31 August 2016

Turkish Wine of the Weeks - Visiting Bozcaada and Corvus 2012 Vinium

My adventure at Suvla was only a small part of my recent trip. I was invited with my friend T to visit some friends of hers (happily now also of mine) at their beautiful home, Lavender Breeze Farm on the island of Bozcaada.

We were invited to stay in The Priest's House, a beautiful house they've rebuilt on their property which they rent out on AirBnB (check out the link!). Look at these rooms! T and I were prepared to stay forever.

I found it a very unique house in that the living room/kitchen and both bedrooms were independent of each other. Both bedrooms have their own en suite bathroom and independent entrances out onto the porch.

And did I mention that the porch overlooks some of their vineyards?

With our hosts at Lavender Breeze Farm I had the opportunity to learn about traditional vine growing on Bozcaada. Grapes have been growing on Bozcaada since just about forever. Also known by its Greek name, Tenedos, Bozcaada is in the northeastern part of the Aegean near the entrance to the Dardanelles. Not only does it have a long history, it's firmly rooted in mythology and classical Greek literature, making an appearance in both Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Aeneid.

Traditional island 'goblet' vine style

Traditional island Cavus grapes

Grapes have been growing here for about that long and while none of the vines can lay claim to that much history, if Bozcaada wine makers were to talk about 'old vine' wines (which sadly isn't a trend in Turkish wine making) they would certainly have bragging rights with vines aged 40, 50, even 100+ years old.

Many vines are trellised trained now but some vineyards, like Lavender Breeze Farm and Talay still use the traditional island goblet style in which vines are not attached to trellises but two to three cordons (i.e. branches) are trained to grow out and up from the trunk in such a way as to resemble a goblet.

A day spent among the vines wouldn't be complete without a tasting! While I didn't have the chance to visit the Corvus vineyard we did stop in at the winery's restaurant for a tasting. Corvus, which is Latin for 'crow', was named for the many crows that make the island their home. They're more numerous than the people I think. Due to the owner's clever marketing, Corvus is a very popular wine brand here in Turkey; its never been my favorite but I enjoyed the opportunity to try several of their wines I wouldn't normally have bought.

And of course we couldn't go to Bozcaada and not enjoy the beach! We took a break from hiking through vineyards and wine tasting to relax on one of Bozcaada's beaches. Even though it was about 38C during our entire visit it luckily never felt that hot, not even on the beach, because there are such strong winds on the island. So while I did not take a swim I was able to stay cool and relaxed under the shade with my book.

As it happens, one of the wines I tasted at Corvus Wine & Bite on Bozcaada I have had on my wine rack since forever. So when I got home from my island getaway I opened it right up.

The Vinium is made from Karalahana which is a native Turkish grape and if you can find any information about it online please let me know because I for sure couldn't. In the glass it's an opaque cherry red indicating a medium bodied wine. The nose was very fruit forward with red fruits, particularly cherry, and I think some oaky elements. On the palate there were noticeable tannins, unfortunately they didn't stick around to be appreciated. It has a short, dry finish with lots of juicy, tart cherry flavors.

Not bad, not my favorite.

More on my short Bozcaada adventure and the wines I discovered there coming soon!

29 August 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Kahvedan

Today we're having breakfast at one of my favorite Cihangir restaurants - Kahvedan. I'm sorry to say that right from the out I was a little disappointed.

Kahvedan features a very extensive menu that includes typical Turkish dishes as well as pretty decent falafel,  pad thai, and pork chops. Yes, pork chops. The breakfast options are also quite extensive offering traditional Turkish breakfast plates, a variety of eggs, pancakes, and toasts. And there's bacon.

My friend R and I both went for bacon options, naturally with home getting bacon sahanda (fried eggs) and me taking a chance on yet another restaurant's eggs Benedict. What is my obsession with eggs Benedict? I don't really know but if its on a breakfast menu I invariably order it.

For a Sunday afternoon Kahvedan wasn't overly busy. Most of the outdoor tables were full but there were only maybe one or two tables filled inside. So why did we have to wait so long for our eggs? My eggs were actually slightly less than warm. I considered sending them back but it took so long to get them to begin with that I decided against it. I wonder if sending them back would have resulted in them being better or worse than they were? The English Muffins under the eggs were so touch and obviously stale that I had a hard time cutting them with a knife. I had to deconstruct the Benedict a little so the yolks could soak into the bread in hopes of softening it a little (didn't work). 

