While Izmir lacks many counterparts to Istanbul's more cosmopolitan and international offerings, it does have one thing that makes it truly great: the world-class restaurant of Turkey's best winemaker, Sevilen.
Just one stop from the airport on the train is Sevilen's piéce de résistance, the Isa Bey restaurant where Sevilen shows off its wines with some stellar food.
We visited the vineyards and restaurant a couple of weeks ago one sunny Saturday afternoon with a few friends of ours who had called ahead to arrange a short tour of the vineyards. The guide was remarkably knowledgeable about Sevilen and its history.
After a quick tour of the vineyards, we settled in for for the real reason we had come: tasting the wine! We tried three of Sevilen's red wines: kalecik karası, boğazkere/öküzgözü, and merlot. Kalecik karası is one of Turkey's most famous grapes for wine making and is grown in and around the Ankara region. It's often a fruity and light red wine, and Sevilen's was no exception to the rule.
Boğazkere is not one of my favorite Turkish wines: it's dark, rich and strong, and goes well with red meat. Often, it's paired with öküzgözü which tempers some of boğazkere's richness. But Sevilen's pairing of the two didn't impress me: the wine had a metallic finish that left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Oh, but the merlot. The merlot was where I thought Sevilen hit its stride. The wine's complex chocolately and fruity aroma had me right away, and its long finish would be great paired with meze and cheeses.
After the tasting, we moved onto the Isa Bey restaurant, ordered a bottle of the sauvignon blanc and a large cheese plate that included huge wedges of blue cheese, gouda, carlsberg, kaşar and tulum.
Round two included a bottle of merlot to go with our grilled hellim cheese and stewed tomatoes. Fried hellim cheese is often served on top of salad in these parts, but goodness did it ever taste good served with sweet tomatoes that had been stewed so long all the sugars had been released. The tomatoes' sweetness paired with the salty hellim was, frankly, amazing. In fact, I think that's what I'm having for dinner tonight.
Sevilen isn't just known in Turkey for its wines: two of its wines -- Centum (a syrah) and Fume Blanc (a sauvignon blanc) -- are served in two of the world's best restaurants: the Fat Duck in the UK serves the Centum and the el Bulli in Spain serves one or the other or both, but their website is such a pain in the ass I couldn't learn which one they served.
And, as a matter of fact, because my husband rocks, he bought us a bottle of the Fume Blanc (it's not as expensive as you might think -- only 55 TL!) to celebrate my departure to Istanbul to start a new job the following day. Pretty sweet of him, huh?
The best part about Sevilen -- apart from its wine and the great food, so let's say the third best part about Sevilen -- is that's not located too far away from the central city. In fact, it's only one stop on the train from the airport.
If you go: Take the train from the Alsancak train station to Cumaovası, which is the train's last stop. Upon departing, you'll find that the sidewalk ends and you're faced with a dirt clearing next to a house. Walk past the house and turn left and you'll see the restaurant straight ahead. Find more information about Sevilen at their website.