History of Sherry - Age of Exploration

Age of Exploration

During the "Age of Exploration" the ports of Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Cádiz where the starting points for many of the voyages to the New World and the East Indies, including some of the voyages of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan. On many of these voyages, stocking up on ample supplies of the area's wine was considered a necessity. Christopher Columbus almost certainly had Sherry with him when he made some of his voyages to America which makes Sherry, in all likelihood, the first wine brought to the New World. For Magellan's voyage 594,790 maravedis were spent on wine compared to 566,684 maravedis on all the ships's armaments and men's weapons.

At the turn of the 15th century, several factors came into play that had a major impact on the global wine market. The Venetian traders were losing their supply of sweet wine from the lands of Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Hungary to the emerging dominance of the Ottoman Empire. War with France had lost the English their access to the wines of Bordeaux. Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on this, the Spanish Duke of Medina Sidonia made several moves to put Sherry into the forefront of the world's wine market. In 1491, the export tax on wine was abolished for both Spanish and foreign vessels coming into Sanlúcar. In 1517, English merchants were given preferential merchant status-including the right to bear arms in the region.

For a period of time, English sales of Sherry (or "Sherris sack" or just "sack", as it was sometimes known) were large and they continued to grow till the foreign relations between England and Spain declined with Henry VIII's divorce from the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon. In addition to triggering the English Reformation and the break from the Roman Catholic Church, it also brought every English merchant in Spain under the watch of the Spanish Inquisition. Many merchants closed up shop and fled while others were jailed for failing to repent or denounce their King. Some merchant ships forwent the sale and transport of wine to become privateers.

In the 1580s, King Philip II of Spain ordered an invasion of England and set about building what would become the Spanish Armada at the naval shipyards of Cádiz. In 1587, Sir Francis Drake captured the harbor and set fire to many of the ships, delaying the launch of the Armada by a year. He also captured 2,900 butts of Sherry that was at the docks waiting to be loaded for ships to South America. The wine that Drake brought back to England only increased the English esteem and thirst for Sherry. William Shakespeare characterized the English's love for "sack" with his character of Sir John Falstaff who most famously noted in Henry IV, Part 1 that "If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack."

Read more about this topic:  History Of Sherry

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