From Sultan to Baron

Like Israel's developing wine industry, Turkey has a long-standing wine-making tradition going through its own revolution towards the world of fine vinos and wine bars. Yonatan Sternberg explores some of the flavors of Turkey and a bit of classic Italy as well!

After primarily focusing and sampling both kosher (and non-kosher) Israeli wines and kosher wines produced abroad in the weeks leading up to and during the Passover holiday, I felt that it was time for something new! When my boss called me into his office and informed me that I was scheduled to travel to Istanbul in order to meet with a new partner of ours, I thought to myself, “gee, I really do not know much about the Turkish wine industry and this would be a great opportunity to sample Turkish vinos and explore a new wine country (new to me, at least).”

The first couple of days were rather hectic running from one meeting to the other, and even though I passed by a wine bar situated down the street from my hotel, I ended up grabbing a quick bite to eat and heading back to my room to catch up on emails. On my last day in Turkey, I decided that it was now or never; so as soon as my last meeting was over, I hopped into taxi and made my way towards Rouge [About Wine] – a stylish restaurant and wine bar situated on Lamartin St., a 3 minute walk from the Taksim Square. The décor is very modern with professional wine coolers and colorful artwork adorning the walls; red and black shades are the dominant color scheme.

What I did not know is that Rouge is linked with Gusto, the leading Wine & Spirits magazine in Turkey. The friendly bartender introduced me to Gusto’s Chief Editor and leading Turkish wine critic, Mr. Mehmet Yalcin. I must admit that this was the beginning of the best evenings I spent in Turkey. Mr. Yalcin was very knowledgeable and passionate and his explanations and insights into the local wine industry were fascinating. This was my first encounter with indigenous Turkish grape varieties like Boğazkere and Narince, Öküzgözü and others, as well as differences between the different wine regions and terroires across the country. Turkey has been producing wines for thousands of years and in recent years; but similar to the situation that existed in Israel, these wines were produced for daily consumption and offered little interest to wine aficionados. Today Turkish wines are undergoing a slow but steady quality revolution receiving recognition and drawing attention from wine aficionados around the world.

Two of my favorites were the Vinolus, Chardonnay, 2009 – 100% Chardonnay from relatively new vineyards, straw with golden reflections, suggesting pleasant aromas of green apples, white flowers and spices leading to a clean finish. “This is the first Chardonnay I produced at the winery and, like all of my wines, the vineyards and grapes are all organic,” said Ms. Olus Molu, winemaker at Vinolus. The Chardonnay 09 was recently sent to the Chardonnay Du Monde wine contest in France where it received a silver medal in its category. The second was a fortified wine that reminded me of a white port, produced by the Kavaklidere Winery and made from the white Turkish grape variety Narince. Kavaklidere, Narince, Tatli Sert, 2000 – aged in French oak barrels, the wine is deep gold in color, on the first attack, honeysuckle, dried apricots and citrus peel followed by notes of almonds (amaretto), hazelnut and cloves all leading to a long finish. Full bodied and rich, I found the wine well balanced and not to sweet at all, pairing well with nuts and potent blue cheese.

Next time you visit Istanbul I would definitely recommend visiting Rouge [About Wine]. The assortment of both local and imported wines sold by the glass is quite impressive, the food is very tasty and, though not Turkish in style, the menu incorporates the best produce available in Turkey. If you are a smoker, step outside to the restaurant’ss cigar garden and enjoy a nice cigar with a good scotch, cognac or as Mr. Yalcin suggests alongside a cup of good black tea.

Upon my return from Turkey, I attended a wine tasting of Italian vinos produced by the Barone Ricasoli Winery. Baron Francesco Ricasoli who is currently in charge of the family wine business recently visited Israel providing an interesting opportunity to sample the winery’s new offerings as well as receive explanations from the Baron. The Ricasoli name is well rooted in virtually all aspects of Italian history. This is considered as the oldest winery in Italy, dating back to the 12th century; the Ricasoli family played significant roles in Italian politics and Baron Bettino Ricasoli officially wrote down the formula for what wine qualifies as Chianti Classico in 1872 (minimum 80% Sangiovese grapes). Today the Barone Ricasoli winery is a state of the art winery producing a wide variety of both red and white wines, some based on traditional blending formulas and local grape varieties and others that are considered as Super Tuscans – a term referring to red wines produced in Tuscany from non-traditional grape varieties (e.g. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and others) or non according to traditional blend formulas. We sampled several wine but my favorite was the CasalFerro, 2006 – two thirds Sangiovese and the balance Merlot, this is a dark and concentrated full bodied wine. On the nose and palate, plums, black cherries, dark berry fruits and purple flowers followed by slight pleasant notes of smoked meat all leading to a long finish. It was interesting to compare this vino with the CasalFerro 07 which was made using 100% Merlot grapes. While different, there are definitely similarities between the two.

Sherefe ! Salute ! L’Chaim!