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Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for May 24, 2001


From Persia with Love...

The First Great Red Wine Grape



When wine-loving Persia became Moslem, it left Omar Khayyam with a dilemma which he described with these lines (translated):

Because I love the winejar well,
I'm told I shall end up in hell.
While monks and pundits, I suppose,
Appear in Paradise in rows!


That First Noble Red-Wine Grape

Thomas Layton 
The great Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon varietals are new kids on the block as far as Shiraz is concerned. It preceded them by many, many centuries, first in Persia, and then in France's Rhone Valley (probably carried there by the Romans).

Today we have an early opinion of Persian red wine (by Ahmad Damghani, 7th century) and a later opinion of Shiraz or Syrah (by Thomas Layton, 21st century - pictured).


Poet Damghani's Appraisal

In Tehran I hired a local scholar to search the Univerity of Tehran archives for ancient wine information, and translate it. He found this by Damghani.

How the Wine Was Made c. 625 A.D.

In the vineyard...
Vine Age—"Old vine trees" are praised.
Canopy Management—"The girls [grapes] were hidden under their mother's [vine] leaves." (No grapes were visible in the Shiraz vineyards we saw. They were all on the ground, covered by leaves.)
Irrigation—"The gardener is afraid his babies will die of thirst, so he turns a stream of water toward them." [There seems to be a caveat about using too much water, also.]

Harvest time...
It is time to harvest when the green grapes have changed to yellow and red. "The vineyard looks like heaven."
Harvest is in November, A knife is used, and the bunches are put into buckets without damaging the grapes.

Shiraz JarWinemaking...
"The next day the gardener puts the grapes in a big basin and smashes them by his steps. He takes out the bones and veins. Then he pours their blood into a big jar, puts a lid on it and covers it with a warm cloth." [We still treasure a wine fermentation-aging jar my wife found near Tehran—pictured.]
Aging—The jar is left undisturbed for months.

At last... The Wine!
"Oh bring the wine, that causes happiness, and lessens the sad of the poor."
The wine is "clear as water." It is ruby-colored.
The aroma and flavors remind one of "quince, rose-water and kebabs."
Drink Nouveau?—This famous poet recommended drinking the wine when only "half-boiled" in the sun.
And finally, the gardener, still speaking to his girls, tells them he will take their wine to "all parties," and, the ultimate tribute, "introduce you to the king."

Now to...


A Twenty-First Century Shiraz

Here's what Thomas Layton thinks of today's Shiraz, alias Syrah. "It is perhaps the finest American Syrah/Shiraz I have had the pleasure of tasting. I am usually skeptical of wines with 15% alcohol because I often find them too ripe and over-extracted. However, this wine had none of those flaws It had a really nice structure to balance its intense and deep fruit."

This is the wine.

1998 Jade Mountain Syrah
Napa Valley, $25
More on Jade—See "The Jade Crusade WineDay, Jan. 26, 2000
Contact—Jennifer Gould, (707) 254-4263, FAX (707) 254-4203

Now, we've mentioned Khayyam, Damghani and Layton. Let's go back and meet...


The Cast -(In order of appearance)

Omar Khayyam, Persian poet, active 1100 A.D., born and educated about 500 miles east of Tehran, wrote of "a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou."

Ahmad Manoochehri Damghani, Persian poet, active 625 A.D. Damghani means from the town of Damghan, about 400 miles east of Teheran. Five hundred years before Omar, Ahmad also wrote of being in a garden with "a glass of wine in your hand and a nice lady wine server beside you." Did she serve Shiraz wine? The New York Times said Omar probably drank Shiraz, so Almad probably did, too.

Thomas Layton, active 2001 A.D., Stanford MBA, advisor to technology companies. Mrs. Layton, the wine server beside him, is a Ph. D. space scientist from Syrah-Shiraz land, Australia!



Speaking of Australia, the Laytons hold that country's Shiraz/Syrah in very high regard compared to California's. Little wonder. Just 30 years ago Australia Syrah acreage was about 20,000 while official California acreage was zero.

To see how the two regions compared, we reveiwed our panel's recent picks. Two strong Aussie labels were Wyndham of the Hunter Valley and Taltarni of Victoria (named for the Queen of Great Britain who was born on this date in 1819). Highly-rated California bottles were produced by Fess Parker and Hidden Cellars. Best of all were these top four selections.


Our Top Four Shiraz-Syrah

4th—CALIFORNIA, today's Jade Mountain, described above.
3rd—AUSTRALIA, Jacob's Creek, Shiraz Reserve, Barossa Valley, 1997
2nd—CALIFORNIA, Meador Estate, Maverick Syrah, 1998
1st—AUSTRALIA, Rosemount's Blue Mountain, Shiraz-Cabernet blend, Mudgee Region, 1997

Like the Laytons said, Aussie Shiraz is looking mighty good.


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.



This page created May 2001