What fascinates us the most in wine? For me it's the ability of a grapevine to tell us the story of the land, the year and the men and women behind the label. I had an opportunity to look at the Thracian terroirs and the Chamlija winery through their wines. Their "Teruar Serisi" wines are telling us the story of the vineyards of Thrace - the European part of Turkey which has long history in the wine craft. We discovered their terroir by tasting the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon single vineyard series coming from small plots all with distinctive characteristics.
The Chamlija winery
Founded by Mustafa Camlica and run by the whole Camlica family. Their ancestors immigrated to this area of Turkey from Bulgaria in 1936 and been in farming for many years. The core of the Chamlija project is Thrace - the region native to this family, the land which they know so well and the local people with their customs and traditions being the soul of this winery.
In 2019 Chamlija won the highest number of medals on the prestigious Concours International des Cabernets - the international Cabernet tasting by top French sommeliers. The winery won 1 gold and 3 silver medals, while in total only 62 medals were awarded. This was obviously a sensation for a Turkish winery as many people in the world are still surprised to hear that Turkey makes wine at all. Apparently, it does make wine and when it does, it sometimes turns out to be one of the best wines in the world.
The winners (in case you were planing to stock up) were their Cabernet Sauvignon, The Thracian, Nev'i Sahsina Munhasir (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot blend, now try to pronounce the name!) and Asticus Mons Cabernet Franc.
Obviously, I'm waiting for the times when the native varieties of Turkey will be well known enough in the world and earn not less medals then the beloved in Turkey Bordeaux varietals. However, the reality of Turkish winemaking is that you won't get international attention unless at least part of your production is of international grapes. Well, so be it, luckily Chamlija has plenty of wines based on local Turkish grape varieties which they make with the same hands that create those award-winning Cabernets :)
Actually, it does make wine and when it does, it sometimes turns out to be one of the best wines in the world.
The are plenty of other awards popping up for Chamlija and sometimes it involves their local varietals too! For example, in 2018 their Albarino & Narince blend won a double gold medal on the Belgrade International Wine Competition, that's two times better then a gold medal! Otherwise lots of 90+ ratings from world's most prestigious blind tastings and even world's best sommelier of 2007 Andreas Larsson. They became the Best National Producer - so the best winery in Turkey - according to AWC Vienna 2020 - I'd say a bright future for this Turkish winery, the advocate of the Strandja Massif terroirs.
The terroir of Strandja
All these award winning wines are born with one thing in mind - expressing the terroir of the Strandja Massif - a mountain belt that sets the border between Bulgaria and Turkey that literally sets the weather here. Despite being surrounded by three seas - Black Sea, Marmara Sea and the Aegean Sea - this is a tough continental climate with generous rainfall, frequent late spring frosts, strong winds. As a paradox of viticulture, the way to help vines thrive in these conditions is to help them as little as possible. Thus a no irrigation, dry farming is applied all over the vineyards, while the density of plantings reaches even 10 000 vines per hectare. Compare it with the super crowded vineyards of Champagne where the average is 8000 vines per hectare and you'll want to come and see these Thracian lands.
If you are into learning a lot more details about the soil types, marine fossils and petrified trees spread around the Chamlija vineyards head over to my previous article Chamlija - the winery of the Thracians.
Wine tasting at Chamlija
I was lucky to join a tasting led by Mustafa Camlica - the best man to talk about the specialities of the Strandja Massif terroirs. We tasted their single vineyard Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon monocepage wines coming from their R&D project and being just partially available on the market under the ''Teruar Serisi" (Terroir Series) label.
Chamlija Cabernet Franc Teruar Serisi - vineyards and tasting notes
Terra Rossa clays and quartz gravels. Unlike other types of clay, terra rossa is known for good drainage. This type of soil is common in the Mediterranean region where heavy rainfall washes out the calcium out of the limestone. What’s left is an iron-rich clay known for producing bold, structured, tannic red wines.
Fresh forest berries, blackberry, raspberry, clove, prune and vanilla notes.
Red clay and quartz pebbles. Clay gives iron rich, high on acidity mineral wines, with that very characteristic gunpowder nose (reminds me some of the Barolo crus)
Smashed blueberry and blackberry, farmyard, leather and cane sugar.
Sand and lots of small-medium sized quartz pebbles here.
Quartz retains and reflects heat thus helping to ripen the grapes, it also contributes to high soil pH, which balances the naturally high acidity of wines coming from this continental climate (worry not, Chamlija’s wines are still super high on acidity, great for Italian winelovers like me). The sand based soil is a great drainage, very helpful in a region with frequent rainfalls.
Smoke, cedar, black cherry, dark chocolate, and a very juicy wine (due to outstanding acidity and a perfect fruit profile match).
This one is chalk based with large quartz rocks, very soft marl limestone. Chalk is not only a good source of drainage as we know from rainy wine regions like Champagne, but also creates a huge mineral backbone in wines. You really feel the chalk on your teeth after a sip - like it or not, but it’s a very exciting thing to notice after tasting the wine, agree?
Red cherry, caramelized sugar, carob, plum (reminded me my beloved Amarone).
All of them were a joy to explore, my favourite one was Rumbeli coming from Islambeyli vineyard.
Chamlija Teruar Serisi Cabernet Sauvignon - vineyards and tasting notes
This series comes from different plots within the same village - Sutluce. Honestly, Cabernet Sauvignon is not the most popular grape variety when it comes to expressing the terroir. You often see terroir oriented viticulture coming from regions with more subtle grapes like Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo. But I think if winegrowers are in love with their native land (and know their soils very well!) the robust Cabernet Sauvignon can be turned into a perfect tool to express the diversity of local terroirs.
So the 5 Cabernet Sauvignon parcels of the village below:
This is the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard of Chamlija.
Farmyard, leather, black pepper, black currant, coffee, dark chocolate. Round, perfectly ripe tannins from this south facing plot.
This is the north facing plot of Sütlüce and you can easily recognize it by the super high acidity.
Red currant, red cherry, clove, very tanninc and perfectly high acidity for winelovers that appreciate fresh wines.
The highest percentage of terra rossa clay is here. As you might remember from my last post, the terra rossa clay is created by the calcium being washed out by rains from the limestone. What's left is very high concentration of iron in now clay soil. This type of soil is perfect for drainage. The wine reminded me a Barolo, much paler than the others, elegant, peppery and floral nose. Very high tannins here. My favourite among the Cabernet Sauvignon series.
Smoke, blackberry, cane sugar, farmyard, barberry (very little known in Europe, a favourite spice of mine). A high concentration of quartz gravel rocks here, they attract and reflect the sun helping grape ripening.
The majority of our group chose this wine as their favourite.
Clove, prune, liquorice, black pepper, black cherry. Medium+ tannins and high acidity.