I first had the opportunity to vacation on the lovely (Turkish) Cyprus island two years ago when my friend invited me to stay with her family for a couple of weeks.  Whether it was because Turkey is largely a Muslim nation or because my friend's parents don't imbibe very often, drinking wasn't a big part of that trip. I tried Raki once - a strong, clear brandy that tastes of anise - but was not a fan, as my nephew would say. I also remember trying a glass of red wine at a Beer Garden there and found it almost undrinkable. It was so acidic and unbalanced I was happy to stick with the thirst-quenching Effes beer that dominated nightspot venues. This summer we were visiting for the same friend's wedding celebration and decided to spend a few days in Istanbul on the way. The first night we were there we saddled up to a local mezze joint and selected a half bottle of wine from the restaurant's wine list. I should also mention doing so was a rather bizarre task....

Turkey is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world.  It is also fourth in grape production. But something like only 2% of these grapes are used for wine, the majority consumed as fruit or raisins themselves. Most of their grape varietals are also indigenous; and you've probably noticed subconsciously the US does not import Turkish wine - or at least not for mainstream consumption. I easily admit I knew nothing of Turkish wines beyond my one attempt to drink a Beer Garden offering two years prior. This trip I really wanted to dig in - and it was so hot it was easy to long for a cool glass of white or rose to quench my thirst.

My task was not an easy one however, as in Istanbul we discovered right away wine lists were not terribly helpful. They provided the Turkish Producer and Turkish Wine Name (both having no meaning to me), followed by a brief, generic description (e.g. Dry, White; Dry, Red; etc.), not the grape varietal or a sense of flavors present in the wine. Wait staff were not fluent in describing the wines either, even if their English was quite good. The sum of these parts was a recipe for a hit/miss wine-selecting approach. Fortunately, I was open to experimenting.

That first night I pulled a David Ortiz. My random selection of the Kayra Buzbag Beyaz white hit it out of the ballpark. It was medium bodied and fleshy, full of gorgeous, succulent fruit flavors and citrus. It had a touch of minerality, too, but was not spicy. This was the ultimate blind tasting: I had no idea which grape varietal it could possibly be or could be related to as a potentially indigenous varietal or, better yet, if it was a blend. All I knew was that it reminded me of Semillon or perhaps Vouvray (Chenin Blanc). I took down some notes and vowed to research the wine once home.

I was happy to discover I wasn't terribly far off when I found these wine notes: “Selection Beyaz” is produced from Narince and Semillon grapes selected in their respective vineyards of Tokat and Trakya. Well-structured, citrus fruit, fresh quince and coconut taste. It goes well with chicken and fish with sauce.

Not too shabby! My only regret is we never found this bottle of wine again. We discovered another restaurant in Istanbul with truly phenomenal cacik (apologies for the lack of accents), hummus, and chicken shish (kebabs) and a dynamic Maitre D we couldn't help but return to - though their wine list offered the more mainstream (completely drinkable) wines produced by Doluca.

Have your summer adventures take you to new wine frontiers?

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