Grapes of Tomorrow: Little-Known Turkish Grapes on the Rise

From Çalkarası to Fersun, these emerging grapes should be on your radar.

An hour and a half drive from Antalya along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, Likya Şarapları sits in the Taurus Mountains high above Antalya’s Elmalı district. The winery has made a name for itself with wine made from popular grapes both domestic and international. But what really excites the Özkan family, owners of the winery, is Acıkara.

Knowing that their region has a very old wine history, the Özkans reasoned that there must have been native grapes there before. They began to research the area and learned, through local shepherds, of a large grapevine growing wild where they grazed their sheep. With the shepherds as guides they found the vine, estimated to be 200 years old, made cuttings of it, and slowly introduced it to their vineyards.

When mature, Acıkara (ah-jih-ka-rah) grapes are medium-sized berries with a deep blue-black color and grow in tight bunches. They have thick skins which contributes to the tannic nature of the wine they produce. Likya’s first commercial Acıkara vintage was the 2014 and it was met with instant success in Turkey. Full-bodied and tannic, wines made with this grape show a spicy-earthy character with black pepper, leather, tobacco, cigar box, and brown spices framed by notes of black fruit.

Inspired by their success with Acıkara, the Özkans have since sought out and propagated two other endangered grape varieties: Fersun (fehr-soon) and Merzifon Karası (mare-zee-fone kar-ah-sih). Now these three grapes make up Likya Şarapları’s varietal Arkeo (archeological) series.

While the story of Acıkara is distinctive, it’s not unique. East from Elmalı towards Adana, the coastal Mersin province shares the Taurus Mountains with Elmalı. It also shares endemic grape varieties just beginning to gain popularity in the country. Here, wineries like Selfkia Wine and Tashaeli cultivate the black grape Patkara (paht-kar-ah) along with white varieties Ak Üzüm (ack ew-zewm) and Gök (guk). Across the country in the west, Paşaeli Bağcılık ve Şarapçılık champions grapes such as Çalkarası (chal-ka-ra-sih), Çakal Üzümü (cha-kahl ew-zewm-oo), and Sıdalan (sih-da-lan) from the Aegean region.    

These wineries provide a snapshot of the current trend towards working with little-known varieties in Turkey; but they are not alone in their efforts to resurrect rare, native grapes. According to experts at the Tekirdağ Bağcılık Araştırma Enstitüsü Müdürlüğü (Tekirdağ Vineyard Research Institute), Turkey’s largest vine DNA bank, the country may have as many as 1,244 distinct, native grape varieties.

Exactly how many there are remains unknown. Yet, if this count is accurate, it would be more than Italy, France, and Spain combined. The vitis vinifera species originated in Anatolia and wine has been made here for thousands of years; even before wine-centric cultures like the Hittites, Phrygians, and Assyrians began their dominions. With such a history of vine domestication and cultivation specifically for wine under its belt, it is not surprising that Turkey would be home to a rich abundance of grape varieties.

Here are some of the lesser-known Turkish grapes that should be on every wine-lover’s radar:

1. Acıkara (Black; Elmalı)

Hailing from the Taurus Mountains in southern Turkey’s Elmalı province, Acıkara (ah-jih-ka-rah) produces medium- to full-bodied wines with earthy and spicy aromas, a solid tannic structure, and an excellent capacity to age.

Acıkara (Black; Elmalı)

2. Adakarası (Black; Avşa)

From the Sea of Marmara island of Avşa, Adakarası (ah-da-kar-ah-sih) makes fresh and peppery medium-bodied wines. Red fruits, brown spices, and black pepper aromas are the hallmark for this grape’s wines, be they red or rosé. Often tannic with racy acidity, Adakarası is very pleasant when lightly chilled.

3. Ak Üzüm (White; Mersin)

Ak Üzüm (ack ew-zewm) is still finding its feet but this grape from the Taurus Mountains has shown itself capable of light- to medium-bodied wines with lively acidity. Aromas range from bright citrus to yellow tree fruit like golden apples and pears, beeswax, chamomile flowers, and young almonds.

