by Fred McMillin
for December 25, 1997

A Saint Nick Pick

On Christmas day, I like to serve a wine made from a variety that existed when Christ was living. That eliminates the 300-year-old Merlot or the 600-year-old Pinot Noir. But there IS one grape that clearly qualifies. In fact, the Greeks took it from ancient Persia to Marseilles 600 years before Christ was born. It is the SYRAH, named for the city of Shiraz. One of the thrills of my life came when in 1972 I walked the area's vineyards that may have supplied those first cuttings to go to France. My guidebook said, "There are vineyards (takestan) everywhere—the grapes of Shiraz are delicious...Shiraz remains the city of poets and roses, of wine and nightingales." So, you can see why I chose Syrah. But which one?

The San Francisco Chronicle's Gerald Boyd wrote the answer. "When McDowell Valley Vineyards owners Richard and Karen Keehn started their winery in 1978, they also acquired the oldest Syrah vineyard in the state. They produce one of California's most concentrated Syrahs, deeply structured with full berry flavors." Those "oldest vines" were planted in 1919. President/Winemaker William Crawford tells me they have passed on to that great vineyard in the sky, but that he's very happy with their 50-year-old successors. My panel is sure you will be, too.

Food Affinities—Co-founder Kareen Keehn is a vivacious, enthusiastic specialist at matching wine with food. She says the McDowell Valley Vineyards' Syrah pairs beautifully with stronger fowl, including your Christmas turkey with an herb-nut stuffing.

The Wine:
1995 Syrah, Mendocino County
McDowell Valley Vineyards, Hopland, CA
Price—A bargain at $9.99

Postscript: Back to those Persian origins, we know Omar Khayyam's "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou." But what was in the jug? No less an authority than the New York Times' Frank Prial says it "was almost certainly filled with wine made from the Syrah!"

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 and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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