When I was a kid, there were only seven TV channels and rarely anything good on any of them — especially on weekday afternoons before dinner. Since computer games and handheld entertainment devices hadn’t been invented, I spent much time after school riding bikes and “playing kill the man with the ball.”
But each year, I sat glued to the couch when ABC’s 4:30 movies repeated its “Edgar Allen Poe Week.” If you haven’t seen Vincent Price’s campy film versions of Poe’s macabre tales, then add them to your Netflix list. Watching them today, they are utterly hilarious, though they gave me recurring nightmares at the time.
Tales of Terror (1962) was among my favorites, comprised of three of Poe’s shorter works, including “The Cask of the Amontillado.” Of course, I had no idea then what Amontillado was, but Poe’s vicious tale of revenge haunted me nonetheless.
In “The Cask,” amidst a raucous carnivale, Montresor searches for Fortunato, against whom he intends revenge for some great insult.
Montresor slyly mentions that he has recently purchased a pipe (a large, 126-gallon barrel) of high-quality Amontillado sherry, though he is unsure of its provenance. Fortunato, who fancies himself a great connoisseur, volunteers to pass judgment on the libation.
The tale is filled with other arcane wine references: Montresor plies his prey with a bottle of Medoc (from the left bank of Bordeaux’s Gironde River) and another of de Grave (also Bordeaux, named for an area famed for its gravelly soil, though Poe may have included it for its more sinister implications). Eventually, Fortunato is so soused Montresor is able to shackle him in the cellar and then seal him forever behind a stone wall.
I recently had a bottle of Sandeman’s “Character” Amontillado ($16), which means “made in Montilla style.” This bottling includes some sweeter PX sherry, so while it’s not overtly sweet it’s also not as dry as the wine Fortunato likely anticipated. Still, its texture is unpleasantly resiny from aging in small oak casks, and it’s fully oxidized, producing a primarily nutty character with only subtle hints of dried fruit and vanilla. It approaches palatability on ice, but isn’t for everyone. It actually brought to mind British soap star Barbara Knox’s witty observation: “I’ll say this for sherry — it really makes you fancy a vodka.”
Far more delicious is the Alvear Solera 1927 PX ($22). While the Solera system is also employed in the production of sherry, this product doesn’t technically qualify as such and so is bottled under the Montilla-Moriles D.O. It’s made by blending newer vintages of wine with older vintages (1927 isn’t a vintage date, but the year the Solera was started) to maintain a consistent style. It’s sweet, unctuous and irresistibly delicious; rich Alvear Solera 1927 in fruit (plump prunes and golden raisins), chocolate and caramel flavors. Slightly chilled, it’s great after supper — drizzled over vanilla ice cream, it’s to die for.
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