The wines of Kayra, Turkey
An extensive tasting of these impressive Turkish wines with winemaker Daniel O'Donnell

Daniel O’Donnell (above) hails from St Helena, in California's Napa Valley. For a winemaker living in Napa, you think there'd be plenty to keep him busy on his home turf, but instead O'Donnell has travelled the world working as a consultant. And for the last 10 years he's spent two weeks each month in a country not known for fine wine: Turkey. Here, he works for Kayra. Daniel first got involved with Kayra through some connections with a private equity firm, TPG (Texas Pacific Group). He’d worked with them when they acquired Beringer from Nestle. TPG were in the process of buying drinks company Mey İçki. This was a significant player that was a spin-off from the privatisation of the booze side of state owned Tekel (a tobacco and drinks company). TPG bought Mey in 2006, and O’Donnell was pulled in to oversee the wine side. This is when the brand Kayra was created. Five years later, TPG sold Mey to Diageo, the current owners, making a handsome profit.

A short film of Daniel O'Donnel at the tasting:


Kayra is a big company, making a lot of wine, and they’re responsible for the popular wine brand Buzbag. This is a famous Turkish brand dating back to the 1944s, and the wine is inexpensive and widely distributed. ‘When we took it we just wanted to make it clean,’ says Daniel. ‘It’s from eastern Turkey and it wasn’t made with the highest hygiene standards. We are also very sensitive that it is near and dear to everyone in Turkey.’ O’Donnell uses the macaroni metaphor to describe his approach to Buzbag. ‘Who makes the best macaroni and cheese? It’s your mother. It’s your milestone. You were brought up to know that this is macroni and cheese, even if it wasn't the best example. We were very afraid of this with Buzbag. We didn’t want to change this brand in such a way that it would offend people’s historical values. I didn’t want to change their macaroni and cheese.’

Kayra is a work in progress. ‘We’ve had a lot to do in 10 years. We have tried to fit 50 years of winemaking into 10,’ says Daniel. This has meant a lot of experimentation to see what works best. He reckons that for his first couple of vintages, he imposed his style on the wines, but since then he has learned to work with the indigenous varieties that form the bulk of production, and learn to listen to them. ‘We have an amazing laboratory staff, and they have to put up with a lot of shit with all our experiments. We have managed to have 20 different experimental two barrel lots in some years, whether it is leaf pulling on one side, or simple things like that. Most of those experiments have failed miserably, but the few that don’t really become profound. Without the lab staff it would all be forgotten. Oftentimes they are lost because you just miss a detail. It becomes a folly.’

Daniel is more than just a consultant winemaker for Kayra: he spends two weeks a month here, as well as consulting in Italy and California. His favourite local variety is the red Öküzgözü, and he says this is the main reason he’s stayed in Turkey for 10 years. He’s also keen on Kalecik Karasi, which he uses to make rosé and a lighter-styled red wine.

Kalecik comes from a village near Ankara, but Daniel prefers to farm it in Denlzli at 850 m altitude. ‘We really like the fresh fruity characters of this grape,’ he says. There are lots of old vines in Denizli, and the region has shallow, rocky, calcareous soils. It's own rooted and dry farmed. These soils are free draining and winter snowfall is therefore important here because it drains very slowly and you get decent water accumulation in the springtime.


Kayra Beyaz Kalecik Karasi Rosé Blanc de Noirs 2015 Denizli, Turkey
Pale salmon in colour. Lovely textured fruit here with red grapefruit and celery notes, and a hint of mandarin. Nice freshness and purity to this with a hint of sweetness rounding things out (7.3 g/l). Really impressive. 90/100

Kayra Kalecik Karasi Rosé 2015 Denizli, Turkey
Full pink/orange colour. Picked a week later from the same vineyard as the Beyaz. Lots of red fruit here: sweet cherries and plums with a bit of raspberry. Juicy with lovely fruity presence, and a bit of citrus on the finish. 89/100

Kayra Kalecic Karasi 2014 Denizli, Turkey
Aged in stainless steel, 50% whole berries. Use some cherry wood chips in the fermenter which heightens the red fruits in the wine. It behaves like Pinot Noir in its fermentation kinetics. Maximum of three days fermentation once it gets going, and it is seldom fermented dry on the skins. They don’t want massive tannins on this wine. Beautifully fresh and expressive with precise red fruits: raspberry and red cherries. Floral, perfumed and delicious in a light style, but it still has presence. Such purity. 92/100

Kayra Vintage Öküzgözü Rosé 2015 Denizli, Turkey
Bright pink in colour. Fresh, pure and direct with nice precision to the cherry and plum fruit, with a juicy, lemony kick. Very fresh and bright with a linear personality. 90/100

Kayra Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Izmir, Turkey
25% new oak. 14.6% alcohol. Sweet, ripe blackcurrant fruit with some sweet, juicy berries and a bit of creaminess. Modern-styled with some oak imprint. Freshness still, despite the ripe fruit flavours. 88/100

Kayra Versus Cabernet Franc 2010 Tejirdag, Turkey
14.7% alcohol, 25% new oak. This is lovely: has some Cabernet Franc quality. Lovely chalky fresh raspberry and blackcurrant fruit. It tastes much fresher and livelier than the alcohol suggests. This is a lovely expression of the variety. Some fresh cherries. 92/100

