The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

The only Iranian nationals allowed to consume alcohol are those of Armenian origin, the idea being that they are Christians and so not subject to Islamic law. So Armenians are the major purveyors of spirits and wines to the rest of their unfortunate compatriots. Each Muslim family will have its own Armenian supplier, and the best ones are treasured above their price in rubies. As one expects.

But Iranians also like the idea of making wine at home (as do most Arabs) - not surprising, considering they claim to be one of the first wine-making nations (remember Shiraz?) And so, they like to compete with each other, going so far as to hold tasting sessions that are as cut-throat as anything in France. There are difficulties - no readily available bottles to store the wine in, or stemware to drink from. So they make do with styrofoam cups and plastic bottles. But every little advantage helps to assert one's superiority, as Nahal Tajadod reveals in her exasperated-and-funny memoir Tehran, Lipstick and Loopholes.
A French-speaking cousin of mine, who has pronounced herself a wine connoisseur, always starts by asking for a large wine glass with a stem. She pours wine into it, commenting on the colour in the process, then swirls the glass slowly in her hand, puts her redesigned nose into it, moistens her gums, keeps the wine in her mouth for a moment with half-closed eyes, and eventually - watched in fascination by everyone else - delivers her peremptory and definitive opinion. Every time she goes to Paris she makes a point of learning by heart the vintage and price of a few famous wines so she can bewitch her entourage (and these are people who serve wine in Coke bottles) by quoting endless lists of enchanting mythical names such as Romanée-Conti 1929 or Mouton-Rothschild 1982, oh, if you only knew...


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