For all that, the eggs Benedict still tasted pretty good and R was happy with his eggs and bacon as well. Considering how good all my other experiences at Kahvedan have been I choose to view this as a fluke. Everyone gets and off day, right? And Kahvedan still has the best damn mint lemonade (I've found) in Istanbul.

Overall I heartily recommend Kahvedan for any meal of the day. If you go for lunch or dinner though get the Çökertme - trust me, you'll thank me!

Akarsu Caddesi No 38
Cihangir, Beyoğlu

24 August 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Arcadia 2012 Pinot Gris

Recently I let the guys at La Cave talk me into another bottle of wine. I do need more whites now that summer is on and at only 49 TL I wasn't risking too much with this one. Plus I liked the art work. I'm not usually a huge fan of Pinot Gris. Like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, also known as Pinot Grigio, wines have a wide range of flavors depending on whether they were grown in cool climates (Italy and most of the USA/Australia) or warm climates (the Alsace, France, Turkey). And as with Sauvignon Blanc I prefer the warmer climate "riper" styles but usually as a food wine.

Arcadia's 2012 Pinot Gris is a pretty nice example of a warmer climate style and given the price is actually a great bargain if you like this style of wine. While I was largely pleased with the flavor, again for me it was a food wine and my over all experience with this was enhanced a great deal by accompanying it with one of my favorite summer foods: chicken salad with red grapes and walnuts.

In the glass this estate-bottled Arcadia 2012 Pinot Gris is a beautiful gold color. For this particular wine, Arcadia uses limited filtration so there was some sediment in the glass-something I had not before encountered in a white wine. The nose was very citrusy which also came through on the palate-citrus, melon, honey, and a bit of something from the oak but I couldn't quite identify that. Like a cooler-climate Italian-style Pinot Gris, I also detected some minerality at the end of the finish. It seemed fairly high in acid, in fact that was my very first impression, but it smoothed out a little.

To be honest I liked this more than I thought I would and for only 49TL it's not a bad white to have on hand. However for me it was definitely a food wine and it definitely needed to be served quite cold.

17 August 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - A Visit to Suvla!

I recently had the opportunity to spend time on Bozcaada and was able to visit Suvla in Ecebat while I was there so I thought I'd roll a post about that into a couple reviews.

First of all, I wish I'd realized years ago how easy it is to get to Suvla. The main reason I don't visit Turkish wineries is because I don't drive and it's not like they're exactly conveniently located. Suvla, in Eceabat, is a short ferry ride away from Canakkale which in turn is serviced by a daily flight out of Sabiha Gokcen airport in Istanbul. Had I but known!

Walking into Suvla was a little, as my friend put it, like arriving at the mother ship. The Suvla store in Ecebat is gorgeous. I approached the wine filled walls like an eager kid in a candy shop wishing I could take a little of everything with me. Thanks to Nusret in the Cihangir Suvla shop we were armed with the name of someone to help us during out visit. Unfortunately after arriving we learned that was her day off! However as proof of how fantastic Suvla is, someone called her and Ecem very kindly came in to provide us with some VIP treatment!

First we had a tour of the factory with one of Suvla's new wine makers, Hıkmet. He toured us through the factory showing us the grape presses and fermentation tanks (I particularly liked the Dalek-shaped tank in the back) answering my pesty questions all the while. Then he took us into the barrel storage room, a blessedly cool contrast to Eceabat's 38C heat! Suvla uses oak from France, America, and Hungary I believe he said and the barrels are used for five or so wines before being retired.

Of course we couldn't be at the home of Suvla and not do some wine tasting! Unfortunately Turkish laws have made it difficult, if not downright impossible, for wineries and shops to provide tastings free of charge, however the Suvla restaurant offers a long list of flights for tasting at reasonable prices as well tastings by the glass. T and I got two different red flights, one from Suvla's mid priced range of wines and one from the higher end. While I was not surprised that we both loved the Petit Verdot-Karasakız blend; I was shocked, and not a small amount horrified, that I actually kind of liked the (2014) Merlot!

