Indigenous Wine Grapes of Turkey
Turkey has more than 1.200 – 1.500 named grape varities of which 800 are genetically different. There are around 30 outstanding wine grape varieties among all these types. The indigenous and international grape varieties below are those that are widely used for wine making.
Adakarası, Alicante Bouchet, Boğazkere, Bornova Misketi, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Chardonnay, Cinsault, Çalkarası, Çavuş, Dimrit, Emir, Gamay, Grenache, Kalecik Karası, Karalahna, Kuntra, Malbec, Merlot, Narince, Öküzgözü, Papazkarası, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Shiraz, Sultaniye,Tempranillo,Vasilaki,Viognier
Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Bogazkere is a late ripening, thick-skinned varietal that produces richly flavored, full-bodied wines. Its tannins can be quite robust when it is young, and oak barrel aging suits the grape well. Primarily grown in southeast Anatolia, it has brambly, black fruit aromas along with spices like clove and licorice root. With aging, Bogazkere develops tobacco and earthy scents with quite a bit of complexity. As one might expect from such a deeply colored wine, its flavors are dark, ranging from black raspberry to mulberry to cacao nibs. Bogazkere is usually blended with other native varietals to “soften” it up a bit in its youth, and make it more approachable. Bogazkere means “throat tickler” in Turkish, since it is said that you will always know when you are drinking it!
This grape is grown in and around the Aegean city of zmir. Bornova Muscat displays the characteristics flavour and aromas of Muscat. Bornova Misketi produces quite aromatic, lively, light, easy drinking and dry to lusciously sweet wines that are in light gold color. The aroma of Bornova Muscat is reminiscent of honeysuckle , basil, roses, mint, honey, bergamot, lemon balm, orange flowers, daisies, grapefruit and melon. Dry Muscat is an excellent aperitif. Besides it is an excellent accompaniment to cheese that do not over power its flavor, snacks and seafood appetizers and salads. Sweet Muscat goes well with caramelized and cheese-based desserts, stewed quince and cheeses such as cheddar, soft old cheeses and blue cheeses.
Çalkarasi is a grape grown in high altitude vineyards around the town of Çal, in the Denizli province. Soils in the Çal district range from decomposed, sandy alluviums to deeply chalky areas, and that’s where the grape thrives. Naturally high in acidity, Çalkarasi is a lightly tinted red, and is best suited to making rosé and sparkling wines. It’s telltale aroma is white peach with strawberry, and it can be spicy when made with extended skin contact. It makes light to medium-bodied wines. The cafés of Istanbul and Izmir horde most of the Çalkarasi rosé that is made, since rosé has always been fashionable near the Aegean Sea. Delicious with lighter fares such as sushi, shellfish, or just a fresh baguette and some butter.
Emir is the favored white varietal of Cappadocia and the only place in the world where is grown. It acquired its name (Emir = Ruler / Lord), from the fact that it was a quite popular wine at the local lords’ tables. It thrives in the high altitude (3,500 feet and higher) there, and is grown in volcanic soils. Many of the vineyards are ancient, with individual vine ages exceeding 200 years. Emir often has a slight greenish tinge to the color, with exuberant aromas of white flowers, citrus oils and kiwi. It has a defined delicacy, and is sometimes considered to be similar in flavor and scent to Albariño. Emir produces wines that are light-to-medium in body.
The cold nights at high altitude ensure that acidity is never lost as the grape ripens. It normally produces high-toned wines that are crisp and refreshing with a broad range of core-fruit flavors. Emir does not take well to oak aging, but it is often used as a base for sparkling wines.
Named for the Kalecik region in the Ankara province, Kalecik Karasi is one of Turkey’s most prized indigenous varietals. Diligently brought back from the edge of extinction by a dedicated group of growers and winemakers, Kalecik Karasi is known for its unique flavor and aromatic profile. This blue-black, thin-skinned variety produces fruity wines with low-to-moderate tannins, and bright acidity. Red fruits like strawberry, cherry and pomegranate are usually more prevalent on the palate than black or blue fruits, and often there is a vanillin and/or cocoa note underlying the fruit. It’s delicate aroma is unique, and once smelled is not forgotten. Though capable of reaching alcohol levels over 14%, such wines are often heavy-handed, and the best examples focus on the complexity of red fruits attained at a slightly lower ripeness. Although sometimes compared to Pinot Noir because of their similar red fruit orientation on the palate, in reality, that is where the similarity ends. Kalecik Karasi is unique on its own, and is a Turkish national treasure.
