Robert Irwin, Times Literary Supplement,
"The issue of the Islamic prohibition of wine-drinking and the widespread disregard of this prohibition among Muslims looms large in Najmieh Batmanglij’s From Persia to Napa: Wine at the Persian table, a lavishly illustrated book which presents a history of wine-drinking in pre-Islamic and Islamic Persia, followed by an account of the Darioush winery’s current production of Shiraz and other wines in California’s Napa Valley, while a third section provides a selection of recipes chosen to go with particular wines.
One verse in the Koran appears to approve of wine: “We give you the fruit of the palm and the vine from which you derive intoxicants and wholesome food” (sura 16:69). However, the orthodox Muslim view is that this verse was abrogated by other Koranic verses. But heavy drinking had been an important part of the court culture of Sassanid Persia prior to the Islamic conquest, and the aristocracy went on drinking in Muslim Iran. Kaikakavus, a Persian prince from Gurgan, wrote a guide to aristocratic conduct which contained the following advice: “Wine drinking is a transgression; if you wish to commit a transgression it should at least not be a flavourless one. If you drink wine, let it be the finest – so that even though you may be convicted of sin in the next world, you will at any rate not be branded a fool in this”. There is, moreover, a remarkably rich body of wine poetry in Persian, as well as in Turkish and Arabic literature.
As Batmanglij notes, Muslims who wished to drink alcohol gave a variety of excuses. Wine was being drunk as a medicine. It was alleged that the Koran only forbade over-indulgence in wine. Wine that was diluted or boiled was acceptable. The ban applied only to wine and not to arak, beer, or fermented mare’s milk. Dick Davis, the eminent translator of classic Persian texts, has contributed an excellent chapter on “Wine and Persian Poetry” in From Persia to Napa in which he points out that the heroes of Firdawsi’s great epic, the Shahnama, drank heroically. He also discusses the metaphorical employment of “wine” in Persian Sufi poetry to signify ecstasy. Though many Sufi poems have survived in which this is indeed the case, Davis is rightly doubtful about the automatic translation of wine as some figurative reference to a spiritual experience. “Sometimes, and perhaps usually, a cigar is just a cigar – and wine just wine” according to Davis, paraphrasing Freud. In particular, Davis is sceptical about the wholesale assimilation of the fourteenth-century poetry of Hafiz of Shiraz into the mystical canon: “My own feeling is that he is almost always writing about what he says he is writing about, wine and carnal love, and that his occasional hankerings for a more secure and spiritual world safe from the vicissitudes of earthly life, are just that – occasional hankerings”."
This is much more than just another coffee table decoration about wine and food, or both. A lavishly illustrated volume, it is the third book written by Najmieh Batmanglij in her passionate promotion of Persian cuisine and, in this case, the rich and - despite Tehran's strict Muslim regime - continuing Iranian love affair with wine.
Batmanglij and her wine enthusiast husband Mohammad fled post-Islamic Revolution Iran as refugees and now live in the US. She has spent 25 years traveling, teaching cooking and adapting authentic Persian recipes to Western tastes and techniques.
Persia is one of the cradles of wine grape cultivation, with the city of Shiraz one of its earliest centers of production, and Batmanglij traces this illustrious history in fascinating verbal and pictorial detail. She then moves half a world away to California’s Napa Valley, where another iranian-American, Darioush Khaledi, has re-created the architecture of the ancient Persian ceremonial capital of Persepolis in building a spectacular winery.
The final section of the book contains 80 delectable recipes, seasonal menus and a guide to Persian hospitality both past and present. And there are two special sections by guest authors - one discussing the Persian links between poetry and wine, and the other suggesting how to match wines with Persian cuisine. In all, a wonderfully complete package.
