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by Fred McMillin
for May 2000


The Knight, the Moullah, and...

The Discovery of Wine



"Wine was first discovered by a woman."

Gods, Men, and Wine by William Younger, 1966

The Rest of the Story

A bold statement. What was the basis? There was a footnote referring to Sir John Malcolm's The History of Persia...out of print for about 175 vears! I'd have to omit it from my S.F. State History of Wine course. Rats!

Cambria I learned that Sir John had served as India's minister to Persia two centuries ago. The San Francisco City Library staff searched the dusty archives for me, and voila! They came up with the fragile Volume One, and even loaned it to me for the class.

The story was on page 16. It was not written by Col. Malcolm, but was quoted from a manuscript by one Moullah Ackber. It dealt with the legendary Persian king named Jemsheed, as follows.

Jemsheed was the first who discovered wine. He was immoderately fond of grapes, and desired to preserve some, which were placed in a large vessel and lodged in a vault for future use. When the vessel was opened, the grapes had fermented: their juice, in this state, was so acid, that the king believed it must be poisonous: he had some vessels filled with it, and poison written upon each: these were placed in his room. It happened that one of his favorite ladies was affected with nervous headachs [sic]: the pain distracted her so much, that she desired death: observing a vessel with poison written on it, she took it and swallowed its contents. The wine, for such it had become, overpowered the lady, who fell down into a sound sleep and awoke much refreshed. Delighted with the remedy, she repeated the doses so often, that the monarch's poison was all drank. He soon discovered this, and forced the lady to confess what she had done. A quantity of wine was made: and Jemsheed, and all his court, drank of the new beverage, which, from the circumstance that led to its discovery, is to this day known in Persia by the name of zeher-e-khoosh, or the delightful poison.—Moullah Ackber's MMS.


1) The April 6, 2000 WineDay reported another version of this tale that I unearthed in Tehran, that was attributed to Aristotle. In this case, the "poison" is used in an unsuccessful effort to execute a "guilty" (a male criminal).

2) I don't like to read a wine article that contains no wine recommendations...the Syrah is Persia's greatest grape, and here are those that have scored the highest in my recent tastings.

Six Super Syrahs (Alias Shiraz)

6th—Hope Estate, Hunter Valley, Australia (Winesellers), '98, $13 (Shiraz)
5th—Black Opal, Mildara Blass, S.E. Australia '98, $10.50 (Shiraz)
4th—Cambria, Santa Maria Valley, Tepusquet Vineyard, '97, $22
3rd—Jade Mountain, Napa Valley, Hudson Vineyard, '97, $32
(tie) 1st—Mountain Blue, Mudgee Region Australia (Rosemount), '96, $30 (Shiraz)
(tie) 1st—Jade Mountain, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, '97, $52

Postscript —Jemsheed's Good Deeds

The charming ancient legend of King Jemsheed includes more than discovering wine. For example, he introduced the idea of the year, and the celebration of New Year's Day. 'Way to go, King!


This page created May 2000