15 September 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - Suvla Sur 2010

As far as I'm concerned you need look no further. If you've been beating out your brains trying to find a really good Turkish wine (or you haven't had the heart to even try), Suvla's Sur is where you go.

It's not that all Turkish wines are bad. As I have discovered many of them, even some of the less expensive producers like Pamukkale put out decent, drinkable wines. However most of them are, as described by a friend of mine, basically slightly alcoholic juice. If you're looking for a Turkish wine that can unashamedly stand next to its European cousins though...spring for the 2010 Sur. It's not cheap, I would never pay what is roughly $40 in the US for any wine (but then the US doesn't tax the living hell out of imports and alcohol) but oh it is worth it.

The 2010 Sur is a blend of Merlot (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (34%), Cabernet Franc (14%), and Petit Verdot (2%). We all know how I feel about Merlot...but the blend here is seriously amazing. And I've been assured that Suval's Merlot is wonderful so I may, gasp!, try it at some point in the near-ish future.

"The color is deep cherry red. The nose is attractive and self-exposing. Notes of blueberry, prune, black pepper, dry mint, chocolate, and walnut are bound into a rich and complex bouquet. On the palate since the attack the wine is vivid and elegant. An extensive, strong but resilient core is carrying the juicy and supple body into a luscious, fine finish that reveals splendid hints of mocha, apricot, and roasted hazelnut."

I seriously need to meet Suval's wine writer.

Gold award well and entirely deserved
My description is no less heart-felt for being less elegant. The black pepper on the nose and palate is strong without being overwhelming. I knew I was getting the flavor of a dried fruit of some sort and I'm not surprised to read that it was prune. I missed the dry mint and walnut but caught hints of (dark) chocolate. I'll just have to get another bottle sometime soon to see if I can taste the mint and walnut. Ah the hardship! A wine with staying power, the Suvla's not chewy but velvety and lingers nicely in your mouth allowing you to savor and enjoy.

Sigh. Writing this several days later my mouth waters a bit at the memory. And the best part? There's a Sur 2011 that I have yet to try!

11 September 2014

I'm Shocked I Haven't Seriously Injured Myself Yet

The fact that I fall down a lot is fairly common knowledge. I even managed to bite it pretty badly on the perfectly flat concrete when I lived in Cevizlibag. So when I moved to Beyoglu which is nothing but hills, and pretty steep ones at that, I was worried. I've pretty much lived the last eight months in desperate fear of my street. I've given up wearing heels all together and actually the majority of my entire shoe collection in favor of the few pairs that have heavy, grippy treads. It's really a pity because I do love a cute shoe.

The "street" I take to/from Turkish class

View of the Bosphorous from the evil stair street

Unfortunately for me, hills and stairs are a part of my every day life. Even the days I don't leave my apartment. The Beyoglu area is one giant hill, I think, with everything leading up to Istiklal and Taksim. The Turkish language school I attend is slightly downhill from Taksim and off a side street. Unfortunately, like many of the streets leading from the Bosphorus side of the giant Beyoglu hill, the incline is so steep that stairs have replace what should be a road. Oh stairs, my personal nemesis. These are, thankfully, not so steep as some of the others but they're still a roughly five - six story climb. And since the "street" is lined with shops and cafes I'm too embarrassed to stop and gasp for breath at each landing as I really want to do. I do, however use the excellent excuse of the amazing view to stop at least once. It is a gorgeous view and one that I cannot enjoy while going down the stairs in the morning when I'm actually facing it. I will never be one of those women who can float gracefully down stairs with head held high. If my hand isn't gripping the railing as tightly as possible and my eyes aren't glued to my feet I will trip, miss a step, or simply collapse causing me to tumble own the stairs breaking various bones and such along the way.

The view down my street.

The up my street from my door.

Similarly I cannot go down my street, which is not stairs but merely a steep hill, without my eyes fixed firmly on my feet and walking at about half the pace as everyone else. I am terrified that one of these days I'll lose it on the decline and pitch forward on my face in a most undignified manner. Happily, my building is slightly more than half-way down so I don't usually have to negotiate the entire hill. And as much as I dislike trudging up the hill; it is sometimes preferable as history has proven that I am less likely to fall up than down. I say "less likely" because it has actually happened.

