27 July 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Turasan 2015 Misket and A Bosphorus Cruise

Recently I discovered that a new friend owns a yacht. And while I would love to be friends with the idle rich O is not idle, she and her husband have a travel agency here in Istanbul and the yacht is one of the services they offer. However she kindly offered to take a bunch of us out a couple weeks ago for a Sunday Bosphorus cruise.

Ortakoy Mosque & the First Bridge

So on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon we all met at the Kabatas dock to board the Zoe in what was going to be a three hour tour (and don't think the Americans didn't giggle at that). Three hours turned into four and half as we cruised up the Bosphorus admiring the palaces and architecture along the way and stopping near the Black Sea, practically underneath the infamous Third Bridge, for a swim.


Of course I wasn't going to miss the chance to sip a wine as I pretended to be idle rich myself. It's not everyday a girl gets invited aboard a yacht (although if anyone does have those days often please tell me how!). What wine would go better with a Sunday summer cruise than a semi sweet? So I broke out one of the Turasan wines I had shipped from the winery in Cappadocia: Turasan's 2015 Misket.

One of the things I like about Turkish Misket (or Muscat as most of us know it) is that they are generally of the semi sweet variety; they're not cloyingly sweet dessert wines. Turasan's isn't quite dessert-level sweet but it is sweeter than I like my Miskets.

In the glass it's, a bright, extremely pale yellow and smells, of all things, like champagne. I love aromatic white wines and Muscats usually deliver in that respect with a lot of floral and tropical notes. On the palate there was little acid and it felt a bit thick however some of that might well have to do with the fact that I wasn't drinking it at ideal serving temperature. A few degrees colder would have made a world of difference. The flavor was very nice following the aromas from the nose: tropical, citrus, and white flowers. I did not get the orange blossom though that I love so much in Miskets.

Maiden's Tower

Pricing on this one is a little difficult. I ordered directly from Turasan so I got the winery price of 28TL. The Cave sells these for mid/upper 30s, and Solera has a mid 50s price tag. It's worth the 28. At the risk of sounding like a credit card commercial, drinking it on a yacht on the Bosphorus, priceless!

The best thing about it? You can do it too if you're in the city! The Zoe is for hire for private events of I think 10-12 people. It was recently written up in The Guide Istanbul magazine and you can contact them for hire information via the Zoe Yacht Cruise Facebook Page. Bon Voyage!

20 July 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Sevilen Isa Bey 2013 Narince

My second foray into the land of Mr. Jesus wines was the 2013 Narince (35 TL at Carrefour). Isa Bey is a "concept" wine from Sevilen produced with the principle of "tek bağ tek üzüm" (one vineyard, one grape). As such they produce a smaller number of bottles each year than wineries that take grapes from other vineyards.

Narince is often compared to Chardonnay but other than sometimes sharing pineapple flavors I personally find them to be quite different. While it can be used to create dömisek wines, more often than not Narince is a dry wine with a sweet nose. The Isa Bey follows this pattern with a nose of stone fruits and plumeria and light hints of of oak influence.

In the glass this light-bodied wine is a clear, pale yellow but with no hints of green. On the palate it is softly acidic and smooth with flavors of white peach and pineapple and light minerality.

I liked it more than I thought I would, frankly. However I do recommend serving this one on the colder side if you do not like the taste of oak in white wine. As it warmed the under tones of oak became more obvious and I found it to be very off-putting.

18 July 2016

Your Coup Cannot Destroy My Turkey

While I have not experienced a lot of conflict in my life/travels nor am I stranger to it. I was evacuated from Belgrade in February 2008 when, as a result of the US's recognition of Kosovo's independence a group of people tried to burn down the US embassy. I was in Kabul in December 2011 for the Ashura suicide bombing. I have been in Istanbul for more than three years now and lived through Gezi and the summer of tear gas, both Sultanahmet suicide bombings, the suicide bombing on Istiklal-a seven minute walk from my apartment-the attack on the Ataturk International Airport, and a variety of protests. However the July 15 coup attempt was my first coup.

After Friday night, which was the most terrifying experience of my life-surpassing even that time I thought I was going to die on the Great Wall of China-I don't know why people would choose to go to an air show. Well, really even before Friday I couldn't understand that, but hearing the screams of the F16 and the resultant sonic booms many of thought were bombs I don't know why someone would willing want to listen to that. The next morning many discussions on Facebook groups and from my friends were about leaving Turkey. This coup, be it a real attempt or Erdogan theater (which I think more likely), this was the straw that broke the camel's back for many people. However when people ask me if I plan to leave I just look at them quizzically and say "No. Why would I do that?"

