Wine Tasting (Drinking) in Datca
After our time in Urla, we wanted to stay on the Turkish wine train. Fortunately, we’d have an opportunity just outside Marmaris. The Datca Peninsula (pronounced “dacha,” but definitely not a Ukrainian dacha) is an absolute hidden gem of Turkish wine and food - and only an hour bus ride away.
One Part Bus Ride, One Part Roller Coaster Ride
Okay, yes, technically our trip along the Datca Peninsula qualified as a “bus ride.” In reality, it was more like a roller coaster ride without guardrails.
A little geography puts the drive into context. Marmaris itself sits in a protected cove that opens up to the Mediterranean in the south. From there, the Datca Peninsula juts out pretty much due west. When driving towards the tip of this narrow strip of land, you find yourself straddling two bodies of water. To the left (south) you have the Mediterranean, and the Aegean unfolds to the right (north). And, for the first third of the peninsula, the road winds along a spine of mountain peaks - beautiful views, but terrifying turns.
In a bus with a high center of gravity, the situation is even worse. Depending where you are on the serpentine road, you either have a precipitous drop to the Aegean on your right, or the Mediterranean on your left. Sure, there are less scenic ways to die, but it’s hard to appreciate the views when you’re white-knuckling the seat in front of you. Throw in the fact that our driver was apparently the Jeff Gordon of Turkey, and we were understandably relieved to start the descent into the plains around the town of Datca.
With heart rates slowing, our man dropped us off on the side of the road a few miles outside of town. First stop - Datca Vineyard.
Wine, Windmills, and a Colombian - a Datca Vineyard Afternoon
Aesthetically, Datca Vineyard’s known for its large, stone windmill. No longer functioning, the beautiful old windmill has been retrofitted into a tasting room - and one hell of a place to drink. With that as our guide, we strolled up the vineyard’s long drive.
Backing up a bit, we hadn’t really done any planning for this trip - no e-mails or reservations. We knew the tasting room was open but not much else. So, when we saw a sign pointing to “winery” one way and “tasting room” the other, we rolled the dice. Skirting around the base of the windmill’s hill, we found a hobbit hole-ish entrance into what appeared to be the actual winery - carved into the hill itself.
We’d done plenty of wine drinking already, but we still hadn’t checked the see-how-things-are-made box. Knocking on the hobbit hole door, we hoped to find someone to show us around the production area. After a couple minutes, a guy came out and shook his head - without saying anything - to indicate a closed area
Chipp: “Oh, sorry, we were hoping to tour the winery.”
Silent fellow: “Ah! I thought you were Turkish… Welcome!”
Apparently, our newly enthusiastic friend didn’t speak any Turkish and just assumed we only spoke Turkish. Bonding over a shared ignorance of that language - and fluent English - he told us his story.
Umberto had come to Datca Vineyard in early 2020 - before all the COVID lockdowns - from Colombia. His plan was to spend a month helping out around the winery to get some experience in the industry. Nearly a year later and still unable to return home, Umberto now worked full-time at Datca. And, he was thrilled to give us a behind-the-scenes tour of the winery, talking us through the entire production process. Armed with this (subsequently forgotten) wine-making knowledge, we thanked Umberto for the tour, wished him luck on his (eventual) journey home, and headed up to the windmill for some drinking.
With social distancing measures in place, Datca had a creative system for tastings. They’d written detailed explanations of all their wines and made a bunch of laminated “wine journey” menus - let the guests create their own “self-guided” tastings.
We ordered a couple full tasting flights from the host, picked up an English-language menu, and headed outside. What a view. On an elevated terrace adjacent to the windmill, we looked out to the Mediterranean one direction, and back east the other direction to the mountains over which we’d had our adrenaline-inducing drive.
It’s funny how a few glasses of wine have a way of cutting through highbrow posturing. When we began, Chipp embraced the self-guided aspect of the tasting, narrating the history and details of the first couple wines we tried. But, we’d be lying if we really cared about that - far more interested in the wine, itself. Welp, in vino, veritas - by the last couple glasses in the flight, we just briefly glanced at the name of the wine up next.
Knidos Winery “Moderation” (and a Dog Park?)
