On Wine


Holiday Conversation Pieces

by Fred McMillin



For the holidays pour a wine that has an interesting history.


Queen of Sheba—900 B.C.

The Ethiopian Queen starts the first desert U.P.S., using a new means of commercial transportation, the camel. Her favorite beverage is MEAD! (fermented honey). High scoring Meads are made by the Bargetto Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They are: Chaucer's Mead and Raspberry Mead, both made without any artificial ingredients, just honey and fruits. Bargettos phone number is (831) 475-2258.



Where did Primitivo originate?

Italy—Primitivo is identical genetically with California Zinfandel. So the story is over. The vine came from Italy. Right? WHOA! There's a problem.

All records indicate Primitivo appeared much later in Italy than it did in the USA. Implication: Primitivo came to Italy from the USA, and NOT vice versa.

Croatia—Mali Plavac, also written Plavac Mali, is genetically similar, but not identical to Zinfandel, Prof. Carole Meredith, U.C.Davis, advises us. Thus, the ancestors of California's original Zinfandel may be lurking in a Croatian, not an Italian vineyard.

Good Primitivo is made by Sobon Estate, phone (209) 245-5156.


Le Cigare Volant

"Cigare" is French for cigar, and "volant" means flying. The early 50's were a slightly hysterical era, with a lot of concern about the imminent arrival of aliens from our skies. There were an inordinate number of sightings in both Europe and North America in 1953 and 1954 of unidentified objects.

The village of Chateauneuf-du-Pepe was indeed so apprehensive of unscheduled landings in their vineyard, they adopted an ordinance prohibiting the landing of flying cigares (unidentified flying objects, sometimes in the shape of dirigibles). The ordinance has worked brilliantly in averting this grave danger.

Le Cigare Volant pays homage not only to the wines of the celebrated appellation, but to all forays into the world of the magical and unknown.

Le Cigare Volant information courtesy of Bonny Doon Winery. To order La Cigare Volant, phone (831) 425-3625.


A Knight's Wine

Legend tells us that knight Sir Gaspar de Sterimberg, returning to the Rhone Valley in 1224 AD from Persia, brought the Syrah vine. He became a hermit, building a small stone home on top of what is now called Hermitage hill. The knight's wine first appeared in California as a varietal Syrah at Joseph Phelps Vineyard in 1974, and they still make a very good one, 707-963-2745.

Other Syrahs that have scored well in my S.F. City College classes were made by:

  • Hahn—931-631-6193
  • Silkwood—209-525-9463
  • Steele—707-279-9475
  • Valley of the Moon—707-996-6941

A Wine Column Caveat

Please read responsibly.


Credits: Edgar Vogt
Statistics: Ophie Mercado


Fred McMillin

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He was voted one of the U.S.A's 22 Best wine writers by the Academy of Wine Communications. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.


Copyright © 2009, Fred McMillin. All rights reserved.


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This page created December 2009

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