To be fair to the discussion, I am planning to leave Turkey. I decided this last fall when I realized that I want to be a sommelier and do my training in Italy; but this failed coup attempt will neither push me out faster nor will it change the fact that I'll probably be back. Why not? Because this, this country of coups, failing democracy, violence, and a willful retreat into the dark ages is not my Turkey.

The Bosphorus and the Seraglio Point from Galatasaray

Kiz Kulesi/Maiden's Tower

My Turkey is beautiful. It's where I can be awed time and again by the magic of the Bosphorus and the iconic images of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It's where you can cruise the Bosphorus to watch for dolphins and appreciate the beautiful, elaborate palaces and architecture along this ancient waterway.

Mount Nemrut

Celsus Library at Ephesus

It is timeless and melds cultures from across history. The Ottoman Empire, which ended not even 100 years ago (in 1922 to be exact) encompassed a vast array of peoples and cultures which is part of what made the modern Turkish nation so great-whether or not anyone wants to remember that. Turkey is home to some of the world's most amazing Greco/Roman ruins including Ephesus, the best preserved Greco-Roman ruins in the Aegean as well as empires like the Selcuks who fell to the Romans even before Ephesus was standing.

Hagia Sophia

Chora Church

My Turkey was the cradle of Christianity. There are over 100 churches in Istanbul alone. Granted many have been converted to mosques and/or museums but they're still standing; including the Hagia Sophia-one of the oldest churches in the world. Across the Marmara Sea is the city of Iznik, famous not just for its beautiful blue and white tiles but for once being Nicea where the fathers of the Eastern and Western Christian churches met and formalized the faith. If you fly into Izmir to visit Ephesus you're actually flying into the ancient Biblical city of Smyrna and while you're in Ephesus you can visit nearby Meryamana-the house where the Mother of God lived with Saint John before her assumption. You can visit cave churches of early Christians around the country, most famously in Cappadocia or, if you really like to walk, follow the path of Saint Paul across the country.

It is the home to some of of the most beautiful and mysterious natural land formations like the limestone travertines of Pamukkale which gleam like snow under the sun and the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. Turkey is where tulips were first mass grown and in fact introduced the flower to the Dutch. While the Dutch now surpass them in tulip production, Turkey is still one of the world's top tulip growers, holds a tulip festival every year that blankets the city in color, and incorporates the flower in many of its most traditional motifs.

My Turkey is friendly and hospitable. It's where within five minutes of arriving at your family-run cave hotel in Cappadocia you're holding the baby and are part of the family. It's where that family goes out of its way to make sure you get a booking for the hot air balloons despite the atrocious weather because its your little brother's first trip abroad and he has to have this experience; and where airport ticket agents try hard to get you an exit row seat because that same "little" brother is 6'7". It's where the guys at your favorite bufe go the extra mile and make your orange juice fancy because its your birthday and where shops and cafes you regularly frequent go out of their way to remember your order or provide extra special service.

Cat at Ephesus

Language school cat, Aslan

My Sherlock

My Turkey is also where that hospitality extends to animals and where people care for stray animals, especially cats, in a way I have never seen anywhere else. It's where tram drivers stop packed trains so cats can cross the tracks, where many of the local governments provide funding so street cats can receive free care, where people build shelters and leave out water and food for the cats. It's where cats are welcome in (and often cared for exclusively by) shops, cafes, museums, and historical sites. Turkey is also where I met my Sherlock who is naughty and spoiled but seeks shelter near me when the world is falling down around us and is possibly the love of my life.


This is where I have met amazing people, both Turkish and other foreigners. They have helped me apartment hunt, translated/interpreted for me before I learned the language, opened their homes to me, encouraged my studies in wine, and readily welcomed me into their groups in a way I never experienced in the US. I have met people here who not only embrace me as a friend but look after me like I'm family.

My Turkey is where I have had experiences I couldn't have anywhere else. When His Holiness Pope Francis came to Istanbul in 2014 I not only got a ticket to the Mass, thanks to my parish priest I also served at the Papal Mass. In 2016 I got to see the same humble, caring parish priest be ordained as Bishop of Istanbul, putting him in charge of one of the oldest Christian parishes in the world. Here I learned Turkish, or you know, learned it well enough to manage my daily life and read book 1 of Harry Potter. I have formally studied eight languages and Turkish is one of the most complicated and difficult ones; the only one in fact that gets more and not less difficult the more you learn. I probably sound like a five-year old when I talk but people are always not only willing to listen to me struggle through sentences but are happy that I'm trying.

