A yacht tour in Turkey has turned out badly for a group of Russian tourists, after three of them died after drinking what appears to be bootleg alcohol. More details here.
This is not the first time Turkey has had to deal with the death of tourists who had imbibed bootleg hooch. In the resort city of Antalya, a court is currently deciding the fate of a liquor distributor who is accused of supplying the bathtub booze that killed three German students in 2009. More on that case here.
And in 2005, more than 20 people died after drinking bootleg raki, the anise-flavored spirit that is Turkey's national drink. Details here.
Strict new regulations introduced by the Turkish government had put many of the country's drinkers in a funk. Among the new regulations were ones that tightly controlled who could buy alcohol at festivals and other large events and also made it more difficult for catering companies to serve alcohol at events.
But some of those regulations have now been suspended by a Turkish court. More from the Hurriyet Daily News:
The ruling party tabled one of the most disputed articles in the law, one which had banned alcohol sales at events and activities “for children and young people,” dealing a blow to festival and concert organizers and attendees.
The regulation had come under particular fire for defining “young people” as those up to 24 years of age, a provision the court said contradicted existing laws that set 18 as the minimum legal age for buying and consuming alcohol.
The Council of State made its decision as it continued to examine a petition by the Ankara Bar Association seeking the annulment of the entire bill. It also suspended a second provision of the law that had prohibited shops from selling liquor in small bottles, which regulators argued made alcohol easier to access for young people.
The regulation was passed in January by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, with the aim of protecting young people from alcoholism. Its adoption triggered protests saying that the party was targeting liberal lifestyles.
The San Francisco-based Vinography blog has a very nice roundup that reviews several Turkish wines. The article can be found here. If you're in Turkey and want to try some of these wines, a New York Times article of mine about new wine bars in Istanbul can be found here. And for more wine reviews, check out Istanbul Eats' review section, here.
Istanbul Eats' latest Turkish wine review features a bottle made from an obscure grape known as the "forgotten Thracian prince." The grape, Papazkarasi ("priest's black" in Turkish), is grown almost exclusively in the Thrace region, near Turkey's border with Bulgaria and Greece. More details here.
With its latest round of regulations targeting the sale, promotion and consumption of alcohol, the Turkish government has run into a storm of accusations that it is working to impose a conservative agenda (i.e. a dry one) on the country. Newsweek takes a look at the developments in its latest issue:
The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was so fond of raki that he died of liver disease. But alcohol is becoming the latest battleground in Turkey’s culture wars. New regulations introduced this month by the conservative, Islamic-leaning AK Party government have caused a storm of protest from the imbibing elite.
On the face of it, the restrictions aren’t very draconian—banning alcohol advertising at sports or youth-oriented events, and outlawing the sale of alcohol on highways. Turkey’s alcohol-licensing laws remain far laxer than in the U.S. or most of Europe. Nonetheless, critics of the AK Party fear this is just the beginning of a “government-coordinated campaign to make alcohol socially unacceptable,” says Ilker Gul, an Istanbul bar worker.
The Islamic-rooted government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has defended the new restrictions, saying they are about "protecting young people" from the dangerous effects of alcohol. But critics point out that the latest restrictions come hot on the heels of yet another increase on the tax levied on alcohol, which has created the suspicion that the government's true intention is to keep booze out of the hands of Turks of all ages.
While local Turkish liquor producers have been complaining about new government taxes that they believe will hurt their business, the Wall Street Journal reports foreign booze companies are increasingly eyeing Turkey and its hot economy and young population. From the WSJ article:
With countries like Spain, Italy and Greece, where they traditionally sell alcohol, plagued by economic troubles, liquor-company executives are turning to a perhaps unlikely Mediterranean market: Turkey, whose mostly Muslim population hasn't ranked among the world's big drinkers historically.
Tapping nontraditional markets while established regions stagnate is a strategy that other industries are also pursuing, and the challenges that liquor makers face in Turkey echo the kinds of dilemmas that those industries confront as well.
Turkey, for instance, offers a fast-growing economy, but liquor companies must navigate high taxes, advertising restrictions, and a lack of familiarity among some consumers with the finer points of their products.
"In developed countries, consumers are much more familiar with products," says Robert Furniss-Roe, vice president of Bacardi Ltd. "In these new, emerging economies you have to go back to basics in some ways and explain things."
