We arrived to Istanbul amidst the rainfall of lira. While encompassing the growingly difficult life of Istanbuli and witnessing how Istanbuli restaurants updated their menu price by days, we still managed to enjoy our own splurge, which was not commonly enjoyed by local Turkish.
Barbare Vineyard, Wine Business with A Conservative Government
One of the best sommeliers of our time, Pascaline Lepeltier, once said in an event that a glass of wine transports us through time and location. Different regions brew different wines, and the wine lovers can truly sip in the culture of a region through the condensed beverage. I always have a heart for sophisticated matters that evolve our of the juxtaposition of location and time, so wine is one of them. My wine list reflects my ever-expanding wander to the worldly cultures. Wherever I go, I mostly do a couple of untouristy things in many places: play a golf, visit vineyards, get a haircut. This time, I take you to explore the charming Istanbuli vineyard.
Barbare Vineyard close to the sea is around 2-hour drive from Istanbul centre. Istanbulis long noted that “the sea turtles in Barbare are drunk”, echoing the “long” history of winemaking business in the area and the streak extending from it. Barbare started producing wine in 2007 although the plan for business and haggle for land existed long before the year. The father of the lady that gave us a tour to the barrels, who is also the founder of the vineyard, started scouting for lands long time ago. The current vineyard took quite a turn and a streak of business struggles to even have the first brick laid. Once the vineyard was built, the place took 6 years to grow grapes and finally started selling wine in 2013.
The vineyard is small by vineyard standard. It carries a low-yield strategy, meaning that the vineyard produces a minimum of 200 tons annually. Once grapes are harvested, staff immediately transport them to winery in a “Chateau style”, which is to own the winery directly on site, according to the vineyard’s website.
Barbare Winery fermented grapes in heat-controlled stainless-steel tanks with a maximum residual sugar ratio of 0.5 g/l to produce dry wines with an alcohol content of between 12.5 and 14.5%. The fermentation process generally takes around 2 to 6 weeks. In between the process, meticulous sampling and acid-matching are done. When the winery is happy for its sample, it transports the sample to be confirmed by the vineyard’s oenologist Xavier Vignon. Then the wine is transported to and finished in French oak barrels, which are used only for a maximum of 4 years, so as the vineyard can “mature the wines without too much oak”.
A palette taste of the various red and white wines produced in the vineyard hit my tannin note at high. These wines are much stronger in tannin than their European peers. One sip goes all the way to my head as if a Turkish kebab attacking my palpate directly. The lady explained that Turkish wines in general are much higher in tannin as local market likes it. I am not sure if the claim is true or not, but I did tried a couple of more Turkish wines from different regions in the following days, and I could attest that. While we strode around the grapes, we also learned that the grapes phylloxera has not come to Turkey so the European grapes at the vineyard are not regrafted to American roots, unlike most of the grapes in continental Europe. Europeans are accustomed to having grapes grafted, so at a winetasting dinner of Cyprian wine in Switzerland I was in, many of the connoisseurs and aficionados were very surprised that Cyprus, despite being European, has no phylloxera either.
Despite of a lot of hurdles, the business prevails, although never earning a huge profit. Somehow breakeven, the vineyard continues to make wine and serve customers that are taking a break from the busy and sometimes throat-cutting Istanbul life. Being in the wine business is not easy, and holding up to the traditional way of making wine, and in a Muslim country is probably harder. Sometimes one does not just make a business for money, although profit is an important objective governing the raison d’etre of a business, carrying a heritage can also be the motivation.
Food – Recommended and Not Recommended
Since I embarked Istanbuli trip for a private reason, there is not much history-digging but instead, many drinking, eating, and spending the minutiae of everyday life and time with beloved.
There is one restaurant that has not changed its recipe since 1919. What a gem in the Asia side! This time, we explored the Asian-side a bit more in depth and found various gems. Unfortunately, the weather was too cold and windy, braving a storm of the time, we were not able to walk around the neighbourhood such as Moda. However I cannot remember what is the name of it… so I can only wish you luck to find it!
The ordinary street food in Istanbul is very rich, good in quality and affordable. Bebek may be the go to place for seafood but there are also some good restaurants in city centre. You can also order Mezes, a variety of appetisers made with seafood. In fact, after eating Mezes, we were basically full, so be careful when ordering.
The restaurant is not famous nor heavily rated. It is this simple small restaurant in the heart of Sisli. Sahand found the restaurant and our first meal in Istanbul started there. The price is extremely affordable with a good selection of homestyle dishes. Sahand went to there many times by himself; somehow the down-to-earth man found the down-to-earth place incredibly charming.
The Turkish blossom starts with a patisserie. My favourite has to be Mustafa Muhallebsci, and the second can be Saray Muhallebsci. In addition, we had too many puddings in random yet local muhallebsci in Cihangir.
Local Breakfast Place
Travellers can easily find little bakery or one-man stands or one-man breakfast place in the city. The Turkish breakfast tends to be heavy with carbs or cream, warning in advance. Come along with a small cup of Turkish coffee or chay (for those that do not drink coffee such as me). A new day awaits.
Spagos by Wolfgang Puck (in St Regis)
The environment is first-class, the service is okay, the smoking area and the non-smoking area are not good enough, the wine options are all local Turkish wines (although they have a cabinet of other famous wines), the scenery is good.
Rooftop 🌇 in five-star hotels.
Featuring here rooftop view at Mövenpick in Sisli. Istanbul in the eyes of visitors and Istanbul in the eyes of Turks are very different. Due to the turbulent exchange rates and macro reasons, the local consumption ability is not high. Turkey is one of the few places close to Europe that has opened its borders during the epidemic. While not many locals can enjoy the five-star view, it may be a bit more affordable by the euro visitors.
Salt Bae’s Restaurant – Do Not Recommend 📷
Salt Bae is popular because of the internet, and the restaurant is also a typical Insta-celebrity restaurant. On the one hand, the price is high, mainly because the quality is poor. Food and service are very average. You may enjoy taking a photo once, but frequent visits are not recommended. I think social media has given Salt Bae an opportunity, in fact, he could have used this opportunity to do long-term business with the benefit the stakeholder’s benefit in mind, but the restaurants have gone the other way.
The magic of modern Turkey is on both the vibrant modern infrastructure that provides fun and indulgence for visitors and the long history, whose glory, the last Khalifa Ottoman Empire, broke down only 100+ years ago. Since I started doing research in the Middle Eastern studies and discovering its stories, I came to understand and capture a much more complex and prolonged take of the evolution of various forces in the region. Ottoman Empire must be an ineffaceable chapter. To the chagrin of much of the Middle East, only a handful of countries have an open and diverse economy to attract laymen and history lovers to do studies on the country. Turkey is one of them that gives ample opportunities and a good living for people to explore its past and debate its present and future. It has something for everyone. Through understanding a society’s history and actually setting foot to feel it, one can truly learn the soul of the spirit of a society. Besides the places to recommend for your next travel, I also propose to get to know the place through movies, books, articles, and sometimes academic international relations or comparative politics papers. Through the rise and fall of Ottoman Empire and the establishment of modern Turkey, we may see a page of our own society and individual life. For now, it is a wrap, and I shall bring you more reads in the future.