A Cask of Amontillado
Who among us can hear that chilling line from Poe's "Cask of Amontillado" without feeling a curious impulse to taste this dark, strong Spanish wine? Yet for many people, even wine lovers, Amontillado is a bit of a mystery. Utterly different in style from table wines and different still from the sweet fortified wines like Port, Sherry in general and Amontillado in particular remain one of wine's undiscovered secrets for many people.
What is this wine, the mere mention of which allowed Poe's eerie protagonist to lure his rival, the connoisseur Fortunato, to the depths of his wine cellar only to be buried alive?
No fictional drink this, Amontillado is a real wine, one with a heritage that goes back many centuries, and it is available (although not commonplace) in today's wine markets.
Amontillado (pronounced "Ah-MOHN-tee-YAH-doe," meaning "in the fashion of the village of Montilla") is a Sherry from Jerez in southern Spain, a strong wine that's made by an unusual process that gives it a flavor entirely like most other wines. It is made in open barrels with a natural yeast called "flor," then aged until it takes on a brownish color and an odd oxidized flavor that reminds many people of walnuts or pecans. It is "fortified" by adding brandy, which gives it a long life and also makes much stronger as regular table wines. Some Sherries are sweet, but Amontillado is usually dry, and it is particularly full-bodied and robust.
A small neighborhood liquor store might not carry an Amontillado, but any retail shop that specializes in fine wines will almost certainly have it. One good brand (although certainly not the only one) is Emilio Lustau, whose Amontillado I review in the weekly tasting note below. Sherries aren't terribly expensive by fine-wine standards. I would expect a bottle of fine Amontillado to cost around $10 to $15.
Amontillado is generally sipped from small glasses as a cocktail or after-dinner wine, perhaps with cheese or nuts. If you try it, be sure to sip it while enjoying Poe, perhaps in front of a crackling fireplace!
A few bonus links: The Consejo Regulador DO Jerez-Sherry y Manzanilla is the official Sherry regulatory body. Its site is available in English, French and Spanish. Although the Emilio Lustau page is a commercial site with an obvious interest in selling its product, it also offers a lot of good educational information about this unusual wine. Finally, if you'd like to brush up your Poe, a private site, Pambytes' "Selected Works of Edgar Allen Poe" includes the complete text of many of his stories.
What's your take on Sherry ... or on Poe, or on the interface between good literature and fine wine? If you'd like to talk about it, send me E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note, but I'll answer as many as I can; and please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine. Please feel free to get in touch if you'd like to comment on our topics and tasting notes, suggest a topic for a future bulletin, or just talk about wine.
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A tasty if atypical Amontillado
Clear amber, with a delicious aroma of fresh cracked pecans that fills the room when a glass is poured, with subtle herbal overtones becoming more evident as the wine opens in the glass. Pecans dominate the flavor, too, in a flavor that's rich, nutlike and slightly sweet (the sweetness being a bit out of character for a usually dry Amontillado); pecans and lemon-squirt acidity linger in a long finish. U.S. importer: Europvin USA, Emeryville, Calif., selected by Christopher Cannan. (Feb. 12, 2000)
FOOD MATCH: Best served as an aperitif or for after-dinner sipping.
For notes on this and two more Lustau Sherries, see my online wine report at www.wineloverspage.com/wines/sher0213.shtml.
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Vol. 2, No. 5, Feb. 21, 2000