Place: Istanbul |
Drink: Turkish wine |
One of the best parts of changing countries as regularly as most people change toothbrushes is all the novelties on the menu. “It’s the little differences,” as John Travolta’s hit-man Vincent Vega says in Pulp Fiction on experiencing new cultures, and I couldn’t agree more.
For Vincent that means eating a Royale with Cheese in Paris rather than a Quarter Pounder (they use the metric system) or ordering a beer at McDonald’s in Amsterdam. For me, in Turkey, that has meant getting hot pastrami in my hummus, a lamb kebab cooked with pistachios, or baklava as tasty as you’ll find anywhere on the planet (sorry Greece). And what better way to wash it all down than with a surprisingly wide variety of decent şarap (pronounced shar-ap) as they call wine here.
Okay, so we’re not talking Bordeaux or Super Tuscan, but the Turks can hold their own against many better-known wine producing countries. Maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise, either, as they’ve been at it for some time. Among his seemingly endless achievements, Turkey’s first president, Atatürk, established the county’s first commercial winery in 1925. Turkey now ranks fourth among the world’s leading grape producers (with at least 60 commercially produced varieties) and annually consumes over 5,300 gallons (20,000 liters) of wine.
Here, you can find several crisp whites and rosés to pair with your fresh sea bass – another Turkish treasure! – and even a few recommendable champagnes for more festive occasions. In my opinion, the Turks do an even better job with their reds, including a nice assortment of Cabs, Pinots, and Merlots. But, with a nod to Vincent Vega, I will opt for something a little different. I mean where else can you ask your waiter for a glass (if you can pronounce it) of Boğazkere – one of Turkey’s two native grapes, deliciously dark in color, with a nice spicy finish – or a bottle of Öküzgözü, which literally means “ox eye”?
The challenge, then, isn’t in choosing a good Turkish wine to drink, but rather in finding one at all, short of taking a trip to Turkey – also highly recommended. To help get you started, here are three of my favorite mass produced selections, each priced a just over $20, to ask for at your local wine shop. And, should you get your hands on one…Şerefe!