Following a vertical tasting of the indigenous and international varieties of Turkey’s Kayra Wines, which specialises in the production of premium wines from the country’s Anatolia region, it was one statement that stood out more than the rest; “tasting old versus new vintages, it is not the wines that have evolved, but the winemaking and viniculture.”
Daniel O’Donnell, consult winemaker at Kayra, is one of the characters of the winemaking world that make you stand up and listen. Napa Valley trained, he apologizes profusely for the styles of Chardonnay coming out of the region in the 1990s before presenting the first bottle for tasting – an oaked Chardonnay. Not quite as oaked as its California counterparts a few decades earlier, the Vintage Chardonnay shows far more elegance, tropical fruits and a vibrant finish.
Next up – Narince. Going off-piste, this wine did not have a vertical counterpart because, as Daniel puts it; “they are yet to find an example that ages well”. Fresh, lively acidity, subtle orange blossom and a smattering of tropical fruit. In some regions of the country the leaves of the Narince vine are worth as much as the grapes, so it is not uncommon to pitch-up at the vineyard in the morning to be greeted by bald vines.
Turkey is the fifth largest grape growing country in the world and of that, 95 percent of wine sales are domestic. That’s a lot of wine being sold in Turkey! And out of the thousands of indigenous grapes grown in Turkey, it is Öküzgözü that is the most popular. Even with current economic conditions in the country, of which the winery has had to overcome many, the wine industry is still strong.
Then into the reds – Buzbağ. Buzbağ is the name in for a blend of two Turkish indigenous varietals – Öküzgözü and Boğazkere – grown in Eastern Anatolia and dates back to 1944 when two French oenologists looked at ways to revive the winemaking history.
The 2006 Buzbağ Reserv, which was the first vintage Daniel was involved with, is still showing very well. Nebbiolo in style, rustic, refined tannins and a touch of creamy vanilla from the oak. In comparison to the current vintage, 2016, which is showing fresh, plump fruit. The oak influence gives it a nose comparable to blackcurrant ice cream (if that exists). Hallgarten is currently selling the 2015 vintage, which is fortunate as the wine is still slightly young.
Öküzgözü (which translates to ‘bulls-eye’) was the focus of the next set of wines – a nightmare to grow, but when tamed, an exceedingly good pairing with rich stews and grilled red meat. The 100% Öküzgözü ‘Imperial’ and ‘Vintage’ range of wines from Kayra are made from a combination of owned and managed, whereas the premium ‘Versus’ is made solely from Kayra–owned vineyards – all under the watchful eye of Daniel and Turkish winemaker Ozge Karmein.
‘Versus’ 2014 is a fruit bomb of wine, combining rich cassis, with baked black fruits and a touch of vanilla and hazelnut.
What did we learn from this vertical tasting? Kayra’s wines do age very well, but not as well as the winemaking team is, and the wines are heading in the direction of interest and refinement. The next vertical tasting in 10 years will be very interesting indeed.