Thrace Wine Route - visiting Chateau Gali
The next winery I visited in Trakya, or let's say it properly, on the Thrace Wine Route, was Chateau Gali. The word means beautiful, precious, and this is exactly the way they treat their vines and produce great Merlot-focused wine. If we are about to compare Gali's philosophy to Bordeaux - this is definitely the Right Bank, where Merlot is the protagonist.
Bordeaux varieties and the Doğan Arslan terroir
Another courageous man (because without courage one doesn't start a winery in Turkey) - Hakan Kavur ended his career in engineering to start a winery on Gallipoli peninsula. He and his wife acquired 48 hectares of extremely difficult to manage, but heavenly beautiful slope. The vines are lucky to have the best sights of the Dardanelles, Marmara Sea and Saros Channel. Haven't I told you... great wines are made in beautiful places!
I was so lucky to meet him in person and ensure that his intentions are all about making a wine of place, expressing the unique terroir of Doğan Arslan. He makes the wine on his own (and has two helpers in the winery) because it would be such a shame to hire an enologist and treat this precious venture just as an investment. Gali means precious and the more effort you put into it, the more you love it..
Perhaps I've never seen such a red soil... One thing is that its' clay, but this clay is full of magnesium and iron, all set on a limestone bedrock. Hard to cultivate, what am I saying, even hard to drive up to these impressive 24 ha vineyards located at a height that you literally see the entrance to Dardanelles.
This is a mono-cepage vineyard, which means the majority (78%) of land is covered with Merlot. Three prestigious clones were brought from Bordeaux to express themselves in this Mediterranean climate. The rest is Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and some recent plantings of Viognier. It's hot, extremely sunny, but luckily sea breeze blows from all the directions. The hill is located just in between Saros Channel, Marmara Sea and Dardanelles. Vines are not irrigated, left on their own to express, not alleviate, what we call vintage variation and the terroir. Every year is different here, which is a good reason to return and re-taste :)
One more important thing to keep in mind - it was a strategic military location and for WWII many bunkers were built in the area (although they were never used). Some of them are on the territory of the vineyards and if you're lucky enough you might get a chance to visit them.
In the winery
The winery is located 13 km away in the village of Evrese and it was made of local stones that keep it cool and humid. I guess Hakan wanted to prove that they really have everything here to make an outstanding wine - not only the terroir, but the right building materials for a cellar too. Inevitably, Saint-Emilion comes to my mind with its' wineries made of limestone extracted from the queries right under the vineyards.
Grapes are hand harvested, sorted and destemmed. Pre-fermentation maceration and fermentation take place in stainless steel tanks. Pumps are not used here, gravity-flow winemaking apparently conquered minds and hearts of Turkish winegrowers. The journey ends with long maturation in barriques, basically, for ages!
As you might have noticed, the setup is really simple. That's because minimum intervention winemaking is practiced here. The wine is made in the vineyard, and the cellar is just the finish line where what Nature and you achieved in the field will get a chance to be showcased.
Nevertheless, Gali's wines are really diverse. We tasted... lots of bottles and all appeared to have their own character. Why am I surprised... After all, different aspects, winds, elevation, and the percentage of magnesium and iron in soil is also variable. Hakan also makes a late harvest Merlot, which was the star of our tasting.
Wine tasting at Chateau Gali
I didn't expect such a hospitality and didn't imagine that a morning without expectations can turn out to be a full portfolio tasting at Gali!
We started with Viognier - heat and wind resistant variety that originates from Northern Rhone is exactly what they need here in this hot but windy area. An abundance of stone fruits, peach and apricot, a wine for the ones who prefer to have the acidity somewhere on the medium level. Be careful! The wine is very "ripe", I mean keep an eye on consumption, as the alcohol level is really high (although it's a very smooth and easy to drink wine).
Saros Blend was all about ripe dark fruits with some bits of spicy notes. This is a Cabernet Franc - Merlot blend, and you definitely feel it more tannic than the other wines of Gali. They don't filter wines here, so it's a good idea to decant it - bearing in mind both sediment and to open the bouquet.
Evreshe Blend is an equal combination of Cabernet Sauvignon - Cabernet Franc - Merlot grapes. We're still on the dark berries, cherry confit side but with addition of a hint of bell pepper (thanks, Cabernet!), some earthy notes, flint and dark chocolate. Very ripe tannins and a long finish. I'd love to pair this wine with some mature Turkish cheese.
Pure Merlot - surprisingly, my favourite! Well, to be honest, I didn't expect such a complexity from a 100% Merlot, but probably when Hakan planted 78% of his vineyard with Merlot, he had a great plan for it... This wine is from 2013 so I was excited like a child by the overwhelming tertiary notes, they were popping out of my glass so fast, that I couldn't keep track of all of them. Bacon, cured meat, farmyard... and then the berries (still fresh) finally arrive.
Eternity - a late harvest Merlot, reminded me of Amarone della Valpolicella, but made of 100% Merlot. Funny, but even my boyfriend who normally ignores wines with any drop of residual sugar, loved this specific one above all and insisted on buying a bottle... Basically, it's off-dry, a very limited production, so you better buy a bottle too :) Candied black cherries, crushed blueberries, blood orange juice. A wow!
I was so touched by the whole tour, tasting and hospitality of Hakan and his employees, that I literally didn't want to go to any other wineries that day. You know, when you were lucky to find perfection in a country where wine tourism and wine production overall is not so well developed yet... then you better go home and finish that bottle of Viognier from Gali.