Kayra Versus Syrah Viognier 2010 Terjidag, Turkey
3% Viognier co-ferment. 15.3% alcohol. This is too alcoholic for me. Very sweet and spirit with ripe blackberry and cherry fruit, as well as a hint of mint. Silky and textured, but alcoholic. 87/100

Kayra Vintage Bogazkere 2008 Denlzli, Turkey
This grape means scratches or burns his throat. It’s loud, boisterous and unrefined, yet it can be charming. This doesn’t produce fruit from the same places that vines normally do: the place the cluster forms is really irregular. The leaves look odd too: they are really palmated. Grafted vines, 40% French and 60% American. 12.9% alcohol. Dense, spicy and a bit earthy, with cherry and cedar notes and some grippy tannins. There’s a bit of leather, too. 89/100

Kayra Vintage Bogazkere 2009 Diyarbakir, Turkey
Own rooted. 15% French oak, 85% American. 15% alcohol. Old layered vines that are huge and go back hundreds of years, on the Tigris near the birthplace of civilization. This is a very old variety. Mellow and rich with dense, spicy, vivid berry fruits and some spice and tar. Herbs and cherries with some tannic grip. Warm, rich and spicy. 89/100

Kayra Buzbag Reserv 2005 Elazig/Diyarbakir, Turkey
Öküzgözü and Bogazkere blend. Created by French enologists in the 1930s. In this vintage 85% new oak. Earthy, spicy, dense and savoury with grippy cherry and berry fruit. Fresh acidity sticking out a bit now, with a dry, dusty, grippy structure. 87/100

Kayra Buzbag Reserv 2006 Elazig/Diyarbakir, Turkey
Öküzgözü and Bogazkere blend. No new oak. Fresh and juicy with lovely cherry and plum fruit. Hints of earth and spice here with a juicy, cherish quality. Fresh with some silkiness, and also some structure. Lovely purity to this wine. Direct and evolving nicely. 90/100

Kayra Buzbag Reserv 2008 Elazig/Diyarbakir, Turkey
Öküzgözü and Bogazkere blend. 10% new American oak, 90% neutral. Sweet, juicy and vibrant with vivid cherry and plum fruit. Lively and quite grippy with nice linear fruit. Just a hint of tar in the background. Juicy and lively with sweet fruit. 89/100

Kayra Buzbag Reserv 2010 Elazig/Diyarbakir, Turkey
Öküzgözü and Bogazkere blend. Sweet and seductive with fresh, juicy cherry and berry fruits. Nice tannic structure under the sleek fruit. Modern and quite primary, but there’s a lot of interest here, and it has potential to develop further. 90/100

Kayra Buzbag Reserv 2012 Elazig/Diyarbakir, Turkey
Öküzgözü and Bogazkere blend. 20% new oak (3% American and 17% French oak). Very modern, sleek and appealing, with hints of toast and roast coffee complementing the plush berry fruits. There’s some blackberry richness. Very polished, modern and pure, with freshness and the potential for development. 91/100

Kayra Vintage Öküzgözü 2008 Elazig, Turkey
14.5% alcohol, 30% American and 70% French oak, used. Dense, sweet, rich and chocolatey with ripe black fruits. Has some lushness but also a savoury spiciness. Great concentration. Ripe and dense with good structure. Grippy and drying on the finish. Supertuscan in style. 89/100

Kayra Vintage Öküzgözü 2010 Elazig, Turkey
14.4% alcohol, 25% new American oak, 75% neutral. Roast coffee and spice on the nose. The palate is lush and spicy with fresh, sweet black fruits and some vanilla spice from the oak. Modern and pure with nice focus. A little oaky at the moment. 88/100

Kayra Vintage Öküzgözü 2012 Elazig, Turkey
13.5% alcohol, 36% new oak (French and American). Fresh and detailed with nice weight. Lovely cherry and berry fruit with some mint, leather and herb characters. Spicy and quite juicy with firm structure. Very stylish in a modern mould. 91/100

Kayra Imperial Öküzgözü Blend 2006 Turkey
80% new American oak. 14.2% alcohol. Sweet, malty, chocolatey nose. Very rich but quite elegant on the palate showing evolution. Warmly spiced with cherries, plums, leather and earth. Has reached a mellow maturity. Smooth with a slightly drying finish. 88/100

Kayra Imperial Öküzgözü 2012 Elazig, Turkey
65% new French oak and 35% neutral American oak. Fresh and direct with sweet red cherry fruit. Nice raspberry brightness, too, with some spicy, cedary oak playing a supporting role. Has lovely freshness and vitality. A sleek, modern, fruit-driven style with nice focus. 90/100

Kayra Versus Alpagut Öküzgözü 2013 Elazig, Turkey
20% new oak (4% American). From Kayra’s own vineyard, which is more modern. Very bright cherry and berry fruit with some smoky, brambly depth. Tannic and juicy with nice acidity and freshness, and some tannic grip. Smoothly textured and spicy at the same time. Has nice density and focus, and potential for development. 91/100

See also:

The wines of Arcadia Vineyards, Turkey
The wines of Chamlija, Turkey

Wines tasted 11/16  
Find these wines with


Back to top