World Wine Regions – The Middle East

The Middle East


Turkey, a big populous country that straddles two continents, is one of the world’s leading producers of grapes. Unfortunately, the Turks make wine from only two percent of their grapes—the rest they eat out of hand, dry into raisins, or use to produce their anise-flavored spirit raki. Turkey is a majority Moslem country, bringing on an ambivalent relationship between the government and the wine industry. Turkey goes back and forth between suppressing alcoholic beverages and encouraging their production. Taxes on wine are high in Turkey. When this author was in Istanbul, his tour guide stressed that he did not drink wine, but was very fond of “fermented grape juice.” The comment highlights Turkey’s schizophrenia on the subject. What is without question is that among the 75 million Turks, in a state that is on the face of it secular, a market for wine exists.

Turkey’s wine grapes are largely indigenous, based on the judgment that sufficient Cabernet and Chardonnay are being produced in the rest of the world.  The wine regions we show on the map are informal, since the country lacks defined legal appellations. Major grapes include:

  • Bornova Misketi, a form of Muscat, grown in and around the Aegean city of Izmir. It produces aromatic, lively, light, white wines ranging from dry to lusciously sweet, with aromas of honeysuckle, basil, rose, mint, honey, bergamot, lemon balm, orange flowers, daisies, grapefruit and melon.
  • Boğazkere, meaning “throat burner,” is a tannic red grown in southeastern Anatolia. It prefers hot climates. The wine has medium acidity, and notes of black cherry, raspberry, blackberry, mulberry, pepper, clove, eucalyptus, tobacco, leather, pine forest, dark chocolate, and licorice.
  • Öküzgözü is native to eastern Anatolia. It gets its name from the fact that it has large, black berries that resemble a bull’s eye. The high acid wine is delicately flavored, with fruit and floral notes and a gentle color like Pinot Noir.
  • Kalecik Karası grows in central Anatolia not far from the capital in Ankara. The dry wine is a light rose in color, with candy aromas on the nose, medium body, low tannins, and crisp acidity.
  • Çalkarası, from the Aegean region, makes light fruity red and rosé wines, with peaches, strawberry, red and white fruit, and stimulating acidity.
  • Sultaniye, the “Sultana,” mainly grown for raisins, grows in the Aegean region, making light fruity white wines with notes of asparagus, pear, pineapple, floral, mango, lemon, golden and green apples, and hay.
  • Narince, whose name means “delicate” in Turkish, comes to us from the Tokat area in mid-southern Anatolia. The grape makes straw-colored wines with floral notes, yellow fruit and citrus aromas on the nose. It is round, medium to full bodied, balanced with good acidity. Narince often sees oak, and may find itself in blends with Chardonnay.
  • Emir is native to Cappadocia in mid-southern Anatolia. It makes crisp refreshing straw-colored wines, with notes of pineapple, kiwi, lemon, orange, rose, limestone and minerality. It rarely sees oak.

Turkey’s very general (and informal) wine regions include:

Marmara spreads over three countries: southern Bulgaria (Northern Thrace), northeastern Greece (Western Thrace), and northwestern Turkey. It touches the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Climate is Mediterranean with hot summers and mild winters. Soils range from lime to gravelly loam and dense clays. Marmara produces 15% of all Turkish wine. Major wine grapes are Adakarası, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cinsault, Gamay, Kalecik Karası, Merlot, Papazkarası, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Syrah, and Viognier.

The Aegean region is the western part of Turkey facing the Aegean Sea and Greek Islands, with a hub in the coastal city of Izmir. Climate ranges from maritime near the coast to continental inland. Soils range from clay loam in the lower elevations to calcareous chalks at elevation. The region accounts for more than half of all Turkish wine. Grapes include Alicante Bouschet, Boğazkere, Bornova Misketi, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Chardonnay, Çalkarası, Çavuş, Dimrit, Grenache, Kalecik Karası, Karalahna, Kuntra, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvedre, Narince, Öküzgözü, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Sultaniye, Tempranillo, Vasilaki, and Viognier.

The Mediterranean region is the southern part of Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea. Climate is Mediterranean. Soils range from pebbly clay loam to calcareous chalks. The region accounts for less than one percent of Turkey’s wines, with plantings of Boğazkere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Kalecik Karas, Malbec, Merlot, Öküzgözü, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah.

Central Anatolia has a continental climate, with cold winters and hot summers. Soils are red clay and decomposed granite. Accounting for about 15% of all Turkish wine, the region produces the indigenous grapes Boğazkere, Narince, and Öküzgözü. Eastern Anatolia has similar soils and produces the same grapes. Southeastern Anatolia borders Iraq and Syria. Climate is harsh. The region accounts for three percent of Turkey’s wine, mainly from Boğazkere.


World Wine Regions

The Middle East



One fortunate thing happened to Lebanon after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire with its defeat in the First World War. A League of Nations mandate gave the administration of the country to France, so the influence of that wine arbiter is strong. A fifth of the Lebanese population uses French on a daily basis. The language is used alongside Arabic on bank notes, public buildings, and vehicle license plates. It is also the language of, and the inspiration for, much Lebanese wine. French oenologists know Lebanon well.

Lebanon is hot and dry, with 300 days of sunshine a year. Viticulture becomes possible in the country because of high elevations. Wine is usually strong and red. Château Musar in the Bekaa Valley is Lebanon’s most well-known producer, creating distinctive age-worthy red blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Carignan. The country, in general, is moving away from Bordeaux varieties, however, in favor of a southern French and Spanish configuration of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, and Tempranillo.

In the north, the region of Batroun (named after that city, one of the world’s oldest) is known for wine from a number of Maronite Monasteries as well as commercial wineries like Neila al-Bitar, producing Syrah, Mourvèdre and the whites Marsanne and Chardonnay—all nicely French.



World Wine Regions

The Middle East



The wines of the Bible, if they survived the expulsion of the Jews from Israel at all, did not survive the Arab conquest of the seventh century. In the late 19th century Jewish French Baron Edmond de Rothschild, owner Château Lafite-Rothschild, began importing French grape varieties and technical expertise to the region, but a viable industry did not begin until the 1970s. All grapes are international. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc are the leaders, but above all Cabernet Franc is making itself Israel’s signature wine. Many of Israel’s exports are of rapidly-improving Kosher wines.

Latitude-challenged Israel depends on altitude to grow quality grapes for wine. The best wines come from several thousand feet up in Galilee and from up to four thousand feet in elevation in the disputed Golan Heights. Here are planted 40% of Israel’s vines. South and east of Jerusalem, the Judean Hills produce about 8% of the wines, but vines grow improbably in the Negev desert in the south. Throughout this sun-baked region, maintaining grape acidity is the challenge. Drip irrigation is essential.