Fortified after our Datca tasting (and a subsequent bottle), we decided to check out another winery. Located a couple miles down the road, we took a leisurely stroll to Knidos Winery. Of note, this wasn’t exactly a scenic walk - followed the shoulder of the peninsula’s main road. But, enjoying the opportunity to stretch our legs - and sober up choot choot - it worked for us.
Whereas Datca sat on a hilltop with stunning views, Knidos lay nestled in a wooded valley - embracing a far more “secret garden” vibe. Walking up a gravel road, we found Knidos tucked well out-of-sight from the road. And, it had the best welcoming committee we could’ve asked for! As we turned a corner and saw the winery’s grassy front lawn, a couple dogs darted our way, barking and pretending to be very fierce. Their goofiness said it all though - just wanted to play.
For the next couple hours, we obliged. We sat in great Adirondack chairs out on the lawn, alternating between holding glasses of wine and getting prodded into throwing another stick for one of the dogs.
As with our relationship, in general, Jenna also used our time at Knidos to be the voice of moderation. Not interested in another tasting, Chipp set out to just order a bottle. Enter reason:
Jenna: “You know, we don’t always need to order a bottle - they sell by the glass, too.”
Well said. Sometimes, the math/convenience rationale for ordering a bottle simply doesn’t outweigh a call for moderating your intake.
An All-You-Can-Eat Datca Surprise
Speaking of moderation - or lack thereof - Jenna found us quite a restaurant in Datca proper. Or, at least, she thought she found a restaurant.
Coming to Datca, we knew that we wouldn’t want to head back to Marmaris after an afternoon of drinking wine. Instead, we booked a room at a little hotel right in town then caught the bus back in the morning. The town of Datca is absolutely awesome. Built on the slopes leading up from a protected bay, it’s full of open air cafes, pedestrian-only promenades, beachfront restaurants, and a seemingly unlimited supply of fresh seafood.
In a future life, we’d love to come back here for a couple months. You can rent beautiful apartments for pennies on the dollar, and the entire place just exudes a relaxed, laid back feel. Whereas Marmaris and a lot of the surrounding towns support international tourists, it’s clear Datca has a far more local appeal. It’s far enough away from major airports to be just inconvenient enough to remain a hidden gem - but beautiful enough to pull plenty of Turkish tourists from the country’s southwest.
Back to the restaurant Jenna thought she found for dinner. After checking into the hotel and cleaning up, we strolled out to eat. Once again fulfilling his navigation duties, Chipp led down the hill to a streetside, open-air restaurant. But, it also happened to be open enough as to seamlessly blend into the restaurant next door. And, as local joints, neither place appeared to worry too much about marketing - no signs on either one.
Not knowing which restaurant was the one Jenna had read about online, we picked one and hoped for the best. We certainly weren’t disappointed, but we were mildly confused during the meal. With the front patio absolutely packed, the host generously offered to set up a table in the back of the restaurant for us. Famished, they could’ve set us up in the back alley and we’d have been fine.
One reality of traveling outside of major tourist towns - limited English. Our server made clear that there wouldn’t be any menus, so we just asked “balik?” (fish). That got an enthusiastic head nod, and we settled in for whatever would come our way.
Over the next couple hours, we ate wave after wave of seafood dishes. Every 15 minutes or so, the chef would come out, big smile on his face and saucepan in hand, heaping whatever he’d just made onto everyone’s plates. Prawns, grilled fillets of all sorts of unknown fish, fried anchovies, calamari - the place was like a big, family-style dining room.
Turns out, we’d stumbled into an absolute Datca pastime. This restaurant - Iskandil Balik - is legendary in the area. You pay a flat fee, and you eat delicious seafood (and drink raki, but only if you know about the BYOB thing) to your heart’s content. Well, we didn’t realize how the system worked until after we left. As the chef cheerily served us plate after plate, we looked at each new dish, assuming “surely that’s the last one.”
Eventually, stuffed and feeling mildly guilty about still being there (thinking they were just polite enough to not kick us out), we asked for the bill. This request elicited an “already!?” from the somewhat-English-speaking host. In retrospect, we were the first people to leave. Apparently, all the locals clearly understood the all-you-can-eat nature - and planned on taking full advantage of it.
Definitely another happy little accident, and next time we’re in Datca, we’ll be prepared.