illustration of Fortunato standing in motley behind a mostly completed brick wall with a skull superimposed on the wall where his face should be

The Cask of Amontillado

by Edgar Allan Poe

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What is Amontillado in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

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Amontillado is a type of sherry made in Spain. It is prized by connoisseurs. In Edgar Allan Poe's story, the protagonist Montresor claims to have just received a "pipe" of what is represented as Amontillado but wants some expert to taste it and tell him whether it is genuine. A pipe contains 126 gallons. Montresor tells Fortunato that he bought it at a bargain price. This is the crucial part of Montresor's finely honed story:

I said to him—“My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day. But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts.”

“How?” said he. “Amontillado, A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!”

“I have my doubts,” I replied; “and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain....As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchesi. If any one has a critical turn it is he." 

Montresor does not say this in so many words, but his urgency to get the wine tested that night is intended to suggest that he would like to buy more and can't do so unless he is sure it is genuine Amontillado. The fact that Montresor has supposedly bought such a large quantity and would like to buy more shows he is not interested in the wine for personal consumption but as an investment. Amontillado in an oak barrel only improves with age. Aging is one of the things that make it so desirable in the first place.

Fortunato only agrees to go to Montresor's palazzo because he too is interested in buying some at a bargain price. Montresor wants to lure him to his underground catacombs immediately to keep Fortunato from asking questions around town and finding out that there is no recently arrived cargo of Amontillado aboard a ship from Barcelona--the only place the Amontillado could have come from. Montresor uses another connoisseur named Luchesi to force Fortunato to come with him immediately. Fortunato does not want Luchesi hearing about this bargain-priced Amontillado.

Of course, the Amontillado does not exist. It is only used to bait a trap. Montresor fully intends to kill Fortunato once he gets him underground. He has no intention of going to Luchesi. Montresor is a daring man. He is taking many chances at this crucial point. He could be recognized as being Fortunato's companion and come under suspicion after Fortunato disappears. Montresor wants to be above suspicion. 

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What is Amontillado?

Montresor wants to murder Fortunato with "impunity." He decides to lure him down below his palazzo and wall him up after chaining him to the wall in a narrow niche. He plans to lure Fortunato to his doom by claiming to have some rare and expensive wine down there in the catacombs. He would claim that he needs Fortunato's help because Fortunato has a reputation of being the premier connoisseur of wine in the city (apparently the city of Venice, although not stated in the story). One of Montresor's problems is to think of a wine that would provide a sufficient temptation for his intended victim. Montresor could not claim to have an Italian wine because such wines were too plentiful, and Fortunato must have a whole cellar full of them. Montresor could not claim to have a French wine because he is French himself and would be expected to know a great deal about such wines. He gives Fortunato two different French wines to keep him drunk. That left only Spain. Poe may have known virtually nothing about Spanish wine, but he probably knew that Amontillado sherry was the best wine the Spaniards exported.

Fortunato is not lured by the challenge to his connoisseurship or by the prospect of drinking a fine sherry. He drinks wine by the bottle, as shown in the story, and sherry is a sipping wine. What interests him is the prospect of making money. Montresor claims to have gotten a bargain on a "pipe" of Amontillado. A pipe of wine contains 126 gallons. It would be an enormous cask--if it really existed. Unlike Montresor who could only afford to buy a single cask, Fortunato is rich. He thinks he could possibly get a whole ship's cargo of Amontillado at a bargain price and sell it in small quantities at his convenience. But he has to make sure it is the real Amontillado, and he has to act quickly. Montresor tells him several times: "I have my doubts."

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What is Amontillado?

Both Fortunato and Montressor refer to the cask as a "pipe." A pipe is a standard unit of measurement for wines. It contains 126 gallons.* It is the enormous quantity as well as the quality of the Amontillado sherry that induces Fotunato to let himself be led such a long distance underground at night when he has a bad cold.

*Cf. The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1985)

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