Getting to grips with Turkey's Okuzgozu wine

Updated: 2010-05-21 08:54
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LONDON - Labels touting wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot grapes are familiar to the average wine lover, but how does one decide whether to go for an Okuzgozu or an Emir?

A small number of wine connoisseurs who have been cottoning on to a revolution in Turkish wine production led by such winemakers as Daniel O'Donnell at Kayra Wines in the Turkish region of Anatolia, will tell you pretty firmly that Emir is white and Okuzgozu is red, for a start.

Kayra and seven other top Turkish producers from the "Grand Terrain" in Turkey have been showing off the results of a 10-year-long "seismic shift" in how wine is made in Turkey under the marketing umbrella "Wines of Turkey" at the London International Wine Fair (LIWF).

O'Donnell, a Californian from Napa Valley who was asked to go to Turkey to evaluate the wine potential of what would become Kayra, said he found a blank tablet to work with when he got to the country some consider to be the birthplace of wine.

"Turkey is either the newest Old World wine or the oldest New World wine," he told Reuters on the last day of the wine fair. "They've been making wine for 5,000 years."

He said the amazing thing about Turkey when he first arrived to take stock was that the grapes were unfamiliar, the winemaking ancient, the reputation unmentionable and there was no one to provide him with any guidance on making fine wines.

"I'm still getting to grips with the grapes," said O'Donnell. "The first time I made this Okuzgozu I made 10 different versions because I needed to know what this grape does."

Now his Kayra Imperial (80 percent Okuzgozu) is carried at top restaurants such as Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck, whose sommelier was hovering nearby.


And the other grapes, though ancient in Turkey, are new to the modern ways of vinification and come with tongue-twisting names for even the most game non-Turkish speaker -- Kalecik Karasi, Papazkarasi, Calkarasi and Bogazkere, which O'Donnell says means "Burns your throat."

The other seven producers with Wines of Turkey -- Buyulubag Vineyards, Doluca Winery, Idol, Kavaklidere, Kocabag, Pamukkale and Vinkara -- are also making wines that will blow away the dusty memories of undrinkable Turkish wine left over from the package beach holidays of many years ago.

David Hood, a lecturer for the Pirates Wine Club in the English city of Exeter told Reuters at a Wines of Turkey tasting at the fair that he was surprised and delighted by the wines on offer after years of sampling some fair to rather poor stuff regularly brought back to him by a relative.

"They're making very balanced wines and some of these will stand up to anything," Hood said.

Wines of Turkey Director Taner Ogutoglu said in a statement that the quality of Turkey has come a long way in the last decade.

"Wine production in Turkey has seen phenomenal development over the last 10 years with major improvements in winemaking techniques and subsequently quality," he said.

Wine expert Oz Clarke who led one of the tasting sessions told Reuters he'd had his eye on Turkish wines for a while and that his last visit, earlier this year, has convinced him Turkish wines are the newest and most exciting story at the moment.

"It starts here," he said.