Who’d get your vote?
Big-shouldered Barolo, meat-packer to the wine world? Maybe a gamy Côte-Rôtie loaded with tobacco smells and a palate of bacon fat and leather? How about a cabernet sauvignon from Ray’s Station, that silly Sonoma winery that markets wines ‘exclusively for men’—which, ladies, should you so much as taste accidentally, will cause you to instantly grow a great whopping pair of swamp nuts.
Sorry about that, chief: In point of fact, the above examples are the Clay Aikenses of wines. On a sliding scale, they are wines for girly men, and they prance and flit about the most macho wine in the world—before whose mighty name the tannic titans of Tursan whimper and whine, Madiran monsters mewl, Oakville ogres bawl and Ray’s Station owner John G. Ray—a.k.a., the Marlboro Punk—cries out for mommy :Ökügözü…
…sounding more like a vengeful god from the blood-drinking Santería cult than a grape varietal. Can I get a witness?
Let’s Talk Turkey
As a race, the Turks don’t mess around. They play polo with sheep heads, refuse to use toilet paper, and throughout their successive history, the Oghuzes, the Seljuks, the Mongols and the Ottomans have not taken a whole lot of crap from the neighbors. Other than the fact that they sit naked in baths with other naked men and make taffy along with something called ‘delight’—rather effeminate confections, granted—there is nothing to break the continuum of butchdom that dominates the culture.
So it follows that they also name their stuff in badass, angry-sounding tones.
- While we sit in fancy, prancy ‘airplanes’ (or worse, ‘aeroplanes’), the Turks fly uçaks—and brother, if a passenger wants extra peanuts, he gets them.
- We say ‘Good bye!!’ signifying pleasant farewells and hopeful reunions, or ‘Au revoir!!’, signifying ‘I am an unreformable metrosexual’. People in Turkey say ‘Allahaısmarladık’, which means, ‘I hope I never see your scrawny, sissified face again.’
- We have a nose, they have a çorap. We have a breast, they have a göğüs. We make noise; they make gürültü, which you’d be an idiot to ask them to turn down.
- We wait (‘I know it’s been two hours, dear, but they have patients with two axes in their skulls, so we’ll just have to sit tight’), they beklemek (‘If I don’t see a doctor in the next fifteen seconds, I will infect the entire emergency room with anthrax’).
And don’t get me started on umlauts. (BTW, why doesn’t ‘umlaut’ have an umlaut?) I don’t know about you, but to me, an ‘Ö’ is saying, ‘I may be an ‘O’, but, beezy, you have no idea what kind of ‘O’, so watch your back.’
Which is a Somewhat Convoluted Segue to Ökügözü
The Turkish wine industry was already ancient when Jesus was born; winemakers on the Anatolian peninsula were growing, vinting and marketing wine throughout the Fertile Crescent before Pharaoh Khufu was a gleam in the old man’s eye. Before the Asians discovered rice; before bricks were invented; before David Hasselhoff became a slobbering, tacky, disheveled sponge—but not long before.
These are wines from the Copper Age, when England was still connected to continental Europe. In fact, according to lexical scholars, the correct translation of ‘yabba dabba doo’ is ‘That’s some magnificent grog there, Mr. Suleiman’.
Whenever the French begin to brag about Bordeaux’s enological antiquity, the Turks probably snicker like Paul McCartney does when Jesse McCartney comes on the boom box.
This is not to say that, historically, the wines have been any good, nor in the recent past has there been much need for them to be: In a largely Muslim country, per capita annual wine consumption is around one liter, compared to 55 liters for each and every drunken Catholic in the Vatican City.
And Turkish laws are kind of deflating to wine merchants: Like all alcoholic beverages, wine is so highly regulated in Turkey as to seem as absurd to us as those moronic warning labels we have to suffer through on the back of our wine bottles. For instance, restaurants on highways are prohibited from selling wine; wine cannot be given away in gift baskets; stores that sell food cannot sell wine, and wineries cannot have tasting rooms.
There are not a whole lot of these Turkish wineries, either. At approximately 300,000 square miles in size, Turkey has a population of 74 million. By contrast, Iowa is 56,000 square miles in size and has a population of three million.
Both weigh in with a staggering fifty wineries.
The global drive toward globalization, however, seems to be incentive for these fifty wineries to up the ante—especially as they drive to enter the EU market. That means an overhaul and modernization of vinification standards, which—lo and behold—has begun to reveal the potential of Turkish vineyards and indigenous varietals like beylerce, yapıncak vasilaki and dökülgen (white) and kalecik karasi, papazkarası, sergi karası and burdur dimriti (red).
I could go on, but it might prove time prohibitive—Turkey has around a thousand native grapes, of which sixty are in current commercial cultivation. I know this fact because for this article I interviewed the famous twenty-foot Turkish cyclops Tepegöz, who offered to count them, one by one, before my very eyes.
Under threat of extreme devouration, he cautioned me not to overlook ökügözü, the most popular grape of the Elazığ province on the Anatolian plateau just north of the Taurus Mountains. Here, various sources of the Euphrates River soften the normally harsh climate of Eastern Turkey.
Tepegöz’s particular affinity for ökügözü stems from the fact that it is a monster—the largest grape grown in Turkey. Oh, and because the name, translated literally, means ‘ox eye’.
As it happens, there’s a Turkish giant that’s even bigger:
Established in 1942, and currently producing wine from grapes grown in the vineyards of Anatolia and processed at the Elazığ and Şarköy facility, Kayra Vintage is among the largest, the most versatile—and certainly among the most awarded winery in Turkey. In 2012 alone, they’ve taken gold medals at Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, Wine Masters Challenge, Challenge International du Vin, Wine Masters Challenge and Mondial du Rosé for wines as varied as Buzbağ Rezerv, Kalecik Karası, and of course, Öküzgözü.
Kayra produces a line of familiar names as well, including barrel fermented chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. Each wine is unique, but the thread that binds them together is that they are all remarkably effective food wines.
Which is a good thing, because as you can imagine, Thanksgiving is a huge, huge holiday over here.
Kayra Vintage, Öküzgözü Single Vineyard, Elazığ, 2009, around $20: An exotic red filled with subtle, nearly indefinable spices; sandalwood, juniper, cinnamon and clove backed by intense berry scents and flavors. The wine is thick, concentrated and fully tannic, having spent 16 months in oak. It’s also unfiltered, and my bottle had thrown some sediment, so plan on doing some old-world decanting prior to serving. Which is fine—you, like me, could use the practice.