Transition from the building's original stairs to the dodgy add ons that are mine

Grocery shopping is a pain. It's not that the shops are all that far away, less than a kilometer in fact, but there are several hills (one involving stairs) of various height and steepness involved. And once I drag the groceries home and up my street's steep hill there are still my building's five stories to negotiate. On the lucky side, while the tight spiral of the curved staircase makes me nervous (tight spiral = narrow stairs) it also makes the stories fairly short. The stairs are marble until you get to the top of the fourth story and the last set of steps that lead up to mine. At the top of four, the stairs transition from marble to rickety (the bannister is quite unsteady) blue-painted wooden stairs. The first hint that my apartment is a (likely illegal) addition to the original building.

When I'm hauling up groceries, water, or suitcases I generally stop for a rest somewhere around the third floor. You'd think after eight months of going up and down these things I'd have got used to it by now but, no. If I'm coming home from down the hill or I've been drinking I can usually zoom up all the flights pretty quickly.

Sherlock is confused about why I hate stairs.

Once in my apartment there are still more stairs. I've actually got really good at getting up and down these without falling, dropping things (usually), or hitting my head on the ceiling. Sherlock of course loves to hang out on and run up and down them. Apparently the stairs aren't good enough for her anymore though as this morning at roughly 5 AM (so judged by the surround sound morning call to prayer) I heard a new sound and rolled over to find her on top of the closet organizer hanging from the clothes rack. So this is going to be a fun new thing. Especially as she seems very confused about how to get down and each of the (so far) four times she got up there today, cried with increasing volume and pitifullness until I plucked her down.

One has to wonder, as I still sometimes do, why someone like me would take an apartment at the top of a five floor walk-up on a steep hill in a hilly neighborhood. In the end it's a pretty easy answer; because after I've negotiated all the ups and downs to get home and to my terrace...this is what I see.

08 September 2014

Wine of the Week - Suvla Karasakız

Gallipoli is known for one thing, the shameful waste of lives in the World War I Battle of Gallipoli (or the Mel Gibson movie about the same). Lead by the man who would later become Father of the Turks, Kemal Mustafa* this last glorious victory of the crumbling Ottoman Empire and Winston Churchill's refusal to give up the Darandelles lead to the death of nearly 57,000 Allied soldiers. This battle is particularly felt by Australians and New Zealanders and I've never met a one visiting Turkey who doesn't also visit Gallipoli.

Hopefully, Gallipoli will be known for happier things as Suva wines become more well-known and popular! Although the Karasakız is the first of the Suvla's for which I have mixed feelings.Before I write what I think though, I want to give you the wine description straight from the label:

"Suvla Karasakız 2012 has a bright cherry red color. The nose is rich and fruity with flashing notes of smashed strawberry, prune, dry fig, thyme and laurel. A well-balanced, succulent, and juicy palate embraces a glittering acidity. Fruity and spicy fragrances are lusciously overflowing into a delicate finish."

Dude. I need to start writing my reviews like that. My description was far less poetic an used words that are a lot shorter. I think the only place where the descriptions cross is that I will tell you that the Karasakız has a bright cherry color. I did not at all get strawberries, smashed or no and I have no idea what laurel tastes like. I actually would have said that the flavor reflected the color and that I got a lot of cherry, both juicy red cherries an dried cherries; however I'd have agreed about the juiciness and the spice. It really is fascinating what you do and/or don't taste.

At first I wasn't quite so sure I liked it. I think the problem is that I was eating the wrong thing with it. The Karasakız should go well with Mediterranean dishes, grilled vegetables, and shellfish. However I had a recipe for brown butter sweet potato fettuccine that I'd been wanting to try. They did not like each other. However, the wine did go quite well with strong cheese (Asiago and keçi beyaz penir) and sauteed onions.

In the end, paired with more appropriate foods, I come down on the positive side for the Karasakız. I'm not sure it would be at the top of my repeat list any time soon, but it still gets a thumbs up from me.

Keep the good wines coming, Suvla!

*Years later, Ataturk would say these words on Anzac Day, which can be seen engraved on the memorial at Gallipoli:

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now living in the soil of a friendly country therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

25 August 2014

Turkish Wine of the Week - Suvla Kirte

Despite my resolve to review whites for the summer I'm moving back to reds. I just really don't like dry whites under the best of circumstances and I think I've finally run out of Miskets. So now it's back to tannins and red wine hangovers.

