In 1978, a 6-year-old Maz Jobrani was fleeing his home in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution. Nearly 40 years later, the Iranian-American comedian would be welcoming the Persian New Year with the Obamas at the White House. During that time period, Jobrani not only developed his hilarious comedy routines centered on his identity as an Iranian-American, but also a passion for wine.
As a young student at U.C. Berkeley, Jobrani studied political science and took a year to study Italian culture in Padua, Italy. Soon after arriving in Italy, Jobrani became familiar with an Italian staple: Sangiovese. "Whereas in America when you're younger, people prefer beer, over there they prefer a little wine and you feel so sophisticated at that age," Jobrani recalled. "I remember you could go to the McDonald's in Italy and drink from wine dispensers." When Jobrani returned to Northern California, he began to take advantage of local wine country.
During the pandemic, Jobrani has used the extra time to read wine books and visit his local shop. He recently took a break from promoting his Pandemic Warrior comedy special and spoke with Wine Spectator assistant editor Shawn Zylberberg about his passion for Napa, connecting wine with comedy and exposing fellow Iranian-Americans to the local wine scene.
Wine Spectator: When did your passion for wine start?
Maz Jobrani: When I was 14 years old—no, I'm kidding. I spent a year abroad in Padua, Italy, when I was a junior at U.C. Berkeley. When I went back with my wife in the mid-2000s, we went to Tuscany and visited a Sangiovese vineyard. We bought a case and I slowly started dipping my toe in the water. More recently, I've taken some trips to Napa and visited Darioush Winery, which produces one of my favorite wines and is owned by a fellow Iranian-American. On one of our visits, my wife and I celebrated our anniversary and I had to join the membership club before leaving. I'm a big Cabernet guy and whenever I can, I turn people onto it. But I would say going to Darioush was my tipping point.
WS: Did your parents drink wine growing up?
MJ: My dad was from northern Iran, which is on the border with Russia, so he was a big vodka drinker. He enjoyed his wine from time to time too. He would drink Jordan Chardonnay whenever he'd take me on his business lunches around Napa and the surrounding area.
WS: Is wine part of your comedic ritual?
MJ: For the most part I try to perform sober. In comedy you don't want to do well while you're buzzed or drunk because then you think you need that feeling to get there and that can cause issues and problems. But at the Laugh Factory in L.A., the owner Jamie Masada likes wine as well and we had a wine routine going.
On the weekends when I was in town, I'd do shows there and after that we had "wine time with Jamie." We would go to Greenblatt's Deli & Fine Wines next door and pick a wine and sit and sip. What was great about it is that it would turn into a roundtable, because other comics like Tony Rock would join us and, before you know it, everyone has a glass of wine and is hanging out, opening a few bottles.
That was a nice ritual that I had been enjoying and missed since the pandemic started. It became our little wine sipping thing. I would love to do an outdoor event where we mix wine with comedy and have a night to pour a glass and have some laughs.
WS: How has the pandemic deepened your love for wine?
MJ: During the lockdown I picked up Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker, which I thought was a great book. What I like about wine is that there's always more. Every time you think you got it figured out, there's a whole new world.
This past summer I started visiting a nice liquor store down the street that has good stuff. They introduced me to Domaine de l'Abbaye Clos Beylesse Rosé. The next thing I know I'm looking it up and telling my wife that we should take a trip to France and out to Provence. My favorite region is still Napa, because I grew up in Northern California, but other regions like Australia and Lebanon have great wines as well.
I've also been running everyday and find myself exercising more now so I can have wine without the guilt. All roads lead to wine and chocolate.
WS: How do you see yourself opening the door for other Iranian-Americans when it comes to the wine industry?
MJ: My go-to wine has always been Darioush because owner Darioush Khaledi's story is amazing. He is also an Iranian-American immigrant, and his family used to make wine in these big vats. When he was a young boy, he would take a cloth and fling it over the vat and it would dip into the wine and he would suck on the cloth. His family would say, 'Oh no, Darioush got into the wine again!'
I tell his story and encourage other Iranian-Americans to try his wine because I am very proud of the fact that he and I share a background. You see that in a lot of cultures. That's how I introduce wine to people from my background.