After our tasting and tour of the şaraphane, we refreshed ourselves with a coffee break before heading out for a tour of the vineyards with Suvla's Australian viticulturist, Mark.

red globe table grapes

I suppose it's possible that I could have been more excited by this, but not a whole lot. The first thing I learned which was very different for me was that wineries in Turkey don't own large tracts of land where all the grapes are planted. They have bits of land here and there which enable them to plant different grapes in different types of soils and conditions. As a result, driving between the various Suvla plots we also passed a few individually owned farm plots as well as some of Doluca's vineyards.

Sad stressed grapes

Suvla plants more than just wine grapes in its vineyards. They also have large sections dedicated to different table grapes that are used in workers' lunches and farm plots where they grow ingredients for the restaurant and the Kilye line of oils, jams, preserves, etc they produce and sell. Mark stopped often so we could roll out of his Range Rover to get an up close view of the various grapes and so I could pester him with questions about canopies, soil types, drainage, grafting, root stock, and harvesting. We also used the stops as opportunities to try the various grapes. A regular grape will never taste as amazing as will a sun-warmed grape plucked from the bunch on the vine.

A young vine grafted onto American rootstock

Looking over Suvla's vineyards

After a few hours in the vineyards Mark asked if we'd ever been to Gallipoli and seen the war memorials there. T has been but I'd never been to this part of Turkey at all so he very kindly offered to drive us around on a tour of the area.

Ari Burnu Cemetery

While most of the graves in the Ari Burnu cemetery face the sea, three graves belonging to British Indian Muslim soldiers have their headstones pointing towards Mecca.

Atatürk's 'Johnnies and Mehmets' speech memorial at Anzac Cove

Find Atatürk's iconic speech here.

Kemekli (bone) beach

As an American the battles at Gallipoli and along the coast now known as Kemekli Beach hold less significance. In fact I dare say that we mostly know it as the unpronounceable Mel Gibson movie. However for the allied armies, particularly Australia and New Zealand, it was an unwinnable blood bath into which Winston Churchill pushed soldiers even while knowing he couldn't win. Significantly for Turkey, it's also where a young officer names Mustafa Kemal would distinguish himself and what would begin his path to becoming the father of modern Turkey.

We cannot end this on a melancholy note and of course there must be more wine! So let's talk about two of Suvla's wines.

We'll begin with one that I bought a while ago at the shop in Cihangir. I keep trying the pink wines even though I really just can't get behind them. In the glass Suvla's 2015 Merlot-Karasakız Rose is the soft peachy-pink of a sunset. To me the nose was basically pink oak. I did however also get some summer berry and floral scents. On the palate it's dry with crisp acidity and a decent finish. Not a long one, but it stays with you. There are some nice raspberry and strawberry flavors which normally I love in a wine but the Merlotness of it overwhelmed me.

For 45TL this is not a bad investment and I really think the only reason I didn't like it is because I just really don't like the pink wines. However if you don't share my pink prejudice this would be perfect on a hot summer day!

While actually at Suvla I treated myself to two of the high-end wines that I normally wouldn't let myself buy in the shop. In fact I've managed to forget the cost of them both but suffice to say they're priced over 100TL/bottle. Really rather somewhat over actually. I am a sucker for Turkish Cabernet Sauvignon though and I really wanted to try Suvla's award-winning 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Unless you have a disposable income far greater than my own, this is not an everyday wine but a special occasion wine. My special occasion happened to be last Tuesday when I made a particularly good truffled chicken and parmesan panino...

After 12 months in oak this gorgeous deep red Cabernet has a nose redolent with prunes, blackberry, cherry, chocolate, and tobacco. In the mouth the tannins are velvety and luscious and the wine has a long finish with more of those dark fruits, some coffee, and smokey flavors. Wow. If you're looking to treat yourself to a premium Turkish wine you can stop here. I might not have liked the rose but this one knocked my socks off. So much so that I'm actually letting that previous sentence end with a preposition.

Two years after I began my love affair with Suvla wines I finally visited the winery and it could not have been a more fantastic experience! Thank you to Suvla, expecially Nusret, Ecem, Hıkmet, and Mike for a fantastic day!

15 August 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Limonlu Bahçe

It's been a while since I posted about breakfast in Istanbul. It takes a surprising amount of dedication to eat breakfast out once a week and since I'm really lazy and am usually not even rolling out of bed, let along looking presentable, until about lunch time it's a dedication I don't really have.