Suvla wines break my rule about buying "reasonably-priced" wine. The Sur (which I'm trying to find another bottle of so I may properly review it) sets you back about 80TL which is more than I generally pay for wine regardless of which country produces it. However-they're worth it. They're so very much worth it.

Not being able to locate the Sur, I picked up another Suvla wine I've been wanting to try: the Kirte. At Carrefour no less. My Carrefour seems to have revamped not just the shelves in its wine section but also the selection it carries. And while 52TL/bottle is still more than I'd like to spending on a Turkish wine (and frankly still more than what I'd normally pay for any wine under other circumstances), at least it wasn't the 80TL for which I'd steeled myself.

The Kirte is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah with just that tiny amount of Petit Verdot added both for color and to give the Cab Sauv that lift it needs out of its general mediocrity. While you may chance across a Petit Verdot varietal wine in the US (I miss you VA wineries!), it is more often added to red blends (usually Bordeaux styles) for color. Turkey is apparently taking a leaf from neighboring Old World producers and doing the same here; and not without a nice effect. Suvla Kirta is a beautiful, deep ruby color that glows a bit in the light.

Sherlock's new favorite perch - preferable to climbing up my leg
Price is not always an indicator of whether or not a wine is good but sometimes you really do get what you pay for. While it's not a knock-you-on-your-ass, big, bold Italian, the Kirte it is a lovely medium bodied red that kicks the crap out of a lot of the other Turkey-produced reds (ahem, I'm looking at you Diren Okuzgozu/Bogazkere and pretty much the entire Diren Collection lineup).

It's not jammy as Syrahs can be, but the cherry and red fruits balance nicely with the pepper that I usually taste in a Cab Sauv. And for all its greater percentage of Cab Sauv, it did not give me that dry, overly spicy, I need meat stat feeling I often get. If semi-dense is a thing that's what I'd say the Kirte is; semi-dense, smooth, and silky*.

It also paired very well with my usual eat-in dinner of sauteed garlic, shallots, and cherry tomatoes over linguine topped with a semi-hard goat cheese. As a testing ground for red wine pairings it's a pretty easy route to take. I also generally prefer simple to make meals both because I'm lazy and usually because Sherlock is attempting to climb up my leg. Which is not a good pairing for chopping things with a big knife. Speaking of cheese, the Kirte also paired nicely with the Manchego (spoils of London) that I've been hoarding.

All in all-Suvla Kirte is a very satisfying red that's entirely worth the sticker price. We will become good friends, the Kirte and I.

*I looked these up, aside from the questionable 'semi-dense' the rest are legit wine descriptors and I may even be using them correctly.

22 August 2014

It's Been a Long Time, Michigan

Since moving to Turkey I have been back to the States, once briefly last summer for a baptism. I have not, however, been back to Michigan to see my family. As a visit seemed due, I was again being given the privileged of being a Godmother, and my Mom's family was having a very belated Christmas party, I was able to kill birds with this visit.

Knowing that ticket prices would soon get even more ridiculous with summer upon us, I bought my ticket back in May. In order to get something not horribly expensive I had to give up the dream of taking the direct flight to Chicago, Newark, or Baltimore on Turkish Airlines and instead bit the bullet with a United flight that included not one but two layovers. However for the $500 price difference I was willing to put up with United.

For reasons beyond my ken, the guy who checked me in at Ataturk only checked my bag to Frankfurt (layover numero uno) and couldn't be bothered to tell me why; in English or in Turkish. Two hours is enough time to transit normally through Frankfurt but to go through immigration, pick up my bag, re check in, go back through immigration and security, AND get to the gate the hour before the flight stupid American airlines insist on? Naturally I had to wait ages for my bag. I haven't actually checked into a flight in Frankfurt for some 14 years-and the airport has changed a bit since. After 10 minutes of trying to find the United counter (counter 501 fyi) I finally found someone who worked there and asked. At least my German got a pretty decent workout that day. With just over an hour to go at this point I wasn't sure they'd even let me check in but everything seemed to be smooth sailing once I found the counter. Immigration and security were a breeze. I love German efficiency. Smooth sailing until I was in my seat that is! It was a full flight of course so when someone came by saying that my seat was his (econ plus, bulkhead, aisle for which I paid extra) I was ready to throw down to keep it. Until the flight attendant, after taking our tickets and doing whatever it is they do, beckoned me forward. Forward. I was in the first row of econ so there was nothing ahead of us except for business class. No one, especially on United, ever actually gets bumped to business. But it happened to me! It really was smooth sailing after that!

