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Pleasures of the Obscure – New Discoveries

March 23, 2021 2 comments

If you follow this blog for some time, you might (or might not) know that I identify as an obsessed wine geek. There is definitely more than one trait that would allow such an identification, so the particular one I want to talk about here is the love of obscure grapes.

I was bitten by The Wine Century Club bug more than 15 years ago, and since then I’m on the quest to seek the most unusual wines made from the most obscure grapes. The Wine Century Club offers to wine lovers a very simple proposition – for every 100 different grapes you taste, you get to the next level in the club. With more than 1,300 grapes used in wine production today, this shouldn’t be very difficult, shouldn’t it? Yet, of course, it is, as an absolute majority of the wines readily available today in the supermarkets, wine stores, and even from the wineries direct, are made from 50–60 mainstream grapes – the rest requires quite a bit of work of procuring as most of the wines made out of the rare grapes are produced in minuscule quantities and not sold anywhere outside of the immediate area of production.

So if finding those rare and unusual wines is that difficult, why bother you may ask? I can give you a few reasons. One – I can simply tell you that I tried 555 grapes at the time of writing this post, so it kind of “mine is bigger than yours” type of reason. Yep, lame. Let’s leave it.

The better reason is the fact that every bottle of wine made from grapes one never heard of before is an opportunity to experience great pleasure. The grape is unknown, so we have no expectations whatsoever. While drinking Cabernet Sauvignon, that simple little piece of information – the name of the grape you are well familiar with – has a tremendous effect on how you perceive the wine. The level of pleasure will depend on how well the particular wine matches your expectations. It might be the best ever for you in the blind tasting, but in the non-blind setting, you are instantly influenced by your prior experience and thus your level of pleasure is limited by your expectations.

When you pour yourself a glass of Bobal, Trepat, or Hondarrabi Zuri, you are presented with a blank canvas – you can draw any conclusions you want. You will decide if you like the wine not in comparison but simply based on what is in your glass and if it gives you pleasure, or not. Simple, straightforward, easy.

Here, let me share with you my latest encounter with obscure grapes.

Let’s start with the white wine – 2017 Paşaeli Yapincak Thrace Turkey (12% ABV, 100% Yapincak). Yapincak is a native variety of Şarköy – Tekirdağ region in Northern Turkey. The grapes for this wine, produced by Paşaeli winery in Turkey, come from the single vineyard located at about 500 feet elevation, 35 years old vines. Upon opening the wine showed some oxidative notes, I even thought it might be gone already. A few hours later, it cleared up, and presented itself as a medium to full-bodied wine, with fresh lemon and a touch of honey notes, crisp, fresh, easy to drink. This can be a food wine, but it doesn’t have to be, quite enjoyable on its own. (Drinkability: 8-/8)

My rare red wine was really a special experience, as it brought back really special memories. I got this 2014 Agricola Vallecamonica Somnium Vino Rosso (12.5% ABV, 100% Ciass Negher) 4 years ago, during a press trip to the beautiful region of Franciacorta. As we were the guests of the Franciacorta consortium, we were mainly focusing on the Franciacorta sparkling wines. During one of our lunches, I noticed this wine and had to bring it home, albeit only one bottle. This wine is made out of the ancient grape called Ciass Negher in the local dialect, used in the winemaking by the Romans about 2,000 years ago, and resuscitated by Alex Belingheri in his vineyards at Agricola Vallecamonica.

This wine was absolutely unique – as you would expect considering its rare pedigree. I perceived this wine as something in a middle between Pinot Noir and Chianti/Sangiovese. A touch of Pinot Noir’s sweetness, smoke, and violets, with the undertones of leather and tobacco, and a little funk. Each sip was begging for another – easy to drink, perfectly balanced, and delightful. If this would be my everyday wine, I would be perfectly happy about it. (Drinkability: 8+)

Here you are, my friends. The wine pleasures are everywhere – you just need to look for them.

Turkish Wines – From Cradle to Adolescence

September 24, 2015 4 comments

Vinkara logoI’m sure many of you heard about Turkish wines. More interesting question is – how many of you actually tasted Turkish wines, or at least saw them in the stores?

