Turkey is home to more than 1000 grape varieties and has been doing wine for more than 7000 years. Unfortunately people outside of Turkey (and often inside too) know little to nothing about the country's history in viticulture and even question if the country does any (good) wine at all. As a WSET educator, I've seen plenty wine students being surprised that I praise Turkish wines. But been here in Turkey for almost a year I saw that the local wine scene is emerging, there are many enthusiasts that are brave enough to start their wine businesses despite the not so favourable governmental regulations. So if it's Turkish wine, I want it to be a native Turkish grape variety that you associate this country with. How about one of the hardest to pronounce? Öküzgözü!
Öküzgözü grape - meaning & origins
It's a challenge to pronounce it, unless you know what it means, but once you know, it'll stuck in your memory forever. Öküzgözü translates as "an eye of a bull", that's because it has huge berries that resemble the eyes of a bull. "Öküz" can also be a sort of swearing, like a "moron", and although I don't think they meant it while naming this grape, but it can definitely help you remembering its' name :)
Öküzgözü prefers continental climate and it's native to Elazığ which is in the mid-eastern Anatolia, the birthplace of Turkish viticulture that actually dates back 7000 years. Today there're not too many wineries that have their facilities in Elazığ - most of them either have vineyards here or buy grapes from local independent growers and then transport them cooled to their wineries around the country.
However, Öküzgözü successfully spread around all the country, wherever it found a shelter away from the Mediterranean heat with continental climate resembling it's birthplace. You can find it coming from Kapadokya (Capadocia) and Nevşehir, Ankara, Denizli and even Trakya - a wine region right next to Istanbul.
Turkey's signature grape varietal
Today Öküzgözü is probably the hallmark for Turkish wine, being the most planted Turkish black grape variety. Most commonly you'll find it either as a varietal monocepage wine or in blend with it's partner - Boğazkere.
You will love Öküzgözü if you are a Bordeaux wine addict. In fact, the Öküzgözü-Boğazkere couple is Turkey's answer to the Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot marriage in France. In here, expect Öküzgözü being the Merlot - a berry-driven profile with mulberry, raspberry, cherry, eucalyptus, juniper, clove, charred wood (presence of these of course will depend on winemaking practices, barrel, amphorae, stainless steel and then bottle age). It has a medium body, with medium tannins and depending where it comes from up to medium + acidity. And a beautiful ruby colour that turns garnet as years pass.
Pamukkale Anfora Öküzgözü
Pamukkale Wines is one of the oldest wineries in modern Turkey, bearing in mind that Turkish viticulture started its' revival in 1923 with the birth of the Turkish Republic. So in 1962 Fevzi Tokat establishes Pamukkale Wines with just 100 000 liters production, meanwhile today Pamukkale Wines led by the founder's brother Yasin Tokat already produces an impressive amount of 3.5 million liters, that's almost 5 million bottles a year.
Obviosly, to make such an impressive amount of wine, their vineyards must be spread all around the country. So except for the vineyards in their native town of Çal in the Aegean region they're sourcing grapes from independent vine growers to ensure that they come from the best plots.
Their Öküzgözü comes from the Güney plateau in Denizli. I'm sure you've heard or even seen the one of a kind travertine terraces of Pamukkale. It's an ancient natural site with an abundance of thermal waters rich in calcium carbonate. As the water flows in releases carbon dioxide and the calcium carbonate is deposited forming limestone terraces. Well this wonderful site is located in Denizli province just a short ride away from the Güney plateau where our Öküzgözü comes from.
Pamukkale winery owns many vineyards in Güney - this site is not only one of the busiest places in Turkey in terms of land under vine, it's also known to be the place where the best grapes come from. Güney is a sort of Napa Valley of Turkey.
Pamukkale Anfora Öküzgözü - Tasting Notes
Ruby coloured with intense aromas of flint, blood orange, red plum, red cherry, raspberry. It has a pleasant herbaciousnes, a hint of eucalyptus, some geranium. The wine is slightly peppery. Which only adds charisma to it.
On the palate it's dry with a lot of "mediums" - medium alcohol, medium tannin, medium body, medium acidity. Which means it's a good, balanced wine.
