Until the Islamic revolution, Iran had a tradition of wine-making which stretched back centuries. It centred on the ancient city of Shiraz – but is there a connection between the place and the wine of the same name now produced and drunk across the world?
“I remember my father bringing in the grapes and putting them in a big clay vat,” says California-based wine-maker Darioush Khaledi, recalling his childhood in pre-revolutionary Iran.
“I would climb on top and smell and enjoy the wine.”
Darioush’s family was from Shiraz, a fabled city in south-western Iran, whose name was once synonymous with viticulture and the poetry and culture of wine.
He remembers happy evenings when the family would gather, sipping wine from clay cups, and reciting lines from the 14th Century Persian poet Hafez.
“It wasn’t just about drinking wine,” he says. “It was an adventure.”
The world Darioush remembers came to an end in 1979 when Iran’s new Islamic rulers banned alcohol.
They shut down wineries, ripped up commercial vineyards and consigned to history a culture stretching back thousands of years.
An ancient clay jar has pride of place at the University of Pennsylvania museum in Philadelphia in the US.
It was one of six discovered by a team of American archaeologists at a site in the Zagros mountains in northern Iran in 1968.
The jars date back to the Neolithic period more than 7,000 years ago, and provide the first scientific proof of the ancient nature of Iranian wine production.
Chemical analysis on one of them revealed that a dark stain at the bottom was actually wine residue.
“This is the oldest chemically-identified wine jar in the world,” says Prof Patrick McGovern.
The first evidence of grape cultivation in Shiraz came around 2,500 BC, when vines were brought down from the mountains to the plains of south-west Iran, the professor says.
By the 14th Century, Shiraz wine was immortalized in the poetry of Hafez, whose tomb in the city is still venerated today.
“Last night, the wise tavern master deciphered the enigma,” he wrote. “Gazing at the lines traced in the cup of wine, he unraveled our awaiting fate.”