The jury is still out on the question of the birthplace of the winemaking – Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Iran – I think Middle East was “the place”, but will any single country be ever able to claim the prize? Probably not. “You know, we were making wines 8,000 years ago” is a great conversation opener, but what really matters is what is inside the glass. It is quite possible that the wines made 8,000 years ago were absolutely amazing – don’t know if we will ever know that for sure, though – but that is not even important. What is important that today, even if you make a wonderful wine, the road to the consumer’s glass is long and winding, simply due to the sheer abundance of wines already available at any given moment to any consumer at any wine store.

If you have historical advantage, how do you prove your point? You have to educate people, you have to make them interested, and most importantly, you have to make them to try your wines. Based on my experience, Turkish winemakers and importers of Turkish wines are doing exactly that, and they seem to be determined to succeed.

I recently had an opportunity to taste Turkish wines made by Vinkara winery, and to talk to the winery’s founder, Ardıç Gürsel. First of all, talking about education, Vinkara’s web site offers wealth of information about history of winemaking in the Turkey. For my internal grape geek, it was fascinating to learn that Turkey has about 1,200 indigenous grape varieties (I wonder how would they call a 1000 grape level in The Wine Century club, huh?). Also according to the article on Vinkara’s web site, the winemaking originated about 15,000 years ago in Central Anatolia, which is now Turkey (may be that explains my obsession with wine, simply based on the name matching). Anyway, I will leave it for you to explore the web site, and let’s talk about the wines.

Vinkara wines

Vinkara seems to be very focused. They only grow 2 grapes, and they only make 4 wines. The two grapes are the white grape called Narince, and the red called Kalecik Karasi. As Vinkara takes great care in educating people, they are making sure you would know how to properly pronounce the names of the grapes, as they are not anything you would expect just by looking at the words themselves. As suggested on the Vinkara’s web site, Narince should be pronounced “Nah-rin-djeh, meaning “delicately” in Turkish”. And Kalecik Karasi is pronounced “Kah-le-djic-car-ah-ser as in British “Father”“. Vinkara makes two regular and two reserve wines, with both reserve wines spending 14 month in oak. I had an opportunity to taste all 4 wines, and here are my notes:

2013 Vinkara Narince Erbaa-Tokat, Turkey (13% ABV, SRP $16, 3 month resting on the lees)
C: Beautiful light yellow
N: grassy, inviting, hint of white fruit
P: touch of white fruit, refreshing, good acidity, excellent balance.
V: 8-, would gladly drink it any time

2010 Vinkara Narince Reserve Erbaa-Tokat, Turkey (13.5% ABV, SRP $28, 14 month in oak, 6 month in bottle)
C: Bright golden
N: Vanilla, butter, inviting, delicious
P: Nice acidity, touch of hazelnut, white plums, medium to full body, silky smooth, good balance
V: 7+, very nice but may be needed a bit more time in the glass to open up

2013 Vinkara Kalecik Karasi Kalecik-Ankara, Turkey (14% ABV, SRP $16, 12 month in stainless steel)
C: bright ruby
N: Touoch of spices, crushed berries, blackberries, tobacco
P: perceived lightness, medium body, long finish, good acidity, touch of ripe raspberries and smoke
V: 8-, food friendly and literally beggin for the grilled meat

2013 Vinkara Kalecik Karasi Kalecik-Ankara, Turkey (14% ABV, SRP $28, 14 month in oak, 6 month in bottle)
C: dark ruby
N: vanilla, baking spices
P: sweet cherries, soft tannins, medium body, sweet finish, touch of spices, hint of chocolate, reminiscent of Grenache
V: 7+, again it possibly needed more time to open up in the glass

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As you can tell from my notes, these were definitely the wines I would gladly drink myself and offer to my guests – and the fact that they come with the story is definitely a bonus. As with any “young adults”, it is not easy to establish yourself and become noticeable. However, with the focus on education and on making good, honest, authentic wines, I think Turkish wine industry will make it just fine in this world – at least judging by Vinkara wines, they will.

Next time you are in the wine store and having an urge to try something new – ask for the Turkish wines, you might be pleasantly surprised. And leave me a comment after. Cheers!

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