"It is my absolute pleasure to introduce these outstanding grape varieties to the world. The wines that we are making have incredible, strong personalities and sing songs of our history."
- Ardıç Gürsel, founder of Vinkara
The names Kalecik Karasi, Narince, and Öküzgözü are tongue twisters for those of us who don't speak Turkish, but the delicious wines that Vinkara produces from these indigenous grapes are an absolute delight to sip. When Ardıç Gürsel founded Vinkara in 2003, even other Turkish winemakers questioned her determination to make wines from local grapes instead of focusing on internationally known varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon. Would consumers abroad actually buy wines from grapes that they had never heard of and could not pronounce? The success of Vinkara proves that if the wine is good, people will drink it and figure out how to say it!
I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Ardıç while she was in New York City. Fittingly, we tasted the Vinkara wines at the Marmara Park Avenue hotel - an exquisitely designed boutique hotel that is owned by the Gursel family. Seriously, I would give up my Manhattan apartment in a New York minute to become a permanent resident of the Marmara - it epitomizes elegance and luxury!
Lobby at The Marmara Park Avenue Hotel. Guests and visitors can enjoy Vinkara wines at the hotel bar.
With a melodic voice and serene demeanor, Ardıç exudes a quiet intensity when she speaks about Vinkara. When I asked her why she selected Italian oenologist Marco Monchiero to lead her winemaking team, she said "because he was passionate and curious." Marco's admirable personality traits are enhanced by his vast experience as a winemaker. Marco states that "Turkish wines clearly have their own personality and distinctiveness to carry them to success. Our job is to identify and expose this, to understand, evaluate and promote these unique wines."
Wines from Turkey may be new to consumers in the United States and other locales but winemaking in the region has a rich history going back 15,000 years. There are scientific studies that show Central Anatolia (modern day Turkey) as the birthplace of winemaking. Even after Islam flourished in the region and consumption of alcohol was often officially prohibited, the vineyards were never destroyed. Vinkara's 200 acres of vineyards are just a one-hour flight from Istanbul. The name Vinkara is a clever combination of Vin (wine) and Ankara (the capital of Turkey).
Prior to Vinkara, I had never tasted wines from Turkey and the wine geek in me was beyond excited to give them a swirl. Because they are produced from indigenous grapes, the wines certainly displayed unique characteristics but simultaneously felt familiar. All of the hallmarks of quality wine were evident in Vinkara: balance, acidity, and expressive fruit that was not overwhelmed by oak when it was used. Here are a few of my favorites from the Vinkara portfolio.
Narince, pronounced NAH-RIN-JAY, is a grape indigenous to Anatolia and means delicately. It is one of the main white grapes cultivated for winemaking in Turkey. Vinkara Narince 2014 ($18) is an excellent option if you find yourself bored with Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. Unoaked, the beautiful peach and citrus flavors of the Narince grape really shine through. It has a zippy acidity that makes it a great sip on a hot day! A perfect wine to pair with seafood or to enjoy as an apéritif. Narince is a great introduction to Turkish wine and the Vinkara style. To taste a different expression of Narince, try Vinkara Reserve Narince 2013 ($25) - the wine spends time in French oak and displays subtle hints of cream, butterscotch, and spice; along with elegant citrus and mineral flavors.
The Kalecik Karasi grape is named after the Turkish town where the grape grows and is pronounced Kah-le-dij-car-eh-ser. Ok, it will probably take a few tries to grasp the pronunciation but this red wine is easy on the palate. Elegantly dry, Vinkara Kalecik Karasi 2013 ($18) is fermented in stainless steel and the essence of the grape is beautifully maintained. It has an appealing subtle tartness and flavors of cherry and raspberry, with a hint of spice.
To experience what the Kalecik Karasi grape tastes like when it is exposed to oak, give Vinkara Kalecik Karasi Reserve 2012 ($28) a swirl. This beautiful wine spent 14 months in French oak and an additional six months in the bottle before it was released. Alluringly smoky on the nose, the wine tastes of rich and luscious black fruit that is accentuated by hints of spice, tobacco, cocoa, and vanilla. A truly superb wine.
Let's wrap up our introduction to Vinkara with their Öküzgözü 2013 ($23). Pronounced Oh-cooz-goe-zue, this grape produces a gorgeous dry red wine that is full-bodied and fruit-forward. It has appealing flavors of strawberry, cherry, and a touch of blueberry that are balanced by a hint of nutmeg.
Wine is one of the best introductions to a culture and I highly recommend getting to know Turkey a little better with Vinkara. Rooted in a very rich winemaking history, Vinkara balances this legacy with a commitment to maintaining the integrity of the indigenous grapes while producing wines that are utterly modern and simply delicious.
Şerefe! (cheers, pronounced sher-i-feh)