Wine Tasting in Urla - and a Celebrity Cameo
Turns out Turkey makes wine - really good wine. But, for a variety of reasons, people outside of Turkey don’t know much about it. We wanted to remedy that, and we took an afternoon trip from Izmir out to Urlice Vineyards to do so.
“Bad Habits,” “Merry States,” and Why We Don’t Know About Turkish Wine
The folks at Bloomberg do a far better job explaining this than we can, but here are the key takeaways.
In terms of total vineyard acreage, Turkey ranks fifth largest. And, for people who know what loam means (Chipp’s pretty sure it has something to do with dirt), apparently Turkey’s is conducive to “delicious varietals.” But, the actual winemaking industry ranks 45th in the world in production - what’s up with that? Well, a few things.
First, in his push to appeal to his conservative Muslim base, President Erdogan has imposed strict limits on marketing alcohol domestically. This means that, if a wine is grown in one part of Turkey, there’s a good chance someone in another part of the country has never heard of it.
Related, Erdogan also declared in 2013 that “the youth of the nation should be protected from bad habits,” further arguing against “wandering around in a merry state day and night” (italics added). Speaking for no one but ourselves, but if wandering around in a merry state day and night is wrong, we definitely don’t want to be right!
Domestic instability (think 2016 coup attempt) and the war in Syria haven’t helped, either. Tourists consume a significant amount of Turkish wine, and these realities have combined to severely depress tourism. Throw COVID into the mix, and the wine industry has taken some serious hits over the past decade.
Lastly, international audiences just don’t recognize a lot of Turkish grape names. If you tell someone you’re drinking a chardonnay, they’ll probably know what you’re talking about - wine drinker or not. Try telling someone you’d like a glass of okuzgozu, kalecik karasi, or narince and you’ll probably get blank stares.
But, as the saying goes, their loss is our gain. We dove head first into the Turkish wine thing - and had a blast doing it.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles to Urlice Vineyards
Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic, but getting out to our first Turkish vineyard was a bit of an adventure.
If you look at Izmir on a map, Urla Peninsula juts off to the west somewhat like an “L” (go due west for a while then take a sharp turn north). We’d be heading to Urlice Vineyards - just outside of the town of Urla. Continuing the map description, we’d be going about 40km out along the base of the “L” from Izmir proper.
Easy choice absolutely would’ve been hopping in an Uber for the hour-ish ride out the peninsula. But, as we had a 1pm tasting (more on that later), we had some time in the morning to take a leisurely trip.
Step 1: Izmir municipal light rail from our Alsancak neighborhood to the end of the line. Step 2: eat a delicious Turkish breakfast. Step 3: Hop on a regional bus for the ride along the south side of Izmir’s bay to Urla. Step 4: Walk from the bus stop to the vineyard outside of town, which leads to...
A Walk in the Hills
Stupid Google Maps - no contour lines (more precisely, stupid Chipp for not looking a little more closely at the route). Anyway, the walk from Urla to Urlice Vineyards a few kilometers out to the west was far hillier than anticipated. Factor in our generally awful physical shape at the time, and we arrived an hour so later, sweating, parched, and ready to guzzle some wine - or anything, for that matter.
While somewhat strenuous, the walk was absolutely worth it for the stunning landscapes - rolling hills covered with olive and pomegranate trees, grape vines, and stone fences separating large plots. Neither of us have been to Tuscany, but from movie clips and friend/family pictures, it seems quite similar.
And, walking through these fields let us sample the local produce. It’s almost too ridiculous to say, but it’s pretty awesome grabbing a ripe pomegranate from a tree, cutting it open, and slamming some delicious seeds. On the other hand, turns out olives off the tree are not nearly as delicious as marinated ones - quite disgustingly bitter actually.
“Does Anyone Actually Use This?”
When we eventually arrived at Urlice - beautifully tucked into the lowground between a few hills - we were glad to have made a reservation (another benefit to Jenna’s stressing/planning!). People who showed up without one were being turned away by the time we got there.
Armed with a reservation, we were brought directly to a long table lined with tasting glasses and a nice big cheese plate. Urlice’s tasting/dining/drinking space was awesome - flagstone patio shaded by big trees and wide umbrellas, all surrounded by gorgeous flowers and acres of vineyards.
But, still in “recovery mode” after our walk (hike?) in the hills, it took us a little while to fully absorb our surroundings. We were more concerned with crushing big glasses of ice water next to the wine glasses. With that completed, we sat down and got to the tasting. Neither of us will pretend to be wine connoisseurs, so we’re not the best source for most wine descriptions (exception below). We drank some reds. We drank some whites. We ate some cheese. Tasting, check.
More importantly, Chipp had an opportunity to ask a question that had been on his mind for a while. Next to our wine glasses, our tasting guide had placed a spitoon-looking vessel. From movies, we knew that some people spit out their wine at a tasting - seems like a ludicrous waste of good wine.
Chipp: “Does anyone actually use this?”
Tasting guide, through laughter: “Absolutely not!”
Pizza and an Ice Bath of Chardonnay
After wrapping up our tasting, we moved to another table to order some food and drink some wine. Urlice has an awesome brick oven, and it kicks out some phenomenal thin crust pizzas. As it was still pretty hot, we decided to pair it with a bottle of their chardonnay (Turkey does have some recognizable grapes). We may not know much about wine, but Chipp was pretty sure if he sucked down some red on a hot afternoon, he’d be curled up taking a nap in the shade pretty quickly.
From a scale perspective, ordering glasses at a vineyard is always a fool’s errand - may make you feel good about yourself initially, but you end up drinking just as much in the long run. It’s a better play to just go with the bottle. And, they had a pretty neat way of keeping it cold. Our server brought out a rigid, waterproof plastic bladder with handles on top - filled with ice water. After pouring our first glasses, she plopped the bottle right into its ice bath - simple and functional!
Disclaimer here. As stated above, we typically find wine descriptions ridiculous - guess we’re just not refined enough to appreciate the subtle flavors and bouquets of purple and white drink. Hearing things like “hints of ozone” generally just result in a smile-and-nod response. In that respect, it’s hard to tell what’s more outrageous - high-end candle labels or nice wine descriptions.
With that as background, we took it with a grain of salt when we heard that this chardonnay had “hints of banana.” No kidding - it actually did! Welp, maybe we do have a glimmer of wine-appreciation hope.
A Celebrity Cameo
In a properly “merry state,” we paid the bill and girded ourselves for the walk back into town. As we were about to leave, our server - giggling with another girl - asked if she could ask Chipp a question. Sure thing.
Server: “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Matthew Fox?”
Chipp, as a pop culture idiot, was pretty sure she was asking about Marty McFly in Back to the Future.
Jenna, after a MASSIVE sigh/eye roll combination: “No, MATTHEW Fox, you know, the guy from Lost…”
So yeah, Chipp has that going for him.