Shiraz / by Vahid Mortezaei

A salesman in Alko, who was helping me to find a wine, asked me:
– Where are you from?
– Iran
– Oh nice! Are there many wines in Iran?
– Well, alcohol is forbidden there.
– Oh sorry, I didn’t know that!
– Do you know Shiraz?
– Of course I know.
– Do you know Shiraz is the name of a very famous city in Iran?
– Oh no! I didn’t know that.

Iran is a contradictory country. The 1979 Islamic revolution put an end to the legal consumption, trade and production of alcoholic drinks in the country. But, surprisingly, wine has always been very present in Iranian mythology, poetry and paintings. However, it is claimed that that wine is just a metaphor and symbol of spiritual joys.  

Fresco (17th century), Chehel Sotun Palace, Isfahan, Iran

Shiraz is the fifth most populated city of Iran with 1.7 million habitants. The city has around 4000 years of glorious history. The Iranian civilisation owes a lot to this city. It was the capital of Iran at some point. The ancient capital of Persian Empire, Persepolis, is just a few kilometres away from Shiraz.  

Among the Iranians, Shiraz is well-known as the city of poetry. It is also considered as the cultural capital of Iran. In the mid-60s, Shiraz Arts Festival brought the city to the international cultural headlines. In 1969 Alvar Aalto visited the city to design the Shiraz Art Museum building. He prepared all the plans but unfortunately the construction of the museum never started because of the revolution. 

Tomb of Saadi (poet, 13th century), Shiraz

Shiraz used to be also very well-known because of its wine. By the 9th century, the finest wine in the world was produced in Shiraz and, according to documentation, in the 17th century this wine was exported outside of the country. However, winemaking in this city officially stopped in 1979. Nowadays some Iranian enthusiast winemakers continue these traditions in other countries. Dariush winery is one example.

The people of Shiraz are famous for being laidback, like the Mediterraneans. The geographical location of the city and its climate explains a lot. Shiraz is located in a green plain at the foot of the Zagros Mountains, full of beautiful gardens. Zagros is home to many wild species of grapevines. Some of the earliest evidence of grape-based wine was found around these mountains (around 5000 BC).

Eram Garden, Shiraz [photo: Nick Taylor, flickr]

But does Shiraz wine come from Shiraz? According to the scientists, there is no real connection between Syrah grapes and Shiraz. Maybe James Busby just wished that the name Shiraz would help him to market his wine.