12 October 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Visiting Edirne and the Arda Winery

Happily day two in Edirne was only about 35-36 C and not 38 because we had to bundle up several times to visit some more mosques.We started the day at the Eski Camii (Old Mosque) located just down the street from the Selimiye Mosque.

This is possibly the most uniquely decorated mosque I've ever visited. Rather than tiles or frescoes, the Old Mosque, completed in 1414, is almost stark of decoration except for the giant Arabic calligraphy inscriptions that dominate the walls and pillars.

After a morning wandering around the Old Mosque and the arasta (bazaar) we headed back to our hotel to check out. We stayed at the Ottoman Palace Hotel which is situated pretty centrally in Edirne. A perfectly decent hotel for the ridiculously low price (about $30/night for a large single) and the owners were very friendly. I'd stored a couple bottles of wine in their refrigerator which sparked a conversation with the owner about Turkish wines. As we were leaving he gave me a bottle of wine that his family makes for themselves!

From our hotel we headed down the street to the Üç Şerefeli Camii (Mosque of the Three Balconies). This stunning mosque, completed in 1447, was impressive even before we got into the courtyard. From outside the wall we could see that not only were the minarets decorated, they were all done in different styles.

Inside was equally lovely with soaring domes and lots of light and space. What I particularly liked was how no space was too small to decorate. Even the inside of the small domes are beautifully decorated. As sad as it is to see the country so devoid of tourists the selfish side of me enjoys it when I can walk into a mosque, museum, church, etc and not have a ton of people in my photos!

In an effort to cover all the major religions in one day, we left this mosque in search of Edirne's Great Synagogue-of which I have no pictures because we got there to find the tall gates closed and locked. I spoke to the group of guards and we discovered that the synagogue was closed only that day. Argh! E&M tried to convince them to let us take a sneak peek but they weren't falling for it. So if you visit Edirne and want to see the Great Synagogue, don't go on a Monday!

We tried out luck next with the Christians of Edirne and drove through some narrow, tricky streets to try to find the Bulgarian church of Sveti Georgi (and don't think there weren't jokes around a mispronunciation of sveti). We got there, after successfully parallel parking no less, only to discover another closed gate-this one topped with razor wire. This was apparently not to be our day of being inclusively religious.


After our disappointments at the synagogue and church we were ready for some good luck which we found at one of my favorite wineries, the Edirne-based boutique winery Arda. Easily spotted from the road, the Arda winery-recognizable from the labels-sits on a vine covered hill that rises above the road. We drove through the vineyard and were slightly taken aback to find a large backhoe digging out the earth along the back wall of the winery. Sadly Arda was having a problem with damp and while the naturally well-irrigated soils are great for the vines, they weren't doing so much for the winery and its contents.

We had a great visit there, fully making up for the day's earlier failures. We met Yavuz who told us how his family got started in the wine business and about the wins they are currently producing. While I asked all my usual wine questions (root stock, irrigation, harvest, barrel ageing etc) we sampled a wide range of the wines. Arda produces three levels of wine: 
  • Sekiz Dokuz: This, their low-end wine is named after the 8/9 rhythm of Gypsy music and is usually sold in bulk for banquets and large events
  • Kuşlar: This mid-priced wines cover a large number of varietals including: Narince, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, and Cabernet-Merlot blend and are among the best mid-priced wines you can get. The Cabernet is one of my go-to wines and even for a non Syrah fan like me, the Shiraz isn't bad. 
  • Reserve: These higher priced wines are well worth the buck (or TL I suppose), especially if you can buy them at the winery where they're far more reasonably priced. The reserve line includes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet-Merlot blend, and Shiraz

Of course I wasn't going to waste the opportunity to buy wine at the winery price; especially since there were several wines there that I haven't seen in Istanbul. I also snagged two of their last four bottles of Narince! Arda is not widely available even in Istanbul but you can find them at Solera (Beyoglu-Yeni Carsi Cd.) and at the wine/whiskey store in Karakoy I can never remember the name of. Helpful I know but it's somewhere near the iskele and offers significantly lower prices.

Arda 2013 Narince: A brilliant, pale yellow in the glass with a very floral, plumeria, and pineapple nose. On the palate it was creamy giving evidence to time spent in oak with bursting flavors of white pineapple, citrus, and white flowers. I'm so sorry that I only bought two bottle of the Narince because it was gorgeous-easily the nicest Narince I've had. And to the sadness of everyone at my Arda tasting, the second bottle was corked. There were tears.

The Cabernet I have reviewed before (see the link referenced above) so I won't rehash that here other than to say it's a lovely medium-bodied Cabernet with a lot of red berry, particularly raspberry flavors.

Arda 2013 Reserve Cabernet-Merlot blend: This has only recently been released and, at the time of our visit, wasn't yet available in Istanbul. You should be on the look out for it though because even for a Merlot naysayer like myself this 50/50 blend was beautiful. Eighteen months in oak (and three in the bottle) and limited filtration gives this blend a beautiful dark garnet color and adds some fascinating oak characteristics without stripping the berry flavors. The nose is redolent with pine forest, forest fruits, chocolate, and clove. In the mouth the tannins are soft and silky and with the black fruit, vanilla, and mocha flavors give a luscious drinking experience.


Arda 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: This one is so beautiful it gets its own picture which I took ages ago when M grilled steaks the size of our heads. Cabernet Sauvignon is often a wine that wants meat and Arda's reserve is no different.

Arda took the Mondus Vini Silver with this wine in the 16th Grand International Wine Awards, and it was well deserved. In the glass it's an intense, beautiful, purple red. The 18 months it spent in oak was obvious right from nose as the tart, dark fruit aromas were accompanied by chocolate and cinnamon. In the mouth the tannins are velvety and long like the finish. A really long finish that just kept going carrying with it the flavors from the nose: bilberry, chocolate, and cinnamon.

Side note: I had to Google bilberry because I've never had one. I was tasting blueberry but not really blueberry and it turns out that the bilberry is a wild, European cousin of the blueberry more similar in flavor to the American huckleberry (which I've also never had so that wasn't all that helpful).

So Arda; beautiful wines made with care and dedication and absolutely worth the effort to track down if you're not near Edirne.

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