Columbus’ Wine Bar Circa 1492!


So, what was Christopher Columbus’ favourite tipple aboard his flagship, Santa Maria (or was he actually on La Niña or La Pinta, the other two ships comprising his mini-fleet?) when he left Spain on his historic voyage to discover ‘The Indies’?

Of course history tells us that in fact he was wrong about where he actually landed – he’d thought he had discovered Asia, but in fact it was what we now call the Bahamas, gateway to North America, where he first set foot.

A journey of discovery such as his was perhaps fraught with dangers unknown to man at that time. Indeed, according to many contemporaries of his day, it would be a journey to certain death as the ship was bound to fall off the edge of the world, the Earth being flat, of course!

Well, considering the stress he and his crew (in fact on the, unknown to them, penultimate day of the voyage they were just one day away from either returning to Spain, or mutiny!) you can well understand the need for a drink! The more so, when we learn that the fresh water had gone bad and that alcohol was the only thing that could satisfy a thirst.

Good job Columbus had included in his provisions many large oak barrels full of wine! And the wine? Which wine was it that was drunk on this formidable, game-changing journey? And indeed, which wine therefore was it that was first consumed in the New World?

Street Level in Toro - the entrance to an amazing and historic cellar!
Street Level in Toro – the entrance to an amazing and historic cellar!

  Several metres below a fairly unprepossessing calle (street) in Toro, western Spain, there lies dormant an ancient, very small winery. At street level and above there lives a tiny 94 year old Spaniard, Gildo – a delightful gentleman and the last surviving descendant of Bishop Alonso Manso.

The entrance hall of Gildo’s house, sitting atop Christopher Columbus’ Wine Bar!

At the time of Columbus’ momentous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, Alonso Manso was the Canon of Salamanca, a man who, although he didn’t know it, was on the fast-track to fame. Gildo’s, now famous, relative was responsible for helping Christopher Columbus with his provisions for the journey he was about to make.

Going down!
Going down!

I think it’s true to say that the small group I had brought to Gildo’s cellar, under the guidance of Nicola, the Export Director of Bodegas Fariña, and I were in awe when we negotiated the uneven steps down to the depths of the cellar. It was here that Alonso Manso and Christopher Columbus tasted the wine and agreed on its price before it was transported to the waiting fleet!

And Down!
And Down!

So, in answer to the questions above – the wine that was first drunk in the Americas, as well as on the journey, of course, was Toro wine! Wine that we now know was made from the Tinta de Toro black grape variety, which is actually Tempranillo – the famous and most planted variety of Spain!

Nicola, Export Director of Bodegas Fariña with one of the ancient casks, a contemporary of those used by Christopher Columbus (not Nicola, the cask!)

So, when enjoying the super, rich and darkly coloured wines of DO Toro you’re also taking part in history!

“Evening, Chris – the usual?”

“Yes, please, Alonso – but just a ‘pinta’*, thanks – I’m going sailing tomorrow!”


* Watch this space re the Spanish Pinta and the UK Pint!