A Primer on Turkish Wine Grapes – Part Two: White Grapes
In Part One of this Primer on Turkish Wine Grapes we looked at a brief history of winemaking in Turkey as well as the six most popular, native black grape varieties. In Part Two we will tackle the corresponding most popular, native white grape varieties used to make wine.
But first, let’s look at grape production in Turkey. Turkey covers the 5th largest vineyard area in the world with 448,000 hectares under vine. That’s more than the USA, Argentina, Portugal, South Africa, Australia etc. It ranks 6th in global grape production producing some 4.2 million tons of grapes annually.
So why isn’t Turkey more well-known as a wine producer? Well for one reason, a mere 3% of grapes is used for wine and rakı production. Where do the rest go? Table grapes and pekmez (grape molasses) take up a lot of grapes. In addition, Turkey is one of the largest exporters of raisins in the world.
While it is home to over 1244 native grape varieties, only a little more than 40 are currently used in wine production, including:
For years the popularity of international grapes, especially Syrah, Chardonnay, and the Bordeaux varieties, has outsripped that of native grapes. Happily, the last five years have seen a renaissance in native grape cultivation and wine production with several wineries dedicating themselves to the rescue of lost grapes.
While the bulk of Turkish wine production is red, it’s white wines are not to be overlooked. Produced in an array of styles from still dry, semi-sweet, late harvest, botrytis dessert wines and both traditional method and tank method sparkling, Turkish white wines have a lot to offer. Let’s take a look at six of the most popular varieties.
Bornova Misketi (bor-no-va mees-ket-tee) is a likely offspring of Muscat Blanc á Petits Grains. Native to an area outside of Izmir called Bornova, Bornova Misketi is a highly aromatic grape that makes wines with distinct rose and orange blossom aromas as well as fruit flavors ranging from rich citrus to tropical fruits. Bornova Misketi grapes develop high levels of sugar and have been traditionally used to make late harvest, semi sweet, and fully sweet wines. But the last few years have seen dry wines made from this grape increase in popularity.
More commonly known to most of the world as “Muscat”, the Turkish Bornova Misketi is related to Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains but has its own genetic characteristics. The grape is grown primarily in the Aegean in Izmir, Manisa, and Bornova-the town from which it derives its name. This pinkish-green grape prefers warm climates and clay and gravel soils and produces beautifully aromatic wines that range from dry to dessert-level sweet. The aromas of Bornova Misketi are reminiscent of honeysuckle, basil, roses, mint, honey, bergamot, lemon balm, orange flowers, daisies, grapefruit, and melon.
Because of its ability to make wines that range from dry to lusciously sweet, Bornova Misketi can be very food friendly.
Meats: chicken, white fish, light seafood, pork loin
Cheeses: soft, semi-hard, and hard goat milk-based cheeses
Fruits/Vegetables: bell peppers (red and yellow), carrots, celery, fennel, green onion, lime, mango, orange, pineapple, shallots
Herbs/Spices: basil, cardamom, cashew, cayenne, chili peppers, cilantro, cinnamon, clove, galangal, ginger, marjoram, mint, peanut, sweet and sour sauces, teriyaki
Emir (eh-meer) is the premiere grape of Turkey’s well-known tourist area, Cappadocia. This high acid grape gives light-bodied and lively wines known for their recognizable streak of salt-like minerality alongside fruit and floral flavors. It is sometimes found in blends, but the best Emir wines are single varietal and unoaked.
Native to the Central Anatolia (Nevşehir / Cappadocia) region, Emir (eh-meer) is both expensive and difficult to grow. The result is that more often than not it’s found in white wine blends with few producers making varietal wines. The word emir in Turkish means ‘ruler’ or ‘lord’. During the Ottoman period this was the favored wine at the local lords’ tables earning the grape such an exalted name.
Given its aroma and flavor profile it’s not surprising that this grape flourishes in the richly mineral volcanic soils of Cappadocia. Emir grapes prefer soils largely composed of sand, sandstone, and decomposed volcanic tuff; making the infertile Mid-Southern Anatolian region a perfect home. Grapes are slightly oval, green-yellow, middle sized, grow in middle sized conical clusters, and ripen mid-season.
Emir is used only for dry wines. The best examples are pale straw yellow wines famous for the crisp apple and minerals in the nose. On the palate this crisp and lively wine carries the flavors of apples, pineapple, kiwi, lemons, white roses, and mineral; so much so that it can sometimes be described as being ‘salty’. Emir wine does not take well to oak and is therefore aged only in stainless steel. While several producers around Turkey produce wine from this grape, the best wines come from Cappadocia producers Turasan and Kocabağ.
