Northside SF
Wine Report from the Fort
What Aristotle wrote about the origin of wine (not found in wine books)

Noori Bolandi burst into my Tehran office almost shouting: “I’ve found something by Aristotle!”

I had hired this Iranian scholar to find and translate any ancient Persian writing about wine in the dusty archives of the University of Teheran. From a book, “Calamity of the Life, compiled by Dr. Azarakhsh,” here is Bolandi’s translation of a paragraph said to be written by Aristotle: Jamshid, the ancient king of Persia is the first one who comes to the wine accidentally. One day when he goes out for hunting, he sees a vine with ripened fruits on it in a mountainous place. They think it is a wild and poisonous plant, so the king orders [his men] to take its fruits with them. They pick its fruits and put [them] inside a small jar, and the king orders [his men] to keep [the jar] in a safe place. After a long time, there was a guilty [man] who was sentenced to death, so the king asked of that jar with the juice of those fruits. After drinking the juice of the fruits, the man went [in]to a heavy sleep, and they imagined he was passing the last minutes of his life, but he woke up, and was full of ga[eity] and wanted to drink of that juice once more, and this time its impression was as before. So anybody [who] was interested to drink of it [could and] finally the king himself [did]; also he felt the same effect, and became happy, then order[ed] [his men] to plant this [vine] everywhere.

What to sip while savoring these ancient words? It must be the great grape of Persia, Syrah (also known as Shiraz in Australia). Here are my students’ favorites:
• 5th: Peju Province Winery Napa Valley Estate Syrah 2006, $42
• 4th: Sunset Cellars Green Valley Wirth Ranch Syrah 2007, $18
• 3rd: Blackstone Winery Monterey County Winemaker’s Select Syrah 2007, $10
• 2nd: Rosenblum Cellars Snow’s Lake County Syrah 2006, $25
• 1st: Cakebread Cellars Carneros Napa Valley Syrah 2007, $51

The last two would have dazzled King Jamshid!

Help wanted ... speaking of Aristotle, he was hired to tutor the son of the king of Macedonia.
Did it do any good? You decide – today we know that son as Alexander the Great!  Seating is limited, learning is not

Take a S.F. City College wine class at Fort Mason on the following Saturdays, 1 p.m., and taste 20 wines.
• March 19: Napa vs. Sonoma – A careful comparison of Napa wines with their Sonoma counterparts.
• April 9: Taste the Terms – Taste wines that illustrate the 100-plus terms used to describe them.
• April 16: California vs. the World – Golden State wines compared to others of the same vintage from France, Australia, Chile, Italy, and more. Past sessions have included $30 Chardonnays and $50 to $75 Cabs.

To enroll or wait-list, phone San Francisco City College at 415-561-1840, or visit Register one week before classes begin to receive a $10 discount. 

A final wine smile
I was talking with Brooks Firestone about winery profitability. He said, “The best way to make a small fortune in this business is to start with a large one.”

Credits: Edgar Vogt (tastings); Ophie Mercado (statistics)

A previous version of this article first appeared March 2004 in the
Marina Times.

Fred McMillin has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. E-mail:; fax: 415-567-4468

Bookmark and Share Print Page PDF
Wine Report from the Fort Column Archive