(Editor’s Note: This post marks the inauguration of “Supermarket Cellars,” a new feature whose aim is to seek out affordable Turkish wines that are worth recommending. To assist us in doing that, we have enlisted the help of Aaron Stein — an expert on nuclear non-proliferation issues and PhD student by day, avid wine drinker and enthusiast by night — who has been assigned the thankless task of scouring Istanbul’s supermarket wine department shelves for budget-friendly diamonds in the rough. We plan on featuring his discoveries on a regular basis for as long as he can survive this hazardous assignment.)
For the frugal traveler or middle-income resident, Turkey’s wine industry does not offer many options. While more and more Turkish winemakers are churning out high quality wines, mid-level consumers are consistently priced out of the market. On a quick visit to any of Istanbul Eats’ alcohol-serving restaurant recommendations, one instantly gets the sense that Turkey remains a beer and rakı country – not surprisingly, as these are also the cheapest of Turkey’s alcoholic options.
Close friends interested in wine, but put off by the consistently high prices, have been left to scrounge the aisles at their local supermarket for something decent to drink that doesn’t break the bank. While determined, their methods of evaluation leave much to be desired. The lower-tier wines are often judged by the intensity of the hangover, rather than things like balance, taste, bouquet and food pairings. Clearly, this has to change.
I have recently started to scour the shelves at Migros and my local Tekel shops – state supervised liquor shops – to find decent wines priced between 15-30 TL. While not really “cheap” by European or American standards, in Turkey this is about as low as I would comfortably go when choosing wine. I am approaching this with my eyes wide open – I don’t live in Bordeaux, Tuscany or Napa and I know that there will probably be more lows than highs. I will probably break down and empty my wallet for some better-tasting options more than once during this whole process. Nevertheless, I am determined to find some drinkable wines hiding in the dark recesses of Turkey’s supermarket shelves. My ultimate aim is to recommend wine that I enjoy drinking after a long day writing about international politics and nuclear weapons (I am a PhD student) that doesn’t break the bank or leave me feeling a bit guilty about opening the “special stuff ” prematurely.
With all of this in mind, I am ready to recommend my first bottle. Doluca, one of Turkey’s largest wine makers, produces Kav , a blend of the Turkish grapes Boğazkere and Öküzgözü. The two grapes are indigenous to Elazığ, a town in Turkey’s southeast, and grown with water from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Like many of Turkey’s larger wineries, after the grapes are picked they are trucked to the country’s west coast before being made into wine. The wine itself has an intensely fruity bouquet, a slightly tannic first taste and a minerally finish. It is well balanced and a pleasant enough bottle to enjoy while relaxing after work with friends. While not on par with some of Turkey’s higher priced wines made in the rapidly proliferating chateau-style wineries, it certainly is a well-priced “drinkable” option for an evening meal.
The wine is aged for 12 months in French oak barrels, bottled and left to sit for two years, before hitting supermarket shelves. For the budget-conscious consumer, lahmacun – the delicious (and low-priced) baked flat bread topped with minced and well-spiced lamb – would pair nicely. If you were looking to kick it up another level, the wine would also go well with grilled lamb or steak. The wine does need to breathe a bit, so one should use a decanter or open it while the delivery guy is en route or the person cooking is finishing up.
Best of all, it costs less than 25 TL, is sold at any well-stocked Migros and will leave your head feeling fine in the morning.