable Turkish competition? The good news is that while there is no national competition there is now a regional competition for the wines of European Turkey. With a format very similar to its predecessor the Istanbul Masters of Wine it is now in its third year.
The best wines in the Third Thrace Wines Competition were all red, with the exception of a Chardonnay. Thrace has more international varieties than Anatolia (the Asian part of Turkey), but even so it was a surprise to find that of the eight best reds, Syrah was a component or varietal in six of them. Most of the wines have plenty of alcohol and many see new barrels, but the balance of these wines is good. They are worth seeking out.
Saranta Chateau Murou Syrah 2014
Barbare Premier Reserve IX - XI – XII NV Bordeaux blend
Doluca Sarafin Chardonnay 2015
Kayra Versus Dedeçeşme Blend 2015 Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz
Barel Gunn Reserve 2013 Cabernet Shiraz
Barel Vineyards Syrah 2015
Kayra Imperial Merlot Cabernet Franc 2014
Barbare Elegance 2012 SGM blend
Chateau Nuzun Syrah 2013