Tracing the Roots of the Turkish Wine Trade
Straddling the geographical spheres of Europe and Asia, Turkey is a nation boasting rich cultural influences stemming from two historically and geographically diverse continents. The transcontinental country is a veritable melting pot, home to one of the world’s oldest wine trades. According to historical records, Turkey has been growing grapes for at least 7,000 years. Ampelographers estimate about 1,200 varieties of indigenous grapes growing in the country. With 1.5 million acres of total vine area, it’s not surprising that the Eurasian country is currently experiencing a winemaking revival.
The 6 Game-Changing Periods in Turkish Winemaking History
For the purpose of brevity, we’ve condensed the country’s rich viticultural history into six main periods: the Arrival of the Hittites, the Colonization of Anatolia, the Rise of the Hellenistic Period, the Arrival of the Turkish Tribes, the Rise of the Ottoman Empire, and the Birth of the Turkish Republic. Read on to learn about the country’s long history of viticulture.
Arrival of the Hittites — As was the case in other ancient civilizations, wine played an integral role in the lives of the Hittites. During this period, the liquor was used as an offering to gods. The tipple was greatly valued by the people, so much so the government had actual laws that protected its vineyards. After the Hittites, another group of ancient Anatolian people called the Phyrgians, continued the rich wine history of the region. Just like the people before them, the Phyrgians used wine extensively in their diet, which often included fish, bread, and olive oil.
Colonization of Anatolia — When Greek colonizers began settling in the country, the Phyrgians introduced viticulture to these people. It did not take long for these ancient Europeans to start their own wineries in areas that are now known as present-day France and Italy. Some of the most popular wineries during that time were Tabae, Klazomenai, and Knidos.
Rise of the Hellenistic Period — During the Hellenistic Period, there were three major regions producng wine in Anatolia, or modern-day Turkey. These were Izmir, Gallipoli, and Central Anatolia. Izmir and Gallipoli were known for producing ‘Pramneion;’ a wine characterized by high tannin and alcohol content. Central Anatolia, on the other hand, was popular for producing a sweet wine called ‘Scybelites’.
Arrival of Turkish Tribes — After the Hittites and Phyrgians, Turkish tribes arrived in Anatolia from Central Asia. Just like the civilizations before them, these tribes brought with them a sophisticated knowledge of viticulture further improving the winemaking and wine storage processes used in the country during this period.
Rise of the Ottoman Empire — At the time of the establishment of the Ottoman Empire in 1299 AD, vineyards were predominantly grown by the non-Muslim members of the country’s population. Although there were Islamic rules limiting the distribution and consumption of alcohol, wine production was still tolerated by the empire. The only main rule these early vignerons were expected to fully comply with was a collection of taxes that helped maintain the needs of the entire territory.
In the 1900s, vineyards throughout Europe were ravaged by the phylloxera epidemic. Demand for Turkish wine drastically increased. By 1904, wine exports amounted to as much as 340 million liters.
Birth of the Turkish Republic — After almost a thousand years of being one of Europe’s premier superpowers, the Ottoman Empire was dissolved to make way for the current Turkish Republic. Unfortunately, wars on different fronts of the weakened empire affected overall wine production in the region. It would take a series of treaties for the country’s political situation to stabilize.
However, once the economy was stable, the government set out to help restore the country’s wine industry. Financial support was given to private wineries. By 1946, there were about 28 wineries all over the country. And by the 1950s, vineries were producing French grape varieties in the Aegean and Thrace regions.
Today, the Turkish wine trade is enjoying an increase in local sales. If this trend continues, we could be looking at a sizeable growth in the country’s wine export market.
Major Wine Regions of Turkey
The competition from other major wine-producing countries such as Italy and France has forced Turkish wineries to up the ante through better technology, machineries, and increased foreign and local investments. Today, Turkey’s major wine-producing regions are as follows:
Southeast Anatolia — Bordering Syria and Iraq, Southeast Anatolia has a dry climate ranging from 12-16 degrees Centigrade. This region produces around 3.4% of Turkey’s total wine production. Its main product is the Bo?azkere wine.
Mideastern Anatolia — Located on the Eastern side of the country, this region is divided into three main sub-regions: Tokat, Malatya, and Elazig. This region accounts for 14.7% of the country’s total wine production.
Mid-Northern Anatolia — Found right in the heart of Turkey, this region is comprised of two separate sub-regions—Usak and Ankara. The vineries in these sub-regions produce 3.3% of Turkey’s local wine.
Mid-Southern Anatolia — Compared to the other Turkish wine regions, Mid-Southern Anatolia is home to a wide variety of wine grapes. Local varieties include Kalecik Karasi, Narince, Dimirt, Öküzgözü, and Emir. This region is also home to some of the most popular global wine grape varieties, like Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, and Chardonnay. Mid-Southern Anatolia accounts for 12.1% of the country’s total wine production.
Mediterranean — Though this region produces only 0.2% of Turkey’s local wine, it is home to various grape varieties, such as Bo?azkere, Kalecik Karas, Öküzgözü, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Marmara — Bordered by three seas—the Aegean Sea, the Marmara Sea, and the Black Sea—this region enjoys a typically Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot summers. Its large selection of wine grapes allows the region to produce 13.6% of the country’s total wine production.
Aegean — Aegean is currently the king of all wine-producing regions in Turkey. Accounting for 52.7% of all the wine made in the Eurasian country, it comes as no surprise that there are a large number of vineries in the area.
Our Wine Cellar Favorites
With over 1,200 wine grape varietals in Turkey, finding the right bottle for your wine vault can be confusing. To help you with your choice of Turkish tipple, we’ve come up with our top-5 local picks.
Bo?azkere – For the fearless wine enthusiast, there’s the Bo?azkere. There’s a reason why this red wine’s name translates to ‘throat burner,’ and it has less to do with its alcohol content than its actual flavor. See, the Bo?azkere is a full-bodied wine that has the complexity, acidity, and dense tannin content of Tannat. Its distinct mouthfeel brings intricacy to its dark fruit flavors and savory, pepper-and-tobacco undertones.
Kalecik Karasi – If you enjoy your red wines crisp and fruity, then the Kaleck Karasi is a good choice for you. With its low tannin content, red fruit flavors, and sugar candy aroma, this wine makes a wonderful pairing for a plethora of Italian dishes.
Calkarasi – If you prefer rosés over basic reds and whites, then you’ll definitely enjoy the Calkarasi. Although highly acidic, this wine has just the right amount of fresh strawberry and peach notes to sweeten the deal.
Bornova Misketi – Fans of Muscat wines will enjoy the Bornova Misketi. This versatile grape can be made into dry whites or sweet dessert wines. Bursting with tropical fruit flavors and a touch of honeysuckle, this tipple is designed to appeal to your sweet tooth.
Öküzgözü – Last, but not least, we have the Öküzgözü. Like the Pinot Noir, this medium-bodied red wine offers the subtlety of ripe, red fruit flavors combined with just the right touch of acidity.
So, if you’re looking to add to your wine cellar, consider going for local Turkish tipple. Who knows? The bottle you find might just be the ‘next big wine’ that will complete your wine vault collection.