But the economics are alluring. Turkey's economy grew about 10% in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, and its population is young and urban. The country's economic growth is also providing young Turks with more disposable income, and they are using it to travel or study abroad, bringing back some new tastes.
"Young people in Turkey are changing very quickly," says Mr. Furniss-Roe. "There's growth in disposable income, and young Turks want to spend it on status."
Endangered Species? A cup of non-instant Turkish coffee
The day many of us have been dreading has finally arrived: an entrepreneur in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep has announced the development of instant Turkish coffee. Could this mean the end of hundreds of years of tradition? Sludgy and dark Turkish coffee, of course, is not only about the flavor but also about the process of making it -- the scooping in of the finely ground coffee and sugar, the mixing and the careful boiling. Is this the kind of beverage that deserves the instant treatment?
Semsettin Yildiz, maker of the new "Shazili" brand of instant Turkish coffee certainly thinks so. “Because it does not require the regular cooking process, we believe our brand will be very much preferred at offices and on airplanes, by drivers, at coffee shops, while on the beach, or while camping and picnicking," he told the state-run Anatolian Agency.
Yildiz clearly has big plans for his coffee, which will be produced in both sweetened and unsweetened versions. “By January 2011, both Turkey and the rest of the world will know about Shazili Instant Turkish Coffee,” he told AA. More details here.
Turkish coffee making has already been on a slippery slope since one Turkish appliance manufacturer introduced a few years ago a machine that brews that stuff without any human intervention.
Fortunately, there are still places left in Turkey that make the country's namesake coffee the old-fashioned way. For a truly satisfying coffee experience, visit Istanbul's Mandabatmaz, just off the pedestrian-only Istiklal boulevard. A review of the place can be found here.
The southeastern Turkish town of Midyat, an ancient winemaking center
Southeastern Turkey's ancient Assyrian Christian community has been making wine for thousands of years, but the political turmoil of the last few decades led to an exodus from the region and put many of the community's traditions at risk.
But as a new Voice of America report makes clear, the community is returning to its southeaster Turkish homeland and also reviving its winemaking tradition. From the report:
Assyrian Christian Yusuk Uluisik is crushing grapes by hand - a ritual that has not changed for centuries.
"From our fathers and grandfathers, all the way back to the time of the Jesus, we are making wine in the same way. My family has been making wine here and drinking it for centuries," he explained. "Every year they produce two to three small barrels and put them indoors until they are ready. Then we drink two to three glasses with oily food."
Gradually the juice of the grapes pours out of the bottom of a stone pot and trickles down a stone trench where it is collected and then stored in large plastic containers to ferment.
Once he was one of hundreds of families making wine but now he is just one of a few left. Most departed to escape fighting between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish state during the 1980's and 90's.
"In the past there was little demand, he noted. "Maybe a few bottles at Christmas, to a few Christian families that were left. As everyone else had gone abroad to escape the fighting and for a better life. But in the last five years there has been some kind of revival. There are many tourists visiting and we can't produce enough to meet the demand."
The Hurriyet Daily News has a story today about the travails of a Syriac (or Assyrian) Christian in southeast Turkey who is struggling mightily to get a winery off the ground. The Syriac minority, who have lived in southeast Turkey since early Christian times, have long been known in the region for the winemaking. But it appears that Yuhanna Aktas, the budding winemaker, is running into local and bureaucratic resistance to pumping up the region's wine production. From the HDN story:
The Syriac Christian and Turkish citizen living in the Midyat district of the southeastern province of Mardin has built a wine factory but said he has been unable to secure a water supply and a road for the facility.
Syriac families living in the region commonly produce wines, but it is hard for consumers to find them since they are not usually sold in shops.
Aktaş, a former jewelry maker, said in his letter that he had prepared a proposal to build a factory to produce homemade Syriac wines, a practice significant for Christians both culturally and religiously. He submitted his proposal to the Agriculture Ministry and obtained permission from the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Agency, or TAPDK, to build the facility two years ago. He was granted permission, but, he said, his troubles only began there.
Lots has been said recently about Turkey's ambitious diplomatic moves on the global stage. But what about in terms of wine? The Scotsman recently ran an article looking at some of the more notable developments in the world of Turkish wine -- suggesting Anatolia could be the next Napa Valley -- and offering some suggestions for bottles to look out for. The article is here.