Seldom in the wine literature does Turkey get a mention — the country that is, not the bird. Yet those of you who have been to Turkey will remember spectacular scenery, splendid beaches, superb melons, tomatoes, and other produce, unforgettable lamb dishes, and probably the wines.
My first civilian assignment overseas was to Izmir in 1957, and after a year there, I continued to go back almost annually for the next thirty years, always taking time to seek out tasty food and Kavaklidere. Ah, Kavaklidere, the best known and most widely distributed wine of Turkey. In truth I am not prepared to rank it or compare it with wines of much better known wines from more prestigious wine regions, but when seated under a tarp overlooking the blue Aegean Sea sparkling in a brilliant sunlight with a freshly caught, freshly grilled sea bass on a plate before you, you find a white Kavaklidere especially delicious. I still seek it occasionally, finding it rarely. For a while it was available in Bloomington’s Sahara Mart, but I haven’t checked recently. And I admit that after traveling to an alien environment and with other wines all around it, Kavaklidere lacks the charm it exudes in Anatolia.
Even so, I pay attention to it, pitying the family which produces it because of the political and religious turmoil impacting on that historic country, a country which could lay a claim to being the birthplace of wine as we know it today. From ancient times it has been a prolific producer of grapes, yet as the world’s fourth largest grape producer, it converts less than two percent of those grapes into wine.
Turkish law prohibits the advertising of alcoholic beverages, including wine. It does not allow wines to be displayed in store windows nor shops to offer tastings. Some jurisdictions prohibit consumption in public places, and when images of alcoholic beverages are beamed in from TV stations abroad, the images are blocked out. The tax on a bottle of wine exceeds the cost of the bottle itself.
Add to these complications, the downward influx of tourism Lira as fewer and fewer visitors are coming to Turkey because of terrorism and civil strife. Average annual wine consumption by Turks is one liter per person; only one percent of total production is drunk by Turks, less than four percent is exported, so producers depend on tourists for their livelihood.
Ironically, the government doesn’t object to the exporting of its country’s wines, and recently American and French consultants have been working with producers to raise the image of their already high quality Syrahs and Chardonnays and Grenaches and Cinsaults and by calling attention to the native grapes — Narince, Sultana, and Bogazkere to name a few.
So I’ll continue to look for Kavaklidere, Dolucca, Kayra, and other wines from courageous and persistent Turkish producers. It’s the least we wine lovers can do for a beleaguered classic country.
Twenty-four hours after our Independence Day dinner, I enjoyed one of my favorite wine sports — using the left-overs. Wine, that is. Though we joke a lot about not finishing a bottle or two once we start, it is true that when the party is over and the guests have gone home, there is almost always going to be a few bottles with a glass or two left in them.
For our American holiday, we enjoyed American wines. At dinner on the 5th, I set out seven bottles, all of which had been kept refrigerated overnight and throughout the day. Most held at least one full pour. Dinner was also a mélange of cold cuts, cheeses, salads, and appetizers, also remains from the preceding festivities. My wife and I approached the table with no set plan for what to drink with what or what to nibble on when. We each had a couple glasses and helped ourselves as we saw fit.
Not surprisingly, we both opted for a bit of Gruet’s Brut Rose, as we tend to like a sparkler as an aperitif. A sparkler opened for a day? Still a sparkler? Certainly. In case you didn’t know, a good sparkler will easily retain its bubbles for a day or two even if unstoppered provided it’s kept cool.
We moved from white to red, red to rose, back and forth, a sip of this, a taste of that. No stress about sequence, no points to award. Just mixing and matching, a practice we had learned from Jinette and Leonard Humbrecht at dinner one evening when they brought out a collection of opened wines from their tasting room at the winery. We helped ourselves to Riesling or Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer or Pinot Noir. At our post Independence Day dinner, we poured in no particular order, wines from Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, and Napa Valley. I recommend this sort of thing every now and then; it’s a bit humbling, quite instructive, and a lot of fun.
It reminded me of a blending taught me by Dominque Thienpont after a tasting of some 30 Bordeaux led in my Heidelberg home. While cleaning up, Dominique began looking at bottles somewhat intently, then carefully pouring the remains of one into another not quite empty bottle. “Being careful to match Cabernet-dominant wines with one another and Merlot dominating ones with similar ones,” he explained. When he had finished, we had two full bottles of Bordeaux wines mixed from a dozen different chateaux. They made for a good conversation a day or two later when we enjoyed them with friends. It’s good to puncture a myth or two once in a while.
Marketing strategies take many forms. Total Wine recently came up with one I hadn’t seen — a coupon for buying any wine priced for less than $20 for a mere penny. That’s right; one cent.
As a daily consumer of wine, I seldom buy bottles costing $20 or more, always on the lookout for wines in the $10 – $15 range. To test this coupon strategy, hoping to find something around $19, I headed for shelves showing wines from my favorite regions. Nothing from Meursault or Chablis was less than $35. Same for Barolo and Barbaresco. I wandered among Napa and Paso Robles and saw bottles from under $10 to well over $100. Bordeaux was much the same; Sauternes were well over $20.
From Spain and Oregon to Greece, most under-$20- wines seemed to be priced between $15 and $17, none for $19. Throughout the store, few bottles were listed at $18 or $19. I finally struck my bargain at the sparkling wine department where I found a Cremant Rose from Alsace for $19.99. It came from a producer I know well, and I was delighted to get it for just one red cent.
Now I should mention that as I perused the price tags and looked at labels, I picked up a few wines I would not normally have bought because of their cost — some Pinot Noirs from Sonoma, some Pinot Gris from Oregon, some Rieslings from Baden. The one-cent sale pleased me with the Cremant and pleased the store for luring me into some unprogrammed purchases. A penny for Cremant is every bit as good as a penny for my thoughts.
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