Monday, October 10, 2011

Christopher Columbus and Wine

Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus
 by Sebastiano del Piombo.
There are no known authentic
portraits of Columbus.

As some of us celebrate Columbus Day, I thought it would be interesting to see if there was any study of the wines Christopher Columbus may have had on his voyage. Granted, my research was very superficial, but I did find some interesting tidbits. Columbus, being a sailor from an early age, got around and, therefore, had access to a variety of wines of the day.

Genoa at that time was an excellent wine market -- one of the largest exporters of wine after Apulia and Calabria in southern Italy. Vernaccia, a most prized wine was drunk by the wealthy. Malvasia was less expensive and more readily available as was Vermentino and Muscat (Moscato) and Grenache (Cannonau). Also present were the red Dolcetto (today known as Ormeasco, tasting quite different from its Piemontese cousin), and the white Gavi, from nearby Piedmont.

While in Spain, Columbus probably accompanied his meals with the white topaz-colored wine of Carcavelos which lies less than 10 miles west of Lisbon. Or, perhaps he preferred the fine whites and reds of Colares, a tiny area of sea cliffs and sandy beaches abut 20 miles west of Lisbon, the two major wine producing areas at that time. Today these wines are practically non-existent as much of the land in the area has been sold to urban commuters to build vacation villas.

Another favorite white of the time was Bucelas, a dry wine, slightly acidic and excellent with grilled sardines and fish soup. A red, Charneco, which also came from Bucelas was quite appreciated.

Had Columbus selected a wine with one of Portugal's traditional desserts such as orange pudding for which Madeira is famous, he might have quaffed a Malvasia. At holiday time, he was likely served Moscatel de Setubal, a richly perfumed, honey-sweet wine made with muscat grapes grown near the port of Setubal not far from Lisbon.

Happy Columbus Day!

1 comment:

  1. Fun post! We should all raise a glass in his honor tonight.