The Cask of Amontillado - Sherry, Wine, & Edgar Allan Poe
|"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged..."|
Thus begins the famous story from Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), "The Cask of Amontillado". It is a multi-level story about revenge and human nature. The revenge is taken apon Fortunato, who Poe quippishly points out, He had a weak point--this Fortunato--although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. To think this is a weak point! And what does the narrator use to lure the unsuspecting Fortunato to his doom? Why, nothing other than a supposed pipe of Amontillado!
First, they have a drink of Medoc as they enter the cellars, which the narrator opens by simply nocking off the glass neck of the bottle. They go further, and have a bottle of De GrÔve, again opened by breaking the neck off. Don't try this at home! They never do find the Amontillado, but inquiring minds would like to know what Fortunato was so keen to taste.
Amontillado is in fact a specific style of Sherry. It's amusing that Fortunato points out several times in the story that "Luchesi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry," unless he was trying to differentiate Amontillado from the more common varieties of this fortified drink.
The word Amontillado, which is Spanish, is an adjective meaning "Montilla-like". Montilla is in southern Spain, part of the Andalucia wine zone. The fortified wines from this region are made using the standard Sherry production method. Montilla fortified wines are medium-weight, first maturing under a layer of flor (yeast cells), and then cycled through the 'solera' system where older casks are refilled with younger wine. This keeps the wine flavor consistant over the years. Amontillado therefore is a Sherry, made in Jerez, in the style of this Montilla beverage.
The Amontillado sherries lose their covering of flor as they age. This exposure to the air, normally prevented by the flor layer, turns the sherry a darker color of amber. They often age for 8 or more years, taking on a nutty character and around 17% alcohol. Amontillados tend to be dry sherries, and are highly valued.
Note that there are also created-Amontillados which are simply blended from various other sherries to the right color combination. Also interesting is that the term 'Amontillado' can only apply to sherries - the town of Montilla is not allowed to use this term on its own fortified wines!
"But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts."
What is a pipe? In the wine world, it's not something you smoke through. In Portuguese the word "pipa" means barrel. A pipe is a large cask with ends that taper, and is the traditional way of storing ports, marsalas, madeiras, and other fortified wines such as sherry. A pipe can hold anywhere between 400 and 600 liters.
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