This is my Turkey. My Turkey is ancient, beautiful, spiritual, colorful, brave, hospitable, cultured, exciting, and magical. Yes there is a terrible and dark core eating away it and it may be systematically destroyed by its own government and people but the vision and memories I have of this magnificent country cannot be destroyed no matter how many (fake) coups happen or what terror the government rains down on its own citizens. This is my Turkey, and this is how I will remember it always.

13 July 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Umurbey 2014 Sauvignon Blanc

While I have discovered that Solera, my favorite wine bar in Istanbul, does not always have the lowest prices on bottles, they still win for service. I was in there not too long ago looking for more white wines for summer drinking and I fell into conversation with one of the guys about the variety of flavors offered by Sauvignon Blanc. He suggested the Isa Bey but Isa Bey's leans a little more green and I like a riper Sauvignon Blanc. He kind of squints at me, tells me "I know what you want" then proceeds to open an 85TL bottle of Umurbey Sauvignon Blanc so I can taste it. And he was right, that was what I wanted so I left with a bottle of my very own (63.75 TL after the 25% to go discount).

In the glass the Umurbey Sauvignon Blanc is a brilliant, pale straw color with lots of pineapple in the nose. On the palate it's got lively acid and has a medium-long finish. It's a great example of a very ripe Sauvignon Blanc and is very fruity with lots of pineapple and melon flavors. It's really gorgeous and entirely too drinkable as it turned out. I drank the entire in one night. It's a good thing I work from home and didn't have to get up especially early the next morning!

It paired beautifully with brie and prosciutto, although to be fair what doesn't pair beautifully with brie and prosciutto? Being on the riper/sweeter end of the Sauvignon Blanc scale it also paired well with desserts; in my case chocolate and butterscotch oatmeal cookies.

I get really excited when I find white wines I like because it is a fairly rare occurrence; at least compared to how often I find red wines I like. the Umurbey 2014 Sauvignon Blanc was one of those exciting discoveries. I didn't just like this wine, I really liked it a whole lot. I'll be back for more.

08 July 2016

Chamlija 2014 Albarino - Take Two

Turkish wine post on not #WineWednesday...what is happening?! It turns out that I already discovered Chamlija's Albarino last summer and then somehow forgot about it. While that means I went a year without enjoying it, I had the pleasure of discovering it all over again! And since I did not realize that I'd already posted about this Albarino until after I wrote this post I decided to publish this anyway to compare my impressions. That and anything from Chamlija is worth a second look!

Chamlija's Albarino seemed to have the typical flavor profile of a warm climate Albarino: tropical nose with peach, apricot, orange marmalade, white flowers, and minerals. On the tongue it has a sparkling acidity, low body, lots of fruit, and very peachy lemony flavors with some mineral elements coming in at the end.

In the past I've found it difficult to pair wine things like Thai and Indian food. This is when Albarino, a medium-dry wine, is your friend! I paired Chamlija's with two different dishes: chicken baked in yogurt and Indian tandoori spices and a Thai sweet potato red curry. It was perfect with both of them.

The first bottle I bought was from Cihangir's La Cave for 95TL. This one I bought at Solera for considerably less. So, Chamlija Albarino? Yes please! This time I shall not forget you!

06 July 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Kocabağ 2014 Emir

Last fall while in Cappadocia with my brother we stumbled upon the Kocabağ winery. I don't recall ever seeing this wine in Istanbul so I took advantage of being there and picked up several of their Emir wines. Previously the only Emir varietal I'd seen was Turasan's so I was excited to see how many Kocabağ had.

One of the things I continue to like about Emir wines is that it does not match well with oak so in all likelihood your Emir has been steel-aged. This Emir by Kocabağ (40-something TL I think) was pale and brilliant in the glass with a lot of pineapple in the nose. On the palate it was light with some lively acidity, more pineapple, and faints hints of minerality which gave it a lightly salty and ashy flavor.

This is not my favorite variation of an Emir. I suspect that it may have been briefly oaked or had some oak chips passed through it. For me the Turasan is the Emir to beat and Kocabağ has not done that here.