Originally published January 2017
Dr Matthew Horkey and Charine Tan are wine writers and full-time explorers of the lesser-known wine regions. Their work has been published on jancisrobinson.com, winefolly.com, and their website exoticwinetravel.com. Their latest wine book is entitled Uncorking the Caucasus: Wines From Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia.
Turkey has been in the news a lot lately and unfortunately for the wrong reasons. It is a pity because the country has so much to offer through its culture, food, and--yes--wine. Things aren’t always easy for Turkish winemakers, as they are not legally allowed to publicly market their wine. It’s a shame because there are some exciting things being done in Turkey. Our favorite wine region in the country is the island of Bozcaada. It isn’t the easiest place to get to, which saves it from mass tourism and makes it all the more charming. However there is also an easier access to wine producers there and it makes for a great stop for those who desire the sun, sand, seafood, and wine.
Bozcaada is one of the handful of islands in the Aegean Sea that Turkey can call its own. Most of the islands off the west coast of Turkey belong to Greece. Bozcaada also belonged to Greece at one time and was known as Tenedos. The island was reputed to be the hiding place for the Greek ships in the famous battle for Troy, which happened on the Turkish mainland about five kilometers away.
Throughout history, the Greeks and the locals recognized Bozcaada's magical alchemy of elements–the soil, the wind, and the temperatures–that contributes to fantastic grape-growing conditions. The wines of Bozcaada are the ultimate expression of the French term terroir; they exhibit distinct salinity and minerality on the palate. The Greeks used to grow copious amounts of grapes here to make wines for their hedonistic ceremonies and for worshipping the god Dionysus. The island sits in front of the point where the Sea of Mamara empties into the Aegean Sea, and it is always windy on the island. The locals love it because they say that it feels like a big sailboat in the middle of the sea and that the island never stays still. These crosswinds between the two seas seem to almost magically tend the vines and allow the most pleasant enotourism experience in Turkey.
Some of our favorite memories in Turkey are made while riding scooters around the island, from winery to winery, and then beach to beach. The pleasant Mediterranean climate flatters the inconspicuous beaches and crystal-clear seawater. The center of the island is lined with rows and rows of vineyards covering the gently rolling hills. The overall atmosphere in Bozcaada is ethereal, and exploring Bozcaada feels like falling into a dream.
The wineries located on Bozcaada are Corvus, Amadeus, Talay, Ataol, Gulerada, and Calimbag. Corvus was started by an architect from Istanbul and is one of the most famous wineries in the country. It is the largest winery on Bozcaada by production volume, with a portfolio of over 20 different types of wine and some have received international acclaim. They produce wines from indigenous as well as international varieties. Amadeus is a young upstart winery that is producing some notable wine. Calimbag is the oldest wineries on the island. Generally, the focus on this island is on international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, along with local varieties like Kuntra, Karalahna for reds and Vasiliki and Cavus for whites. All of the above can be included in blends or made into varietal wine.
Bozcaada is one of the few places in Turkey where you have easy access to the wineries. This is mostly because of the island’s small size and perhaps also its reputation for growing quality grapes. However Bozcaada is still held hostage by the laws of the Turkish government, which forbid winery tours and tasting onsite. Two of the wine producers Amadeus and Corvus have built a separate tasting cafe, under a different name and next to their winery, to facilitate tasting. You must have a scooter, bike, or car for access around the island and to experience the wine tasting as the shops in the main town only have bottles for sale.
Exotic Wine Travel’s Choice
The Corvus Zeleia Vasilaki 2013 is a beautiful white wine. On the nose, it has pear, melon, citrus and floral aromas. In the mouth, it has pronounced salinity and mineral notes, balanced by gentle fruit purity and crisp acidity–a style that reminds us of a racy white wine from Loire. This Turkish white wine is a must-try, especially when you are in the company of the sun and clear water of the Bozcaada island.
(pronounce va-see-la-ka) This variety is native to the island of Bozcaada and is not found anywhere else in Turkey outside of Bozcaada. However, since Bozcaada was once a Greek island, this variety also grows on other Greek islands today. It is a thin-skinned grape that tends to produce crisp white wine with florah and green herbal notes.
How to Get There
Bozcaada is not the easiest place to get to and that’s probably why it has escaped mass tourism. It is quite an adventure to get to Bozcaada which is part of the fun. From Istanbul, you need to take a bus to Canakkale, which takes around six hours. There are infrequent ferry rides to Bozcaada from Canakkale. The other option is to take a dolmus (minibus) from Canakkale to Geyikli, and then transfer to a 30-minute ferry ride to Bozcaada.
Where to Stay
Guesthouses and hotels on the island are ubiquitous. The rooms were plentiful when we arrived without reservation during the high season. Once you arrive on the island, walk toward the castle. Near the castle, there is a big wooden signpost with a listing of guesthouses.
What to Eat
Cabali Meyhane Ülke’nin is by the water and located right next to the prominent castle on the island. The restaurant serves wonderful mezze, kofte and seafood, along with a modest wine list filled with regional wines. At sunset, you'll be able to catch a picture-perfect view of the castle and the nearby hills. This place is away from the busier stretch near the pier which make for a wonderful atmosphere to relax and indulge in gastromic pleasure.