Around the World in Sherry Days: Fortified Wine Makes a Voyage Around the World

Two barrels of top Sherry have spent three months sailing aboard the Spanish navy vessel Juan Sebastián de Elcano and won't stop 'til they've circled the globe

Around the World in Sherry Days: Fortified Wine Makes a Voyage Around the World
The Spanish navy training vessel Juan Sebastián de Elcano is carrying two casks of González Byass Sherry. (ARMADA ESPAÑOLA)
Nov 16, 2020

Historically, sailing ships have hauled many treasures across the seven seas: doubloons, spices and—best of all—wine. The Spanish training ship Juan Sebastián de Elcano has been carrying on that last tradition since Aug. 24, embarking on a 12-month, 44,000-mile voyage with two casks of Sherry aboard.

The wine is no stowaway. It's onboard to celebrate a historic tradition. Centuries ago, sailors found that the Sherries they hauled would improve on the journey. The science behind this sea aging is a bit foggy, but it could have something to do with the gentle rocking and maritime influence the casks experience.

"Someone realized that technically the wine was better," said José Argudo López de Carrizosa, general marketing manager for top producer González Byass. "When this was discovered, the Sherry winemakers said, 'Oh, why don't we send [the Sherry] around the sea to different points, and on the way back we can sell it [for higher prices]?'"

In August the company went to sea again as part of a voyage marking the 500th anniversary of Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastián de Elcano's circumnavigation. Spain's 93rd Marine Guard set sail on the Elcano, named for the navigator who took command of the voyage after Magellan's death, for a training cruise around the world. It's documented that Magellan sailed out of Sanlúcar (in Sherry country) with plenty of Sherry on board. Necessary provisions for a circumnavigation.

According to Commander Santiago de Colsa Trueba, the Elcano's captain, the steel-hulled, four-masted schooner barque will be visiting important stops from the original journey, including Argentina's Bay of San Julián, the isle of Guam and, appropriately, the Strait of Magellan. The ship is scheduled to return to Cádiz on July 14, 2021, with the Sherry on board.

González Byass' master blender Antonio Flores sent two 250-liter barrels for the journey (there wasn't quite enough space for the more common 600-liter barrel). The seafaring wine is a special selection of 12-year-old Amontillado, the Viña AB "Estrella de los Mares," which translates to "star of the seas."

Once it's back on land it will be bottled as "historical wine." Some of it will be sold commercially and some will be used to commemorate the Magellan-Elcano voyage. "We are very in touch with the culture, with all the traditions of our country," López de Carrizosa noted. "It's a mixture of something romantic with something [technical] and authentic."

While this Amontillado won't be sipped until it comes back to shore, Commander de Colsa Trueba assured us that a separate supply of wine was provided for the ship's sailors to enjoy in the officer's chambers when docked in port (drinking onboard is otherwise not permitted). "On this occasion, in which, due to the pandemic, the crew cannot go ashore at the visited port, [this] takes on, if possible, greater importance," he explained. "A drink of Sherry wine helps consolidate camaraderie and conviviality." Even after 500 years, it looks like Sherry is still necessary for a journey around the world.


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