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Revolution for Turkish wines says Master of Wine, Sarah Abbott

THERE are a lot of vineyards in Turkey. It has twice the amount of land under vine as Argentina and three times that of Australia, but Turkey produces only a very small amount of wine.

Sarah Abbott MW at the Northumbria Food and Wine Festival
Sarah Abbott MW at the Northumbria Food and Wine Festival

THERE are a lot of vineyards in Turkey. It has twice the amount of land under vine as Argentina and three times that of Australia, but Turkey produces only a very small amount of wine. Most of its grapes are destined for the table, or drying.

Until recently, the quality of Turkish wine hasn’t been much to make a song and dance about, but Master of Wine, Sarah Abbott told an audience at The Northumbria Food and Wine Festival earlier this month, “Turkish wine has gone through a revolution in the last 10 years.

There’s now a fantastic gastro-culture, driven by young people, and, unlike any other country in the world, most of the winemakers are young women rather than men of a certain age.”

The reason for the female dominance of the Turkish wine industry, Sarah suggested, is food scientists in Turkey have usually been women and wine-making seems like a logical extension of that.

Sarah has been advising wineries in Turkey about how their products might be improved to meet the tough demands of the UK market.

She loves working with winemakers who are just starting out and helping them discover where their potential lies. She’s so impressed by the speed at which some of the new generation of female winemakers are learning that she’s convinced there’ll be a lot more Turkish wine on our shelves soon.

Sarah reckons that it takes a wine region 10 years to gear up for export. “One of the problems” she argued, “is that wine styles are often governed by local tastes.” That, for example, has been Brazil’s problem. They have been trying to break into the UK market “for decades”; and have at last seem to have succeeded. Waitrose recently announced that they are to stock both Brazilian and Chinese wines.

Other countries making great wines that we’re likely to see more of include Greece, Israel, Slovenia, Croatia and the Lebanon. One of the highlights of the Northumbria Food and Wine Festival, held at Corbridge this month, was the superb quality of wines shown by Croatian specialists, Pacta Connect.

Lebanon also has some terrific wines, as was demonstrated at the Newcastle Wine School during this summer’s Eat! Festival, by wine critic Tim Atkin, another Master of Wine.

But, Sarah believes that the most exciting wines we’ll be drinking next year and beyond will also continue to come from more familiar places. In particular, she tipped Australia to astound us with new top of the range wines from cooler climates like Tasmania.

“Posh Australian wine is coming,” she said. To prove her point she popped the cork of a bottle of sparkling wine, Arras 2004 by Ed Carr, whose wine-making skills, she said are “a complete legend,” in Australia.

The wine is not yet available in the UK and she’s trying to persuade Carr that winelovers here would leap at the chance of a bottle. It has been aged six years on the fine yeast lees before being ready for sale. “People tell you Australian wine doesn’t age. Just taste this!” she enthused. We did and were impressed.

Marks & Spencer have picked up on the potential of a number of up- and-coming wine regions with a diverse offering from Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Greece and Croatia.

Turkey has a wealth of fine indigenous grape varieties, so they may have played a bit safe by offering a Turkish Sauvignon Blanc: Sevilen 2011 from the Aegean coast (£9.99), but this dry wine, with its crisp, lemony fruit and hints of stone fruits, especially peach, cries out to be drunk on a warm day with freshly-grilled sea bass.

Another Sauvignon Blanc, this time from Israel, Barkan Classic 2011 (£9.49) is softer, with a grilled grapefruit aroma, and a surprisingly lingering flavour.

Lebanon’s reputation was sealed a generation ago here by the Château Musar, but other wineries in the Bekaa Valley also make fine wine. Cadet de Ka 2008 (£8.49) is great value, a rich blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

It shows ripe, raisiny fruit with a suggestion of raspberry jam. Clos St Alphonse 2009 (£9.49) from Château Ksara is full of spicy black fruit flavours, juicy acidity and long savoury finish. It’s a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon: classic French varieties are typical in the Bekaa.

Look out too for the brilliant dry, white, fragrant and elegantly fruity Château Ka Source Blanche 2011, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and Muscat (£10.99 from Carruthers & Kent).

A pair of dry white wines from Croatia impressed me hugely.

Pilato Malvazija Istarka 2011 (£12.49) is creamy, salty and quite intense, while Golden Valley Grasevina 2001 (£8.99) made from Croatia’s most widely-planted variety, known as Welschrielsing or Laski Rizling, not that it’s related to Riesling, has a herby aroma and lemony fruit with a salty finish.

It’s a cut above the off-dry white that used to be churned out. I went to Corbridge, tried Pacta Connect’s range, and discovered even better examples of Croatian wine. We live in exciting times.

WINE EXTRAS

I’M delighted that Marks & Spencer have also gone out to find some good Greek wine. Europe’s oldest wine culture has transformed its winemaking practices in recent years to great effect, but they haven’t given up on the excellent local raw material. Greece has a treasure trove of grape varieties, well-suited to warm, even hot growing conditions, which is just what’s needed in these days of climate change.

Lefkes Moschofilero 2011 (£8.49) is a fine, honey-scented dry white with almost a whiff of marsh-mallow, yet is bone dry and crisply refreshing.

Red on Black Agiorgitiko 2010 (£8.49) made by the Mitravelas Estate at Nemea in the Peloponnese from Greece’s flagship St George red-wine variety, is exuberantly fruity, with sweet, plummy, slightly smoky fruit, juicy acidity, balanced tannins and a savoury finish – a perfect candidate, should the weather be kind, for a bank holiday barbecue.

WINE OF THE WEEK

Atlantis, 2011 Argyros Estate, Santorini £10.49 Marks and Spencer

Dry white from the famous, volcanic Greek island, with bags of character: citrus and wild herb-scented, with mouth-watering lemony fruit and a long salty aftertaste. Perfect with grilled fish, but also with goat’s cheese or Parma ham.

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