by Fred McMillin
for November 10, 1999


"Three Macs,":
"McMullen to McMillin to McDowell."



On Feb. 9, 1852, in New York City, Thomas McMullen completed the first consumer-oriented "Hand-Book of Wines." On page 74 of my fragile copy I find this strong endorsement of a wine from the grape we call Syrah, grown on the Rhone.

"Red Hermitage is distinguished by its full body, dark purple color, and exquisite flavor and perfume, which is not inaptly compared to the raspberry...It is asserted that the grape from which this wine is made was originally brought from Schiraz [sic] in Persia, by one of the Hermits of Bessas...In Persia, grapes every where abound, and their quality is excellent. At Shiraz, they are described as growing to a size and fullness hardly to be equalled in other climates. There the vineyards are situated at the foot of the mountains. The vines are kept low, but occasionally supported by stakes."

My wife buying Shiraz wine in Persia(Iran).


Over a century later, I checked these observations in person. In Persia, many of the wine grapes lay on the ground, protected from the scorching sun by heavy foliage. The reds I sipped at Shiraz were the country's best.

Later on the Rhone, vintner Max Chapoutier led me up the Syrah-covered Hermitage hill to see the hermit's original little stone chapel, crowned with a small cross. The only thing more impressive than the wines were the legends...e.g., we stayed in a hotel which claims to be the site of a famous suicide...that of Pontius Pilate. Now, on to a California Syrah specialist.


The prestigious Wine Spectator reviewed our Wine of the Day this way...

McDowell Syrah, Vintage 1997
"This supple California Syrah is smooth and nicely nuanced. From one of the state's Rhone varietal pioneers. A BEST BUY."
My panel agreed, in a blind tasting giving it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (A decade ago my same tasters gave the 1986 vintage similar praise.) By coincidence, both the Spectator and my panel rated today's wine 88.
For more—See the Dec. 25, 1997 WineDay titled, "A Saint Nick Pick".
Phone—(707) 744-1053, FAX (7O7) 744-l826
Price—$10 to $12 range


When the McMullen book was published in New York City in February 1852, there was another new publication on the city streets, a newspaper called The New York Times.

Credits—Research by Diane Bulzomi.

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.


WineDay Annex

More articles by
Fred McMillin


Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.


In The Fast Lane

Guilty As Charged?

Winery of the Week
A Honey of a Company

Don't Shrink
From This Pink

Bite Is Worse
Than The Bark

Texas Talk

Millennium Champagne

Current WineDay

January WineDays
February WineDays
March WineDays
April WineDays
May WineDays
June WineDays
Summer Vacation
September WineDays
October WineDays

1998 WineDays

1997 WineDays


Copyright © 1999—the electronic Gourmet Guide, Inc. All rights reserved.