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by Fred McMillin
for April 6, 2000

 

Sing a Song of Syrah


Prologue

A Cambria Syrah just won Best of Tasting in the course Edgar Vogt and I are conducting at S.F. State University's College of Extended Education.

Grapes in Persia (Iran)

My wife admiring grapes in Persia (Iran)

Syrah originated in ancient Persia, as did the first legend of how winemaking was discovered. When living there, I hired a local scholar to search the University of Teheran archives for an early version of the legend. He found this one. You may have heard of the author...my friend Firooz said it was Aristotle!


The Discovery of Wine (Translated from the Persian language, Farsi)

"Jamsheed, the ancient king of Persia, is the first one who comes to the vine accidentally. While hunting he sees a vine with riped fruits in a mountainous place. They think of it as poisonous, pick the fruits, put them inside a small jar, and the king orders to keep them in a safe place.

After a long time there was a guilty sentenced to death, so the king had him drink of the juice of those fruits. After drinking the juice, the man went to a heavy sleep and they imagined he was passing the last minutes of his life. But he wake up and was full of gay and wanted to drink the juice one more. Its impression was as before, so anybody was interested to drink of it. Finally, the king himself [tried it], felt the same effection, became happy, and then order to plant this tree everywhere."


The Discovery of Syrah (in California)

Some six millennia after the legendary Jamsheed's time, the Syrah arrived in California. In 1889 San Francisco Examiner reporter Frona Eunice Wait wrote that the Syrah had arrived in California... planted at the estate of retired British army captain John Hamilton Drummond near Glen Ellen in Sonoma County. However, not much happened for over a century. As late as 1987, the total tons of Syrah crushed was less than 300. What's happened since then?

Annual Crush in (tons)

    1987 —       295
    1996 —    5,099
    1997 —    9,980
    1998 —  21,640

Syrah makes the great Hermitage and Cote Rotie of the Rhone Valley. Today's Cambria indicates the Golden State has a real shot at attaining similar stature. See what you think.


Wine of the Day

1997 Cambria Syrah
Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County
Vine Location—Cambria reports their Syrah is planted at the warmer, eastern end of the vineyard. The vines should be right at home. I've seen them growing in the summer on the Rhone and in ancient Shiraz, and it was hot, hot!
Author James Laube's Opinion—Color, intensity, and flavor purity all impressive. An elegant wine (the 1996).
Rating—HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Food Affinities—My wife prepared Fesenjan, the classic Persian duck dish to serve with Syrah. Other delicacies we enjoyed in Teheran with Shiraz red were smoked white fish on rice and stuffed baby lamb.
Winery Contact—Office of President Barbara Banke (Mrs. Jess Jackson), (805) 937-1777, or Kendall-Jackson's phone (707) 544-4000, FAX (707) 544-4013
Price—$22 range


Postscript

The name "Cambria"? The town was settled about 1860, and named Slabtown. However, a carpenter liked the Roman name for his homeland. He came from Wales, which in Latin was Cambria. So, the sign in front of his business read "Cambria Carpenter Shop." The name stuck.

...California Name Places, E.G. Gudde

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 


This page created April 2000

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