It is romantic to glamorize the European age of discovery, yet in the most simplistic terms it was driven by trade. The Ottoman Empire strictly levied the trade routes to the Orient, forcing Western powers to find alternative routes to bypass the Empire, thereby cutting out the middleman and their ensuing taxes.
Adventuring west was not an original concept. There are records of trade along the western coast of Africa dating back to the Phoenicians. It is argued that in the early 1400s, Prince Henry the Navigator established a Maritime school of cartographers and mapmakers in Portugal, developing the arts of navigation using compass and sextant. Its graduates were among the most successful explorers of their time.
These graduate explorers rounded Cape Horn in 1488, and established a trading base in Goa (India) in 1498. Spain financed the Columbus voyage of discovery, making landfall in the Caribbean in 1492. Columbus’s discovery prompted a stream of explorers who claimed their landfalls in the name of the monarchs that they served. The new lands were conquered, not by weight of numbers but rather technology. In particular, the diseases carried by the explorers, to which the indigenous populations were defenseless. The decline of local labor resulted in a long and ghastly slave trade with Africa, replacing those who succumbed to disease.
There are records of fleets of Basque and Breton fishing boats and whaling ships, which were fishing off the coast of Newfoundland as early as 1503. They were most likely prompted by the voyages of John Cabot, in 1497.
During the Elizabethan age, Sir Francis Drake explored the coast of North America, eventually circumnavigating the globe. He was not the first to do so as the famous mariner, Ferdinand Magellan, led an expedition in 1519 to establish that the earth is round. He did not survive the journey, however, some of his crewmembers completed the voyage.
In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh established colonies in North America and named one of them Virginia, in honor of the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I.
Next week, the Explorers and wine in the New World. Aaah, Saint Patrick’s Day… it’s like Irish Christmas! To celebrate in true Irish style, head to the LCBO for some Guinness or, drop by Barley Days Brewery for their Barley Day’s stout, a sure match with my favourite “Paddy’s Day” Irish stew and soda bread.
This week I tried the fabulous 2008 barrel-aged Chardonnay from Hillier Creek Estates ($25). A big surprise! The approach on the nose is literally white peaches and cream with hints of fresh pineapple and lemon meringue pie; the palate is bright with flavors of lime, guava and a hint of caramel. This wine has great structure, lightly oaked and not overtly acidic. The grapes are estate grown, and wine maker Lauren Horlock used both French and Prince Edward County oak barrels!