Posts Tagged Holiday Wines

Drink Some History For The Holidays

20 October 2012
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On the off chance you’ve read a few of my other posts about wine, you may have noticed I usually write about bottles that cost less than $15. Because I focus on the unusual and the obscure, most large wineries and PR firms aren’t interested in sending me free samples. I buy what I drink, like most of you, and therefore I have a keen eye for value.

You can perhaps imagine, then, me standing in Binny’s on Marcey, faced with a $22 bottle of Turkish wine. On the one hand, I’ve never reviewed a wine from Turkey on this blog. But good heavens, doesn’t $22 for a wine from Turkey, of all places, seem a little steep? I’ve been to Turkey — it’s a spectacular country, and I enjoyed myself immensely. We even did some wine tasting there and discovered a few gems, such as a wonderfully minerally Narince (pronounced approximately “nahr-IN-jeh”) from Cappadocia. But I can’t remember a single red I really liked.

Even so, I was in an extravagant mood. The bottle said “Single Vineyard,” which gave me some confidence, and it was the very last bottle in the bin. I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t try it — I’m one of those people who tends to regret not drinking more than drinking — so I plunked down the cash and brought it home.

What a revelation. The 2008 Kayra Vintage Single Vineyard Öküzgözü “Collectible Series #5” from the central Anatolia region was not only the best wine I’ve had from Turkey. It was one of the best wines I’ve had all year. A deep, opaque purple, it smelled like an aged Cabernet: rich and jammy with a bit of (not unpleasant) dust. Dark, luscious fruit revealed itself on the palate, tempered by dusky tannins and some pumpkin pie spice on the finish. There’s structure and restraint there too — it’s not just some fruit bomb. My drinking companion called it “very festive” and “perfect for the holidays.” And he was absolutely right — this was a suave party guest of a wine.

But what the heck is it? I consulted my books, and discovered that Öküzgözü is one of Turkey’s indigenous grape varieties, noted in passing as a popular variety in Anatolia, but not listed among the most promising varieties. I trust that error will be corrected in future editions of The Oxford Companion to Wine and The World Atlas of Wine. But perhaps these books deserve some slack. As the Companion notes, Turkey may encompass the very birthplace of viticulture itself (around Mount Ararat), and “the region is therefore rich in indigenous vinifera vine varieties, of which between 600 and 1,200 have been identified but fewer than 60 are grown commercially.” That’s a lot of varieties to keep track of.

Öküzgözü isn’t noted at all in The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, but this book does note that Turkey’s terroir exhibits great untapped potential. Anatolia, where the Kayra Vintage comes from, has cold winters but very sunny, dry summers, making it a challenging but potentially very rewarding region for viticulture. And the Turks certainly know how to tend a vineyard. The country is the world’s fourth-largest producer of grapes, but most are eaten fresh or as raisins. Only 2.5% make it into wine. Why?

Most Turkish drinkers seem to prefer raki (like ouzo) and beer to wine, meaning there isn’t much of a local market. Tourists pick up some of the slack, and some wines are exported, but because Turkey lacks a reputation as a quality wine producer, I have to think that selling exports can be a tricky business. And if those barriers aren’t already high enough, international investors might feel skittish about putting a lot of money into a winery in a Muslim-majority country, however moderate it may be.

The Kayra Vintage Single Vineyard Öküzgözü could stand on its own in any case, but it’s all the more impressive for succeeding against these formidable headwinds. And at just $22, it packs a ton of flavor for the price, as well as quite a pedigree. The “single vineyard” referred to on the label is Şükrü Baran, located in the Elazığ region near the Euphrates River. Vineyards have been cultivated there for some 4,000 to 6,000 years. When you drink the Kayra Vintage, you reach back into the very heart of winemaking itself.


2008 Kayra Vintage Single Vineyard Öküzgözü “Collectible Series #5”: Dark and lusciously fruity, with supple tannins and a unique finish of sweet spices. Pair with autumn dishes such as duck, turkey or pork stuffed with dried fruit. Chill in the refrigerator 15 minutes before serving. Note that because it’s unfiltered, the last glass of wine may contain some harmless sediment.

Grade: A

Find It: I purchased this wine at Binny’s for $22.

Some Holiday Sparkle

11 December 2011
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I recently had the fortune to receive a complimentary tasting sample of three bottles of Cava, the world’s second-most famous sparkling wine. Catalonia, that feisty, autonomous region around Barcelona, produces the vast majority of it, and two companies, Codorníu and Freixenet, dominate this production.

Ordinarily, I’m biased towards the little guy, but in this instance, it seems wiser to go with the big boys. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, “The best Cavas tend to be produced by the larger firms who control their own vinification rather than those producers who buy in ready-made base wine from one of the large but often outdated co-operatives that continue to flourish all over Cataluña.” (“Cataluña” is the Spanish spelling, “Catalonia” is the English spelling, and you may also encounter “Catalunya,” the Catalan spelling.)

Freixenet (pronounced “Fresh-eh-net”) Cava may not seem especially unusual or obscure, but these three Cavas were all pink. Rosé Cava really came into its own only in the late 1990s, perhaps hindered until then by Cava traditionalists who “…for some bizarre reason always considered black grapes in a white Cava to be sacrilegious,” according to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. The Encyclopedia goes on to describe how Manuel Duran, then chairman of Freixenet, experimented with black Spanish varieties, producing a notable Monastrell-Xarel·lo sparkler in 1997.

I looked forward to seeing what Freixenet had been up to since then, and organized a little party to find out.