TURKEY & THE LEVANT: THE ‘NEW’ OLD WORLD

Irony: an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.

Throughout history, the origin of wine has been a focus of many archeologist, as vessel after vessel have turned up in Asia Minor (Turkey) and surrounding areas. Most recently, vessels have been unearthed which contained residue of stored wine and preservative agents, the oldest of which dates back 8,000 years. It was unearthed in what is today the Republic of Georgia.

Although there is no disputing the fact that the wine produced and consumed at that time would barely resemble what we drink today, there is physical proof that people during that time created, stored and attempted to age wine. One would think that with millennia behind them, they would figure out how to capitalize on this experience. This is the sad and ironic state that for years has come to represent the wine industry in what are now Turkey & the Levant.

The author, Tom Stevenson of Sotheby’s, went out of his way to declare in The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, that “with the exception of one outstanding wine, Chateau Musar from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, and to a somewhat lesser extent Chateau Kefraya, and the Golan Heights Winery in Israel, fine wine is non-existent in the Levant.”

To be fair to Stevenson, the edition I have is the 3rd published in 2001; however I’ve tasted a few pre-2000 releases from both Turkey and Israel to which I feel his bias, or snobbery, may have led him to dismiss this region, especially when he made the claim that native Turkish wines despite local fame should best be avoided. Since this article is by no means an indictment of Stevenson, but rather the entire established wine press, I’ll avoid singling him out further. It’s unfortunate to hear these words coming from wine lovers of any kind. Such blanket statements are misleading to consumers and harmful to these nations’ wine industries.

With that being said, this predisposed notion of the true Old World is quite unfortunate. There are many high-quality producers, and the quality of their wines continues to improve by leaps and bounds. The wine world should know that you cannot hold Wine’s ancestral homeland down forever. With the likes of Kavaklidare and Doluca in Turkey, the aforementioned Chateau Musar in Lebanon, Hebron Heights Winery in Israel and St. George in Jordan, there are some truly strong producers for the younger wineries to model themselves after.

Granted, it’s not quite that simple. This part of the world is facing the same obstacle that it’s faced since around 610 A.D., Islam. Winemaking in much of the Middle East has fallen by the wayside since then. One of the central Islamic laws/beliefs forbids the consumption of alcohol as well as the making of alcohol. In fact it was only after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and in turn the Caliphate, at the end of WWI that a renewed public interest in wine slowly begins to sprout.

Considering the recent moderate acceptance of alcohol consumption, difficult growing locations, and the obvious dangers of even living in most of these regions, being blindly dismissive of this region’s wines is an insult to the very thing we love about wine: aspiration. These producers have dreamed, much like American winemakers just fifty years ago, about creating tremendous wine experiences. They knew that they would have to pursue their dreams while the majority of the wine community either ridiculed or dismissed them as substandard. What’s emerged from this trying experience is a collection of wineries that are very good, a couple being near great.

More and more I’m finding wines from Turkey and Israel are being sold by wine shops and restaurants not only because they’re interesting; rather, they’re spoken of as good wines. I think this is a sign of the times that some in the wine world are slow to embrace. With Flying Consultants, easy access to new techniques and improved technology in these regions, it’s not difficult to see rapid advancement.

The next time you are in NYC, Boston, L.A., or any other metropolitan area and happen upon one of these ethnic restaurants or a boutique wine shop, pick up a bottle or two. I’m not saying you will have an epic experience, but 99% of traditional Old World wine doesn’t induce this experience either. What you will receive is an epiphany. Let the New Old World provide you with yet another revelation.

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Categories: Wine & Spirits

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