Emir’s high acidity and citrusy flavors makes it a great foil for many foods such as:
Fruits/Vegetables: almond, asparagus, celeriac/celery, endive, fennel, grapefruit, green bell peppers, kohlrabi, lemon, lime, purslane, spinach, zucchini
Herbs/Spices: capers, chive, cilantro, kaffir lime leaf, lemon balm, lemongrass, mustard, pine nut, sweet-sour combinations, tarragon, and white pepper
Hasandede (has-an-de-day) originated near Turkey’s capital Ankara. Literally the ‘grandfather of Hasan,’ Hasandede is a thin-skinned medium sized grape. Grown mostly as a table grape or for use in juice or pekmez (Turkish molasses) only a few winemakers are vinifying it; most notably Vinkara, Gordias, and Gelveri. When made into wine, Hasandede has a semi-aromatic nose reminiscent of Muscat, medium body with medium to high acid, and displays flavors of fruit, smoke, and cream.
Hasandede is used to make dry white and skin contact (amber) wines.
Herbs/Spices: cardamom, cumin, garam masala, ginger, honey, pine nuts, red chili, salt, sesame, tikka masala
Narince (nar-een-jeh) comes from Tokat in Turkey’s most northerly growing area along the Black Sea. It takes its name from the Turkish word “narince” meaning “delicate.” But, while this thin-skinned grape is itself delicate, it gives fully-flavored wines that run from green fruit, citrus, and floral to robust tropical fruits. Narince takes well to various winemaking techniques such as malolactic conversion and both lees and oak ageing. As a result, Narince wines may also include flavors of butter, pastry, and nuts.
Narince is perhaps the most ubiquitous of the native white Turkish vitis vinifera. Its native home is in the alluvial soils of the Black Sea region (Tokat) but it is cultivated across Turkey including in the Aegean and Thracian regions. Narince has large, round, yellowish-green, bronze-tinted berries and grows in large conical clusters with one or two shoulders.
A somewhat late ripening berry, Narince is harvested in the second half of September which provides a unique challenge to many winemakers. The vast majority of Narince vineyards in Tokat are owned not by wineries but third party growers who sell the grapes to winemakers and the leaves to other companies. Stuffed grape leaves (sarma) are made not only traditionally but almost exclusively with the leaves from Narince grapes. Unfortunately, the leaves reach peak ripeness and are harvested long before grapes leaving them exposed to risks of disease and sun and wind burn.
Narince, which translates as “delicately” in Turkish, has an aroma profile including: orange, grapefruit, lime, white pineapple, quince, floral, plumeria, acacia, fruit blossom, basil, ripe green apple, and walnut. Like Chardonnay it is a flexible grape that can be made into a variety of styles from aromatic and steely when aged in stainless steel to complex and creamy with flavors of vanilla, caramel, and toasted nuts when aged in oak.
Narince is used to make dry wines aged both in steel and oak, traditional method sparkling wine, and skin contact (amber) wines. This flexibility in winemaking styles means it also goes with a wide range of foods and flavors.
Foods: stuffed grape leaves, Mexican and Indian cuisine
Sultaniye (sool-tan-ee-yeh) is possibly the most commonly grown grape in Turkey; the reason why is that it is not a vitis vinifera. Sultaniye is a table grape and Turkey is one of the world’s leading producers of table grapes and raisins. Despite it not being a wine grape it is widely vinified across Turkey. This mid-season ripening grape is grown primarily in the Aegean region (Denizli and Manisa) and prefers hot climates and clay loam or chalky soils. Berries are medium sized, round, bright green in color, and generally grow in heavy bunches.
Found both as a varietal and in white wine blends, Sultaniye produces wines that range from sweet to dry although even the driest of them give a sweet impression. Sultaniye wines are fruity and easy to drink with aromas of: asparagus, pear, pineapple. flowers, mango, lemon, golden and green apples, and hay.
For not being a wine grape, Sultaniye wines are remarkably food friendly. Because so many styles exist running the gamut from sweet to dry that really opens up pairing possibilities.
Foods: fried foods, guacamole, sour cream, yogurt
Meats: chicken, pork, shrimp, white fish
Cheeses: lighter and semi-hard cheeses like Turkish dil and (fresh) kaşar cheeses, string cheese, mozzarella, and young goudas
Herbs/Spices: chervil, chili, chinese peppercorns, five spice, garlic, honey, preserved lemon, lemongrass, lemon thyme, lemon basil, parsley, scallions, shallots
The Yapıncak (ya-pin-juck) grape is difficult to grow and prone to low yields even in good years. Its continued existence is down to the few winemakers, like Paşaeli and Suvla, that continue the struggle to cultivate it. Grown in the Marmara and Aegean regions around the Gallipoli Peninsula, Yapıncak grapes are tiny with very thin skins and produce aromatic wines with mineral, citrus, and floral characteristics and take on vanilla and creamy flavors with oak ageing. It is also being used to make methode champenoise style sparkling wines.
Yapıncak is also known as Kınalı Yapıncak. “Kınalı” is Turkish for “hennaed” and refers to the copper-colored freckles the grape can develop. While the moniker may seem cute, dealing with grapes that have developed them is less so. These freckles add a bitterness to the skins so if grapes are pressed too aggressively the wine can take on a bitter flavor.
Because Yapıncak can make wines that run the entire gamut of white wine profiles including fresh and lively, round and creamy, and sparkling, the sky’s the limit for food pairing as long as you’re taking the wine’s style into consideration.
Foods: creamy pastas, fried foods, risotto, white pizzas