I was recently in Turkey for work, and I extended my trip by a few days in order to explore Istanbul and Cappadocia on my own. Despite being a predominantly Muslim country beer, wine and spirits are widely available in restaurants and grocery stores (come on already, Ontario!) – but the selection is not great.
There is a brewpub in Istanbul, deep in the European side, difficult to access. Instead of making the journey to the Bosphorus Brewing Company to rub shoulders with British ex-pats, I called upon a friend of a friend – Marina – to show me something a bit more local and authentic – and wine focused.
We meet at the bustling pier of Karaköy in Galata, and scrambled onto the ferry just as it was departing. The locals always fear missing the ferry. The Bosphorus stretched out before us and the breeze made me thirsty. This is where I learned about the popular wine bar in Moda, Viktor Levi Moda on the Asian side of Istanbul in Kadıköy.
The wine bar has a rich history dating back to 1914 before the founding of Turkey as a country, although it has not continuously been in operation. One incarnation was even damaged in an al-Quaeda bombing in 2003. A member of Turkey’s small Jewish population, Viktor Levi started off as a sardine importer but quickly figured out that he could make more money with private imports of European wine.
My first taste of Turkish wine is surprisingly good. The current incarnation of the restaurant’s wine list is short and simple – a curated list of Turkish wines, identified only by red and white and an identifying number. Prices range from 39 Turkish lira ($18 CAD) to 78 lira ($38 CAD) for a 750 ml bottle. I end up with a bottle of white (no. 17 on the list) that is supposed to be like a Pinot Grigio (I never did figure out the grape) for 53 lira that is crisp on the palate that goes down
easily. It is far too hot at 33 degrees to crave red wine. Besides, I am told that the whites are a superior option in Turkey.
I enjoy pairing a chilled glass with the smokey aromas of a rich eggplant salad, and relax after a long day jostling through the tourist sites of Sultanamet. A refuge from the tourist throngs, and quickly wish the bottle was bigger.