I spent the past holiday weekend immersed in the new generation of wines from...Turkey. I must say that on the basis of what I had tasted in the past, my hopes were not especially high as I flew in to Istanbul last Friday evening. But as I tasted my way through 50 of the country's best bottlings – rather nerve-wrackingly having to comment on them in front of an audience of wine producers and wine students – I found that the general standard was at the very least competent and that some of the wines were really pretty good.
Thanks to a whirlwind programme organised by Dr Yunus Emre Kocabaşoğlu, a pharmacologist at Groningen university who also gives wine courses in his father's native land, I managed to get out to a couple of leading wine estates on Sunday and Monday and am quite convinced that Turkey will be producing seriously world class wine quite soon. I'll be reporting on the wine scene in more detail next week, but here, for the moment, are a few superficial impressions.
Istanbul is an amazingly sophisticated city nowadays. I felt dramatically underdressed (by which I mean not smart enough rather than exposing too much flesh) for much of the time. It looks and feels considerably less Muslim than many parts of Britain. Annoyingly, I'd left my Flip video camera in the hotel room so cannot share with you the amazing scene at sunset on Saturday night on the rooftop terrace at Mikla, one of the city's most fashionable restaurants. Scene was the word. Low divans, low lights, designer gear, sun setting over the Golden Horn and the palaces, domes and minarets in the west, Dom Pérignon, salsa music, cocktails being shaken. Grrr. How could I have forgotten that Flip? You'll just have to make do with the little film below of the Bospohorus shot immediately beforehand from our hotel room as the sun was setting.
The non-alcoholic drink we had been expecting to find everywhere was Turkish coffee but in fact the signature drink of Turkey is tea, served in little glasses on a saucer like the picture shown here, taken on the shaded terrace of a beachside café en route to one of Turkey's two islands, Bozcaada ('the Greeks have the rest'). This excellent black tea is grown in the far north-east of the country. The glass is barely finger height, and it is deemed highly impolite ever to refuse the offer of tea.
As an outsider, I was particularly intrigued by Turkey's admirable range of indigenous grape varieties, but the local market seems in thrall to the likes of Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah and, less successfully perhaps, Chardonnay. But this country is huge and has enormous variation in climate and culture between such regions as Thrace in Europe, Cappadocia with its extraordinary landscape and eastern Anatolia on the border of Georgia, Armenia and Iran.