My little brother has been my airport pick up since I left Michigan 12 years ago. We laughed this time as I think it was the first time I've ever landed in daylight. My DC/Baltimore flights never got me in earlier than 11PM. On our way to the 'ole homestead we continued our tradition of a stop in at Meijer. Meijer is the greatest store ever and I feel sorry for all the states that don't have them. Think Super Target/Walmart but BETTER. And doing it long before those stores ever got the idea. I had been compiling a shopping list of American foods I wanted to bring back to Turkey and picked them all up there: Mac & Cheese (7 boxes), Twinkies, fajita mix, Cabot Seriously Sharp white cheddar (2), asiago, bacon (2 lbs), smokey link breakfast sausages (2 pkgs), Crystal Light lemonade, oatmeal, chocolate chips, and lemon bar mix (2). Before leaving I also added orange slices, Double Stuff Oreos (thanks Jenn!), and four bottles of wine from my collection to the mix.

In preparation for the (belated) family Christmas party my mom baked and frosted a bunch of sugar cookies that she wanted to decorate with food markers. I was razzing her for making them all heart-shaped and thought it limited the decorating possibilities. She told me that if I wanted to decorate them I could do anything I wanted with them. I could write "Go to Hell" on all of them if I wanted. So when she left to pick up my sister from the airport I tool her at her word.

She was less than pleased to see it when my brother texted her a picture and said she hoped I were hungry because I would have to eat all the cookies I did that to. I don't like sugar cookies. So with some brilliant ideas from my brother and dad I turned them all into heart-related puns and illustrations.

You give me heart burn

Heart beat
It was nice getting to see my family but within an hour of the party I remembered how exhausting it is to be around them all! Both my parents have pretty typically poor Catholic huge families and my mom's are all creative types with equally huge personalities. And because I'm as bad at mingling with my own family as I am with anyone else I didn't get to spend as much time with some of them as I'd have liked but it was still nice to see everyone. I did get a fair amount of time with a couple of my favorite younger cousins. Amanda and David made me dinner one night: flat bread with pulled pork in a red wine, blackberry jam, blackberry balsamic sauce with roasted fennel and prosciutto wrapped asparagus on the side. Homemade (because with Amanda everything is always homemade) brownies and coffee ice cream for dessert. Amazing. Thanks to Amanda's cheese plate, my mom who came with me (as I cannot be trusted to drive) is now a convert to the religion that is Cheese.

Heart attack


Speaking of food...I don't think I stopped eating the whole week. And honestly my clothes felt a little tight when I got home! My brother made chicken fajitas for me. His are so good. He cooks the meat, onions, and peppers all together and puts cheese right in the mix to make it gooey goodness. My mom mixed up a big batch of chicken and cheese for sandwiches-a family thing we've been eating since as long as I can remember. My dad roasted two big pork shoulders for the family party so there was pork then and lots of leftovers. I also put away some Hudsonville ice cream; a local product you can really only find in West MI which is a huge shame because they make THE best ice cream. Truly. It's not that Turkish food isn't good because it is! But all Turkish all the time gets a little boring.

Beheading of Saint Valentine


Sick at heart/Purple Heart
My bff since the second grade had the most beautiful twins a few months ago and asked me to be Godmother to her son. She kindly arranged the baptism for the weekend I was in MI so I could actually be there for it. The baptism was lovely and the twins were really well behaved. What I most enjoyed though was being able to catch up with my girlfriend's family! I GChat on the occasion with her brother but haven't seen her parents in years. She combined the baptism with a belated birthday party for her 3 year old so Auntie Andrea  got to watch my honorary niece (who associates me with Merida from Disney's Brave so, I'm cool) open her presents. Which consisted of a bizarre combination of princessy things and dinosaurs. Both interests courtesy of her uncle. I can't wait to see what he introduces her to next! Ballroom dancing and monster trucks?

Open heart surgery

Heart of Darkness
It was a good trip home. Not the least because they had a cold front so the weather was in the 70s (F)! which was a majorly nice change from the hot and humid we've been having in Istanbul. My sister came from Florida for a few days so this was the first time in four-five years we've all been together. Who knows when the next time might be, but until then; stay Pure, Michigan!