A rare, red grape traditionally grown as bush vines in the Anatolian (Asian) portion of Turkey, Karasakiz has a unique flavor. It’s reminiscent of old vine Zinfandel mixed with old, cobble-vined Grenache from the Southern Rhone, and is quite spicy. Also known as Kuntra in Greece, Karasakiz produces heady wines of only modest color, with a higher potential alcohol level than is typical for the indigenous Turkish varietals. Fruit from the ancient, head-pruned Karasakiz vines of Thrace has traditionally been sold by the local farmers to the distillery, as its higher sugar rate is prized by them. Today, Turkey’s winemakers are also trying to get this national treasure for themselves. Karasakiz is well-suited to the foods of summer grilling, and is best served with a light chill. Also great with smoked salmon, duck, or typical Turkish mezes like Fava bean purée, roasted red peppers, and warm hummus with pita.
Grown in the Tokat region of Turkey (near the Black Sea), Narince means “delicately” in Turkish, and has a flavor profile similar to Rhone whites like Roussanne and Marsanne. It typically produces straw-to-yellow colored wines, with at least medium body. Aromatically, it has a profile that ranges from cut core-fruits to ripe tropical fruits. Oftentimes, there is a defined almond or marzipan note. Usually fermented to dryness, Narince has the requisite acidity for aging, and it is often aged in oak for added complexity. Its flavors are round, ranging from ripe Red Delicious apple to Meyer lemon to white pineapple, and good examples are often considered to have a creamy note. The leaves of Narince are the most favored variety for the making of dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), and it is the rare wine that actually compliments lemon flavors in foods.
One of Turkey’s most revered red wine grapes, Öküzgözü gets its name from its big red berries – in Turkish Öküzgözü means ”eye of the bull”. It produces medium-bodied wines with lots of ripe, red fruit flavors like cherry and pomegranate, along with a subtle spiciness. Known for its naturally soft tannins, Öküzgözü has been compared to Gamay by many wine pros, but usually produces a darker colored wine than Gamay does. Öküzgözü has moderate acidity, and matches well with a wide variety of foods. Its home is Eastern Anatolia. Capable of medium-term aging, Öküzgözü is often blended with Bogazkere, as Cabernet is blended with Merlot. The blend takes well to oak aging, and is a favorite in Turkish cafés since it is so easy to drink.
Considered to be one of the likely parents of Kadarka, Papaskarasi is a medium tinted blue/black grape. It has traditionally been grown in the hills above the Thracian plains and northward into the Balkans, although today newer plantings are becoming established in central Anatolia. Intensely aromatic, and with naturally high acidity for a red grape, Papaskarasi is a remarkably versatile grape to work with from a winemaker’s perspective. It produces wines that are low-alcohol, fruit-driven, and generally from 11-12.5%. It is quite unusual for it’s ripening curve, as the canes ripen first. Papaskarasi translates to “Pope’s grape” in Turkish, and commemorates the Byzantine Papacy, an era when the Pope resided in Constantinople (AD537-752). Legend has it that Papaskarasi was the favored wine of the pontiffs back then as well.
Mainly grown in Denizli and Manisa. Mostly consumed as table grape and raisins however it is also used in wine making. Gives light, easy to drink fruit flavoured and fresh wines. Dry and semi-dry wines can be produced with this type of grape. It is an aromatic grape with small grains and thin skin. Sultaniye bears pinapple, green apple, citrus and exotic fruit aromas. It has a Asparagus, Pear, Pineapple, Floral, Mango, Lemon, Golden and Green Apples, Hay aroma.
Yapincak is an ancient, white grape grown in northwest Turkey that has an association with the Sea of Marmara. It produces light to medium bodied wines that are low in alcohol. Yapincak produces small berries, with amongst the thinnest skins of any vitus vinifera cultivar. Known for its aromatics and mineral-like characteristics on the palkate, Yapincak has been saved from extinction by Turkey’s dedicated winemakers. It is hard to grow, being vulnerable to poor fruit-set. Yields are low, even in perfect years. Yapincak matches well to fried fish, white-sauced pizza or flatbreads, and soft cheeses. In Turkey the traditional fare for Yapincak has always been bluefish, but overfishing has made this perfect wine and food match a rarity. Today you are more likely to see it served with fried sardines in Istanbul.