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Published on September 12th, 2017 | by Ruben

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The Cask of Amontillado

The Cask of Amontillado is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in November 1846. It is set in an unnamed city in Italy, during the carnival and tells the story of Montresor, who seeks revenge on Fortunato, a fellow nobleman who insulted him several times. He decides to use Fortunato’s love for wine against him, and lures him into his cellar where he supposedly keeps a pipe of what passes for Amontillado. He wants his opinion on the wine, because he has his doubts about the quality.

It is a murder story, but not a whodunit. It is told by the murderer fifty years after committing the crime, making most of the narrator’s claims a little unreliable – in the end it is a tale of subjective interpretation. The setting (an underground cellar), the time (carnival), the metaphors of colour (a black silk mask and a motley-coloured costume) and the subtle foreshadowing of the murder (I shall not die of a cough) makes this an interesting, classic short story.

 

Amontillado solera at Bodegas Tradicion

 

A cask of Amontillado or sherry?

The fact that a cask of Amontillado plays a key role makes it interesting for sherry lovers as well, although at first sight you would be tempted to question Poe’s wine knowledge. Fortunato comments on another nobleman that he isn’t able to distinguish Amontillado from sherry. This seems strange as Amontillado is in fact a sub-type of sherry, but let’s not forget that our current-day classification of sherry wines is fairly recent.

In the 19th century ‘sherry’ would have been considered a brown, sweet Oloroso type by the general public. The pale dry sherries (matured under flor) originated in Sanlúcar as Manzanilla in the early 19th century and the techniques were copied by bodegas in Jerez in the 1840s, creating the first Fino wines. However their delicate character meant they were not suited for transportation and were mostly consumed locally.

The term Amontillado is often explained as ‘in the style of Montilla’, referring to the neighbouring D.O. Montilla Moriles, which was known for a lighter style of wines at the time. It’s not entirely certain that different production techniques are at the base of this etymological explanation. Maybe the fact that wines from Montilla had to be transported accross Andalusia to the port of Cádiz – a journey that lasted several days, on cart and often in hot weather – changed their character and gave birth to a new style? The same way that East India sherry became a style on its own. In any case Amontillado was considered an exclusive wine, which is why Montresor is worried he may have paid the price of Amontillado for a cask of regular sherry.

 

You can download a modern transcription of the story here or the original text published in 1846. Notes and comments can be found here or here.

 

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About the Author

fell in love with sherry fifteen years ago, but switched to a higher gear in 2013 and started writing about it. Lived in Madrid for a couple of years, now back in Belgium. I also run a whisky blog over at www.whiskynotes.be



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