Turkey, on the Anatolian Peninsula between the Mediterranean and Black seas, grows more grapes than almost any country on earth. Only a very small proportion of these grapes are made into wine, however; as a Muslim-predominant nation, Turkey's per capita alcohol consumption is very low.
There is considerable irony in Turkey's lack of wine production, because wine historians believe that viticulture and winemaking originated in this part of the world. Archaeological projects in Turkey and its Levantine neighbors have uncovered evidence suggesting that primitive vine husbandry was part of life here more than 6000 years ago, which explains the abundance of wine-bearing (vinifera) vines. The most commonly used wine grapes in Turkey are those which double as table grapes, the only use to which they could be put during seven centuries of Ottoman rule. Ampelographic research has suggested that Turkey is home to between 500 and 1000 distinct grape varieties of the vinifera species.
Although Turkey's viticultural history is one of the most ancient in the world, the modern Turkish wine industry is very young. Turkey only resumed producing wine in 1925, as a symbol of the nation's modernization and Westernization. The founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, established the country's oldest surviving winery. The largest winery in modern Turkey is owned by tobacco giant Tekel (whose name translates as 'monopoly'), now a subsidiary of British American Tobacco.
Turkey's trans-continental location between the deserts of Arabia (its eastern neighbors are Syria, Iraq and Iran) and the seas of Eastern Europe (Mediterranean, Black and Caspian) mean there is significant climatic variation within its borders. While the coastal regions in the west have a temperate Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and milder, wetter winters, those in the north (by the Black Sea) have significantly higher humidity in summer and colder winters. In Turkey's interior, particularly the south-eastern corners and the heart of Anatolia between Ankara and Konya, the climate is more continental. This means greater diurnal temperature variation in the hot summers and harsh winters; much of eastern Anatolia is covered with snow for at least four months of the year. This variability offers a wealth of diverse terroirs to Turkish vignerons, and much of the country remains viticulturally uncharted.
Turkey's mountainous topography is the result of complex tectonics that result in the kind of earthquake seen in 1999 in the Kocaeli province. From Mount Ararat (almost 17,000ft/5180m high) in the east, to Istanbul and the Bosphoros Strait in the west, the land here is rarely flat: only the high Anatolian Plateau is level, and even this becomes progressively more rugged towards the east.
Turkish winemaking employs a mixture of traditional, local grapes and modern, imported varieties (whose ancestors may well have originated here). The increasingly global red-wine portfolio of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah is present, as is its white-wine equivalent, consisting of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The rustic southern French duo of Cinsaut and Grenache is also used in various Turkish wine regions, as is the Grenache-Petit Bouschet crossing of Alicante Bouschet. Cinsaut is often blended with the local grape Papazkarasi (which translates ominously as 'black priest').
Several countries around the Caucasus and eastern Mediterranean (such as Georgia, Israel and Lebanon) are undergoing a wine renaissance at present. Some are re-establishing themselves after centuries of war and political unrest, while others are capitalizing on their new-found freedom to make wine. Turkish wine culture may need time to take shape, given the extended period when wine was an outlawed substance. The political and economic climate in the eastern Mediterranean at present is doing little to encourage this development, and global warming will bring increasingly harsh, arid conditions too. Still, ancient history is on Turkey's side.