A Chianti fiasco
Actually, the bottle - called a "fiasco," and there's a story behind that - is still made, primarily for the restaurant business. They have fallen out of general fashion, though, for a couple of reasons.
One is that as Italy's economy prospered in the postwar years, the wages of the skilled workers who weave the baskets rose to the point that it costs more to make the bottle than the wine that goes inside.
Perhaps even more significantly, as Italy's wines have earned wider respect on the world market, Chianti's producers sought to upgrade their image, feeling that the old fiasco bottles implied a rustic country wine. Many of them switched to a more standard design, a square-shouldered bottle similar to those used for Bordeaux.
So why is the old bottle called a "fiasco"? It stems from the same ancestor word as the English "flask." But "fiasco" means something entirely different to English-speakers: "an utter failure." This apparently goes back to an old Italian slang phrase, "Fare fiasco" or "make a bottle," for someone who has gotten into a real mess. One reference suggests that the term came from 18th century theater and referred to Italian actors trying unsuccessfully to say their lines in French ... perhaps with the assistance of a little Chianti.
That's the story about the old Chianti "fiasco," gone but not forgotten. If you want to take a vinous nostalgia trip, look for a family Italian eatery in your town with a name like Mario's or Mamma's. If it has red-checked tableclothes and red-sauced pasta, you'll probably be able to get a bottle with the familiar wicker basket.
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Another French value
Made by the Perrin family of the Rhone, this wine could be called a "little brother" to the family's sought-after Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While it's no Beaucastel, it does offer a surprising taste of Southern Rhone flavor at a fraction of the price. Very dark garnet in color, it breathes peppery black-fruit aromas with a pleasantly earthy whiff of "barnyard." Bright, full fruit flavors, plummy and peppery, are well structured with twangy acidity. A tasty Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsaut grapes, it's a balanced and surprisingly complex table wine. U.S. importer: Vineyard Brands Inc., Birmingham, Ala. (Aug. 19, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: Although red Rhones shine with beef, this wine's blend of earthy fruit and fresh acidity made it a natural with a meatless summer dinner, a quick, thick soup of pureed potatoes and carrots and fresh garden tomatoes with crusty Italian bread.
IMPORTER'S WEBSITE: http://www.vineyardbrands.com.
With the assistance of my friend and associate Hoke Harden and the content partnership of Charlie Trotter's, a noteworthy restaurant in Chicago, we invite you to try your sommelier skills in a friendly and international competition.
Here's how it will work: I have placed a Charlie Trotter's Grand Menu online, along with a replica of the restaurant's basic wine list. Your challenge is to review this information, select three to five wines from the list to match the food, then tell us your choices and why you made them. Our panel and Charlie Trotter's Wine Steward will select winners, who will receive small prizes and great accolades; and we will publish a selection of the most interesting entries on Wine Lovers' Page.
The competition ends Aug. 31. It's free of charge and all in fun. For details and the complete menu and wine list, click to http://www.wineloverspage.com/challenge.
On Sept. 1, prices will go up. Order one now for yourself and more for the wine lovers on your gift list, and you'll be all set for holiday giving! For the details, click to http://www.wineloverspage.com/calendar/2002toon.shtml and order your Wine 'Toon Calendar 2002 today.
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Vol. 3, No. 31, Aug. 20, 2001