Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Swirling Turkish Wine to the Rhythms of the Whirling Dervish in Istanbul

As the wine swirls and hugs the rim of the glass, they, begin to swirl, arms crossed, heads tilted, hands cradled around their shoulders, in a self-embrace. Their eyes are closed, and their far-away expression is one of longing. I'm in Turkey where the spectacle of the 700-year-old dance of the whirling Dervish is taking place. I am also using this opportunity to write about the 2007 Turkish wine I am sampling.

The thrill of being before real whirling Dervish makes it difficult to concentrate on my wine. The Turkish word for wine is şarap (pronounced sha-rap). It's difficult to make out the label on the bottle because it is written in Turkish. The winery, I've establish, is called Vinkara. What I think is the name of the wine is "Kirmizi Sek şarap 2007". I later learn that this means Dry Red Wine. I never did get its name and the waiter was not able to tell me the grapes from which it was made. I commit to looking this information up later.

It is a deep cherry color, with some purple tones, very intense. I'm expecting ripe, red fruit with the first exotic whiff. The first scent is as expected of cherries, sotto-spirito, and ripe, red jammy black berries, with a tang of pomegranate. There is the slight barnyard smell, that I really like in my red wines. It's not off-putting, it just smells of the earth. My first sip offers a disappointment, as I realize that the wine has been kept at room temperature, and that would be Istanbul room temperature...probably somewhere between 25 and 30 degrees C. It has soft tannins, is medium-bodied with a slight bitter-almond finish, and a medium length.

The Dervish belong to a Sufi sect and their dance and prayer meetings are banned in the Turkish Republic. They are however, allowed to perform them for cultural purposes. As I watch them prepare, I wonder how they can block out the audience of foreigners that surrounds them, and the clicking pens of the waiters, and the hustle and clanging from the kitchen behind them. They are solemn and intense. They remove their black cloaks and 3 men kneel on sheepskin rugs before 4 musicians with traditional instruments. The flutist, playing a traditional Turkish flute called a Ney, begins the haunting call to prayer. One of the men kneeling responds with a lone chant, soon accompanied by the other two men on the carpets. The stringed instruments join in and a climax of chanting seems to have been reached; the dancers rise, move onto the floor and begin a slow twirling dance. Gradually the pace becomes mesmerizing to all those watching and it is clear they've found their grooove. They are wearing tall white hats (shriner style but taller with slightly rounded tops). Their heads tilt and a peaceful, much less intense look takes over their expression. It is said that if they weren't in perfect communion with Allah throughout this prayer-dance, they would become dizzy and fall. As the pace increases, the flaring of their robes widens, like opening umbrellas, but instead of being rigid, they flow like capes, emphasizing the beauty of the dance. Under their white tunic and white skirt, they are wearing white, slim long pants tucked into black, soft-leather boots. Suddenly they are in a trance: their arms open and unfurl towards the heavens and the whirling and twirling is in full tilt.

Unlike the arms of the Dervish, my wine does not open and unfurl. It is not spoiled but neither does it have any more surprises for me. I wonder what it might have been like if served and stored at the proper temperature.

Throughout the evening, I can't help imagine what an evening of entertainment would have been like at the Sultan's court in the nearby Topkapı Palace. Would they have been served some of the same foods? Would there have been wine? The meal that we are served turns out to be enough to feed an entire harem. I especially enjoy the appetizers: flat, warm, savory bread for dipping into various purees, sauces and preserves: aubergine and tomato salsa, spicy tomato sauce, tzaziki, humus and a green pepper preserve. It did feel somewhat sacriligious eating and drinking in front of the Dervish who were in serious meditative prayer. I wished they had waited to bring the food. The Dervish however, continued to dance seemingly oblivious to those around them, with their eyes closed.

Eventually all 3 dancers returned to their kneeling positions. They gathered their mats, and humbly and quietly left the stage. The audience seemed unsure whether they should clap at the end of this solemn event.
In complete contrast, the entertainment continued with a raucous group of belly-dance musicians, who invited the crowd up to do some belly dancing to their tunes. They seemed to know who to approach, because the audience members who were invited, knew how to belly dance.

The contrasts in Turkey continued to face-off throughout our 5-day stay. East continually meeting West, spiritual and sensual, sweet and spicy, St. Paul and Mohammed. Old and new seem to be as interwoven as a Turkish rug in the fabric of modern-day Turkey. Its monuments and ruins are testaments to the fact that it is a land much trespassed, an intersection where the world's peoples met and passed each other. I was happy to be but one of the many trespassers throughout history...a prilgrim of sorts in the steps of St. Paul from Istanbul to Ephesus.

I'm afraid I can't tell you much more about the wine. All the websites I came across except for one were in Turkish. I did read however that Vinkara winery makes an Alicante, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon blend, which I think may have been the wine I tasted. They also make one that is made from an indigenous red grape called Kalecik Karasi. If any of you can tell me more about this winery, I would much appreciate any blanks you can fill or information you can provide.