A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Öküzgözü - Elaziğ, Turkey
How can that be, one might ask, if Turkey has so much land devoted to the cultivation of the vine? It seems a perplexing question to the vino-centric as we can easily forget that grapes are not always grown exclusively for the production of wine. Yes, you can also eat grapes and many places grow them solely for use at the table or for raisins. In many places, edible grape production is the norm because wine grapes are not well suited to the region's climate. This is especially true in the US where many native Vitis Labrusca grapes (such as Concord) are planted in regions that are inhospitable to the more delicate constitutions of many of the Vitis Vinifera grapes.
This isn't the case in Turkey, though. Viticulture and wine making can be traced back some 6,000 years in Turkey in the area around Mount Ararat. There are climactic zones in Turkey that are ideal for wine production and the vine seems to flourish in these areas. There are an estimated 600 - 1,200 varieties of Vitis Vinifera grapes that are indigenous to these areas, though only about 60 of them have any kind of commercial relevance. If the country has the climate, land and native varieties for a thriving wine industry, then why hasn't one taken off? In a word, culture.
I'm not exactly an expert on Turkish history, but the following is what I've been able to glean through a little research. The important parts for our purposes really begin with the rise of the Ottoman Empire. In 1453 AD, the Ottomans captured Constantinople initiating the beginnings of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were Muslim and there was no real separation between church and state under Ottoman rule. If something was prohibited by their religion, then it was also illegal. I don't know if the production of alcohol was forbidden in the Ottoman Empire, but since consumption was prohibited, there wasn't much of a market for any alcohol produced anyway. Grapes were still grown in the area, but they were grown as a food product and not for wine production. The native grapes that are currently used in Turkish wine production are those that survived due to their suitability as table grapes (some of the international varieties are grown in Turkey as well, but those are more recent imports).
The Ottoman Empire ended up on the losing side in World War I and was essentially dissolved in its aftermath. The Allied armies occupied Constantinople and Smyrna in the wake of WWI, which didn't exactly sit well with the locals. A nationalist movement sprung up and in 1922, the occupying armies were kicked out of the country and the modern nation of Turkey began to take shape. A new secular government was created that was more tolerant and which allows for freedom of religion for its citizens. As a result, the door was technically opened for production of alcohol and the country's first commercial winery was established in 1925. In reality, 98-99% of the country's current population is Muslim and there just isn't much of a market within the country for alcoholic products (the per capita consumption of wine in Turkey is under a bottle per year). Still, wine making in Turkey is starting to come on strong as modern techniques are gaining wider acceptance and many producers are starting to figure out what kinds of wines they can make from their wealth of indigenous grapes.
One of those grapes is Öküzgözü, which is just a pain in the neck to type. Öküzgözü is native to the Elaziğ province of Turkey, which is located in the eastern third of the country, right around the middle. The climate here is usually pretty harsh but near the source of the Euphrates river, the climate is moderated somewhat by the river and by the Taurus mountains. The name means "ox-eye," which probably has some significance, but I'm not sure what it might be. The grapes themselves are fairly large and they ripen in late September to early October.
Bin Ends for about $13. In the glass, the wine had a fairly deep purple-ruby color. It had a moderately open nose of stewed red cherry and raspberry fruit that was a little flowery and had some spice to it. On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with medium acidity and medium tannins that were nicely polished. There were raspberry fruit flavors with stewed berries, leather and a kind of stewed tomato taste as well. The balance wasn't great on this as the alcohol stuck out a bit and the wine came off a little hot. The fruit came off a little sweet, though the wine is definitely dry. I'm honestly not sure at all what a good comparison for this is. Maybe one of those big, over-ripe California Pinot Noirs is a good jumping off point but honestly this is a pretty unique wine. If it had cost much more than $15, I'd be a little more hesitant to recommend it but at its current price point, it's definitely a different experience that I think you'll get your money's worth from.