Turasan Seneler Öküzgözü
Turasan is one of the biggest wineries in Turkey and definitely the biggest and most well known of Kapadokya (Capadoccia). The winery was established in 1943 with just 3000 liters production. In 1972 their production already increased to 2 000 000 liters. And with the begining of 2000's the winery started partnering actively with worldwide known winemakers and oenologists as consultants to bring Turasan on a new quality level. One of their benchmarks is their Zeynep Vineyards at an altitude of 1050 m competing in altitude with vineyards of Chile and Mt. Etna.
About the location
Turasan sources some of their grapes from private growers, this is the case with our Öküzgözü wine that comes from Elazığ. If you look for the most classical expression of Öküzgözü this is it - comes from it’s native Elazığ in East Anatolia.
What’s special to Elazığ is great temperature fluctuations, both diurnal (so day and night temperatures), and seasonal temperature ranges. Here, the soil ranges from red clay to decomposed granite and chalky clay.
Anatolia was likely been one of the first places on earth where wine was made.
Turasan Seneler Öküzgözü - Tasting Notes
Seneler means years in Turkish, which means that the wine has been aged and is suitable for further ageing. This wine matured for 10 months in French oak barrels. You can also bottle age it and see how it develops.
A very deep ruby colour, lots of tears (or legs), whatever you prefer calling them. They’re a very reliable indicator of this wine having high alcohol content. Medium+ intensity nose, every time I took a sniff I discovered something new in this glass. To start with - animal, leather, farmyard smell. This will fade very soon as the wine has contact with air. Then comes the wet forest floor, generous undergrowth, smoke. The last ones are the berries -
bramble, blueberry, dark cherry, and coffee, dark chocolate, prune, sultana on the finish.
This wine is developing but already has signs of bottle age. This is a 2018 vintage.
After taking a sip I understood why Öküzgözü comes from Elazig - it’s the best place to create a potential for high acidity due to temperature fluctuations and red clay is so good for concentrating tannins. Medium (+) acidity and tannins.
A very good wine, and actually a very limited edition for such a big producer - only 13 000 bottles were made in 2018, meanwhile overall, Turasan produces 3 000 000 liters of wine yearly.
Kavaklidere Prestige Öküzgözü
Kavaklidere was established as Turkey's first private sector wine producer in 1929 by Cenap And in Kavaklıdere district of Ankara. Today the company is known for importing and exporting wines and spirits, having a nursery that produces seedlings for Turkish wineries, importing wine equipment from abroad to Turkey and, well, being one of the biggest wine producers in the country with lots of dedication to reviving the forgotten indigenous grape varieties of Anatolia in their vineyards all over Turkey.
652 hectares of vineyards in seven different sub-regions. Basically, whichever grapevariety you are interested in, whichever terroir you'd like to discover - most probably you'll find it in Kavaklidere's portfolio.
About the location
This is another example of an Öküzgözü from Elazig. Kavaklidere's Aydincik vineyards that our wine comes from are located at 920 meters above sea level and there is a lake that softens the climate some 900 meters away from it. Kavaklidere owns almost 23 ha of vineyards in here. All of them dedicated to Öküzgözü. The soil here is typically red coloured, based on sand loam, clay loam and gravel.
Kavaklidere Prestige Öküzgözü - Tasting Notes
This wine is one of the best representations of Öküzgözü in my opinion. It has a perfect acidity, matched with balanced tannins, the alcohol is well integrated, just as the oak influence is very gentle. But let's go through all the details step by step.
It's a 2012 vintage, an example of how well a good Öküzgözü can age. The colour is clear, deep garnet, there're lots of tears on the rim.
The nose is pronounced and diverse. What comes first is leather, earthyness, coffee, prune, dried cherry, baked red fruits - the aromas of maturation in oak (10 months in French barriques) and bottle age aromas (2012 vintage). Then the fruit follows - sour cherry, raspberry, bramble.
On the palate - medium(+) acidity, high alcohol (we're at 14% abv here but it's so elegant and well integrated). A full bodied wine with medium tannins and a long finish full of sour cherry.
I loved this wine and honestly think that this was the best Öküzgözü among the wines from this grape variety I have tasted.