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.