Monday, June 2, 2014

Pairing Wine with Turkish Food

By Liza B. Zimmerman

I have spent years teaching, cajoling and generally trying to convince trade and consumers alike with stories that spicy foods don’t have to be paired with beer. There’s often a bias that non-Western food doesn’t work well with wine and it is a completely mistaken one. Most non-European countries make great beer, which is refreshing in the heat, but that is not an excuse to overlook great local, and imported, wine pairings.

Turkish food has long been one of my favorites. I love the freshness of the yogurt in many dishes and can eat eggplant day and night. One of my favorite Turkish restaurants, Tarla based in the City of Napa, has long been a pioneer in serving great, food-friendly wine choices with its food. The list includes many local selections, as both visitors and locals generally have more background and a greater comfort level with these choices. The restaurant also does winemaker dinners with many of the Napa Valley’s producers.

Tarla also serves a handful of Turkish wines, some of them by the glass. It is a shame that we see so few Turkish wines in this country because Turkey makes some beautiful ones, particularly from native varietals such as Kalecik Karasi. Yusuf Topal, the restaurant’s owner and managing partner, admits that Turkish food is not always served with wine, “However that doesn’t mean that we don’t drink it.”

He adds that while culinary traditions vary widely across the country, but most dishes work with a wide range of wines. Pinot Gris-based wines are favorites, he says, in the north of the country and the western coast—with its beaches and Istanbul—are also places that are home to a broad range of international wines.

Some of my favorites with Tarla’s food include some of the more esoteric Italian whites, such as Tasca d’Almerita’s white blend of local Sicilian grapes Inzolia, Grecanico and Catarratto. Other southern pairings might include Catine Terranera’s Falanghina. Not only is a bargain at $12.99, what does this sexy Campanian grape not pair well with? Soaves from the Veneto are also always exceptionally good pairings with somewhat spicy food given their lovely acidity.

A Bit of Red with that Kebab?
When you move onto Turkish main courses, they are deliciously meat-laden with a focus on lamb and beef. They are also usually sprinkled with a touch of sumac, the country’s native pepper- and black fruit-infused spice. So you will want to step up the pairings to red. Topal says that big-bodied wines, made from Merlot, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon, often go well with grilled meats.

Lebanon makes some divine wines and Chateau Musar’s “Jeune Rouge” is a fantastic example. It is on
Tarla’s list and is an incredible bargain at retail as well. It packs a heady punch of spice and fruit and comes from Turkey’s well-respected neighbor, feeding into the idea of what grows together goes together. Lebanese food has many commonalities with Turkish (but don’t tell my Turkish friends), so the pairing synergies are obvious. Chateau Kefraya is another great Lebanese producer.

Spicy Malbecs from Argentina, such as those from Bodega Catena Zapata, are also great with kebabs and yogurt-topped lamb. Rhône reds would also certainly be a winner.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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