However recently I met up with a friend and former neighbor E at Limonlu Bahçe which is a local favorite and conveniently located just up the hill from my old apartment. The cafe gets its name from the lovely, partially enclosed garden filled with lemon trees. While the food can be a little hit or miss it's a lovely place to sit for a drink, enjoy the atmosphere, the omnipresent cats, and the garden's two turtles. Who also enjoy the garden-especially during mating season.

That's not what you want to eat breakfast next to!

Limonlu Bahçe has a pretty good selection of breakfast foods and you also have the choice between big or small plate breakfasts. E and I both went with the small plate option of yurmutalı ekmek (Turkish take on French Toast) with bal kaymak (honey and cream). It was definitely a better version of yurmutalı ekmek than what I previously had at Mavra Cafe. I could definitely have used a more generous portion of kaymak though.

Decent food, friendly service, and a great atmosphere - Limonlu Bahçe is worth a visit for any meal of the day!

Limonlu Bahçe
Yeni Çarşı Caddesi

12 August 2016

Champagne Air and a Hipster Wine Festival

After two years of trying I was finally able to visit my good friend D in Bad Homburg, Germany. Bad Homburg, a suburb of Frankfurt, is one of the wealthiest districts in Germany which is pretty clear in the town's slogan: Champagnerluft und Tradition (Champagne Air and Tradition).

Bad Homburg Schloss

I don't know about the champagne but the air really was lovely! When I'm in Istanbul I don't usually realize how poor the air quality is but nothing drove that home until the morning after I arrived and D took me on a tour of Bad Homburg and its many (many) parks. There are very few things I miss about country life but the smell of clean air, trees, and grass is one of them. Possibly the only thing actually. The parks in Bad Homburg are gorgeous.

Kaiser Wilhelm II spa

Bad Homburg became a popular spa town in the 19th century and, situated in one of the parks, is the Kaiser Wilheml II spa. The spa takes advantage of the natural mineral water deposits and throughout the park you can find different drinking fountains with plaques to tell you the mineral composition of the water and which ailments its good for. I sampled several of the waters and have to say I think I'd rather have the ailments. The spa was lovely though. It consists of various rooms that, like the water, have different elements and minerals to benefit one's health. My favorite was the hay steam room in which you sit in a hay-lined alcove, are covered with a paper sheet so only your head sticks out the top, and hot steam pours through the hay. I don't remember what this was good for but I giggled the entire 15 minutes because it reminded me of sweating during hay season. I think my dad should build one of these in Michigan and charge all the city people who board their horses in his neighborhood ridiculous amounts of money for hay steams.

Bad Homburg casino

Bad Homburg is also home to a casino, built apparently by the brother team responsible for the Monte Carlo casino. I've never been to Monte Carlo but I have to say this is the most sedate and German-looking casino I've ever seen. We went one evening, not to gamble but to dance in the small club on the top floor. It was better people watching than it was dancing owing to a really uneven performance by the DJ...but it was still great fun.

One afternoon D and her family took me to nearby Mainz where we spent an overcast morning wandering around the cobbled streets. The historic center of Mainz is everything you want in a German town: cobbled streets, half-timbered buildings, Roman ruins, and beautiful, old churches.

For the purposes of my visit the most important feature was the river that runs through Mainz, the Rhein. Mainz is situated in the Rheingau-one of Germany's most important wine regions. I don't know much about German wine outside of Riesling and Gewürtztramiener so I did some research before going. The most cultivated grapes in the Rheingau are: Riesling, Spätburgunder, Dornfelder, Grauer Burgunder, Kerner, Dunkelfelder, Chardonnay, Ehrenfelser, Müller-Thurgau, and Weiẞer Burgunder. I had the opportunity to try several of these and a few others at the Wine is in the Air festival.

Without a doubt this was the most hipster wine festival I'd ever been to but despite that it was great fun and I really enjoyed being able to try a whole mess of German wines I'd not only never tried but never heard of before; like the bottle of Zwitschern that I bought to take back to Turkey.

In a trip that involved nature and clean air, spas and hay steams, dancing til 3 AM, the most amazing truffle pasta ever, karaoke until 3 AM and then skipping through Bad Homburg barefoot, practicing my German with a seven year old, and a hipster wine festival it's difficult to choose a highlight. For me of course it was being able to hang out and do all these things with a good friend I hadn't seen in six years but even if you don't have such an amazing friend and host waiting for you, Bad Homburg is definitely worth a visit!