4. Barburi (Black; Hatay)

Grown exclusively in the Antalya province of Hatay, Barburi (bar-boo-ri) produces medium-bodied wines with great fruit expression full of blackberry, mulberry, black cherry, black pepper, and violet. It is one of Turkey’s most food-friendly wines; a fantastic coincidence as it comes from an area of Turkey known for its rich culinary tradition.

Barburi (Black; Hatay)

5. Çakal Üzümü (Black; Thrace)

This thin-skinned grape native to Thrace produces light- to medium-bodied, fruit-forward wines with flavors of strawberry jam, tropical fruits, mango, and savory. Because of its pale skin, even long maceration results in what could be called a dark rosé with low tannins and medium acidity. Çakal Üzümü (cha-kahl ew-zewm-oo) earned its name, which means “jackal” in Turkish because as an early ripening grape, jackals come down from the mountains to eat the berries but ignore the nearby growing, later ripening grapes.

6. Çalkarası (Black; Denizli)

Arguably, the Aegean grape Çalkarası (chal-car-as-ser) is not an emerging grape as it has been used for years. However, until recently, it has been used largely as a workhorse grape. This Cinderella story variety has recently stepped into the spotlight thanks to a few producers using it to make everything from rich blanc de noir white wines, fruity rosés, and serious reds. It produces medium-bodied wines with crunchy acidity and silky tannins bursting with cranberry, wild strawberry, black pepper, bay leaf, and tobacco.

7. Hasandede (White; Kalecik)

Originating near Turkey’s capital Ankara, Hasandede (has-an-de-day), has a semi-aromatic nose reminiscent of citrus, gooseberry, white flowers, cream, and mineral. Wines are generally medium-bodied with moderate acidity and a creamy mouthfeel.

8. Fersun (Black; Elmalı)

Grown in the Taurus Mountains above Elmalı, Fersun (fehr-soon) is a pale-skinned variety that makes medium-bodied wines redolent of pomegranate, blackberry, strawberry, black currant leaf, tomato leaf, bay leaf, black tea, black pepper, and violet. Low in tannin and with medium acidity, its wines are perfect to drink lightly chilled.

9. Gök (White; Mersin)

Gök (guk) or Göküzüm (guk-ew-zewm) grows high in the Taurus Mountains above Mersin. Not only an emerging grape, it also ticks the old vines box as the few vineyards here dedicated to it clock in at 50 to 80 years old. The wines it produces are medium-bodied with luscious pomelo, bergamot, pear, plumeria, and ginger flower aromas.

10. Kösetevek (Black; Elazığ)

An Eastern Anatolian variety cultivated in Elazığ, this medium-sized dark violet colored grape is strong in phenolic compounds, anthocyanin, and tannin. Kösetevek (kuh-se-te-vek)

results in low-acid, medium-bodied wines with flavors of cherries, red plums, burnt sugar, and dried fruit with an intriguing thread of white pepper.

Kösetevek (Black; Elazığ)

11. Merzifon Karası (Black; Merzifon)

A recently revived grape variety, Merzifon Karası (mare-zee-fone kar-ah-sih) originates from the Black Sea district of Merzifon but is also cultivated in the Mediterranean district of Elmalı. It produces bright, medium-bodied wines with lively acidity and red fruits, spice, and earthy aromas.

12. Patkara (Black; Mersin)

Native to Turkey’s Mediterranean area of Mersin, Patkara (paht-kar-ah) grows high in the Taurus Mountains where elevation tempers the Mediterranean heat. Wines are generally medium-bodied with round tannins, lively acidity, and aromas of black fruits, purple flowers, herbs, brown spices, and earth.

13. Sıdalan (White; Kaz Dağları)

Found in Kaz Dağları in Turkey’s Aegean region, Sıdalan (sih-da-lan) gives fresh and mineral-driven wines with flavors of citrus, pear, tropical fruits, candied fruits, and wet stone. Light- to medium-bodied wines display a lively acidity making it a great grape for not only white but sparkling wines.

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