Öküzgözü is Turkey’s ‘big red hope’

Red grape variety Öküzgözü, meaning “bull’s eye”, is the grape with the biggest fine wine potential in Turkey, according to the winemaker at one of the country’s top estates.

Öküzgözü, meaning “bull’s eye” in Turkish

Speaking to the drinks business during a recent visit to London, American-born Daniel O’Donnel of Kayra said: “Öküzgözü is the grape with the biggest potential to make fine wine in Turkey.

“It’s called ‘bull’s eye’ because it’s a big, round, dark grape. It’s got the freshness and body of Barbaresco and is Turkey’s big red hope.

“I love Öküzgözü‘s natural acidity and perfumed character, which keeps it fresh. I’ve worked hard to try and create a quality benchmark for the grape in Turkey by using a small amount of American oak.

“I’d like to achieve more depth and flesh out the mid-palate. It can be acidic, vegetal and angular – I’m trying to work out how to get maturity and balance out of it.”

O’Donnel is also on a mission to tame the beast that is the Boğaskere variety.

“Boğaskere means ‘burns the throat’ in Turkish and the wine does just that. It’s a mean, nasty, terrible, hungover variety and I love it! It has fantastic aromas and depth but it’s a wine that fights back and you have to want to drink it,” he told db.

“I’ve succumbed to it and have accepted it for what it is. I’m trying to bring flesh and fruit to the wine and tame the aggressive tannins in order to create a more cerebral Boğaskere and discover how it ages.

Daniel O'Donnell

Daniel O’Donnell

“When made will it has lovely notes of mint, pine, fennel, blackberry and campfire smoke. It’s a very soulful, rustic grape that makes you want to dip a cigar into the wine and chew it,” he added.

O’Donnell spoke openly about the struggle to make decent Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in Turkey.

“Turkey is not a good place to grow Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It’s hot and those grapes shouldn’t be grown there. If you’re expecting to make lovely wines from those grapes, it’s not going to happen,” he admitted.

“If we pick early, we can make bright, fresh, crisp, lean Chardonnays but we’ll never be able to make the rich styles,” he added.

He also spoke of his mission to veer consumer tastes in Turkey away from lashings of oak. “Turkey is an emerging wine market and in many new markets people view oak as a good thing. I’ve been weaning our consumers off of oak for several years.

“The Turkish palate is powerful – they drink hugely bitter coffee and eat a lot of red meat so they are looking for big, powerful reds,” he said.

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