Wine & Spirits Magazine, December, 2006
Iran is not famous for its winemaking, and we've yet to see a sommelier in a Persian restaurant anywhere, but Najmieh Batmanglij's latest book sets out to change that. Batmanglij is a culinary ambassador of sorts, already having written four Persian cookbooks that read like encyclopedias of the very old but relatively unknown Persian cuisine. So it is fitting that she examines the even lesser known tradition of Persian winemaking and wine drinking in From Persia to Napa: Wine at the Persian Table. Part cookbook, part history lesson, and as meticulously thorough as her other books, this book traces Iranian viniculture from ancient times to Napa's Darioush winery, which is styled after Persepolis. The emphasis on history, illustrated with plenty of classical Persian art and a section on references to wine in Persian poetry make From Persia to Napa appealing to the bookish set. But it's also great for readers who like to eat and drink, too: More than half the book is devoted to food, with wine notes and pairing advice supplied by Burke Owens, a longtime Persian food buff and the associate director of wine at COPIA, the American center for Wine, Food and the Arts. And for those already familiar with the cuisine, Batmanglij's recipes include a good number of more unusual Persian dishes, like pistachio soup (paired with a pinot gris or viognier), or a dessert of quince baked in pomegranate juice and grape molasses (for zinfandel, grenache or a sweet Sherry).
The library Journal, Sept 15, 2006
The popular author of well-respected cookbooks like New Food of Life and A Taste of Persia has turned her attention to the tradition of wine at the Persian table. Contrary to popular belief, wine has been featured in Persian literature and history for thousands of years. Shiraz, which many people associate with the wines of Australia and France, was an ancient Persian wine-producing city. This work will interest a wider audience than a general cookery book owing to its introduction carefully tracing the history of wine as it relates to Persian culture; there is a thoughtful chapter on wine in Persian poetry. The recipes, ranging from appetizers to desserts, specify both the preparation and the cooking time, a useful inclusion for the home cook. Batmanglij also provides a list of contacts for hard-to-find ingredients. The book's large format and lavish illustrations make it an
attractive addition to larger public libraries and perhaps academic ones, too.
-Shelley Brown, New Westminster P.L., B.C.
SEVEN THOUSAND YEARS OF WINE 7
The Taming of the Vine 9
An Ancient Nexus of Wine 14
Outward Bound 16
Persia Takes Form 24
The Old Order Changes 34
The Rise of Islam 38
Persian Endurance 41
Toward Modernity 50
WINE AND PERSIAN POETRY 55
UNDER A NEW SUN:
THE DARIOUSH WINERY 69
AT THE TABLE 99
Pairing Wine with Persian Food 101
Small Dishes & Salads 105
Main Courses 157
Desserts, Sherbets, Teas & Brews 207
The Culture of Hospitality 232
Planning a Persian-Style Dinner 234
Seasonal Menus 235241
SOURCES AND RESOURCES 255
Introducing people to the pleasures of Persian cuisine has been a lifelong mission for Najmieh Batmanglij. Her New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Cerimonies was called "The definitive book of Persian cooking" by the Los Angeles Times, and her Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey was selected as one of the Vegetarian Cookbooks of 2004 by the New York Times. She has spent the past 25 years traveling, teaching cooking, and adapting authentic Persian recipes to tastes and techniques in the West. She is a member of Les Dames dEscoffier and has taught and lectured throughout the United States. She currently lives in Washington, DC, where she is teaching master classes in Persian cooking and is working on a new book for children to cook with the family. Her web site is www.najmiehskitchen.com.
DICK DAVIS is a poet, scholar and professor. He is also the foremost translator of Persian poetry as well as a poet who has published numerous volumes of his own poetry to critical acclaim, including: Belonging: Poems (the Economist’s 2002 poetry book of the year). He is currently professor of Persian at Ohio State University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His other translations from Persian include Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings (Viking, 2006), the illustrated Shahnameh series: Stories from the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi (Mage, 1997-2004), My Uncle Napoleon (Mage, 1996; Modern Library 2006), The Legend of Seyavash (Penguin Classics, 1992; Mage 2004), and with Afkham Darbandi, The Conference of the Birds (Penguin Classics, 1984).
BURKE OWENS is Associate Curator of Wine at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in Napa, California, where he is responsible for Copia’s many and varied wine programs, including wine education.