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30 Second Wine Tasting Tip:
A Chianti fiasco

What ever happened to the old Chianti bottles that came wrapped in wicker baskets? If you're past a certain age, you'll remember these well. Once the mainstay of modest Italian restaurants around the world, they served as handy candlesticks after the wine was gone.

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.

Would you like to comment on this week's subject? Post a new topic on our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, or write me at I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll respond to as many as I can and do my best to address specific questions. Please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.

Please tell your wine-loving friends about The 30 Second Wine Advisor (weekly) and Wine Advisor Express (daily), and invite them to register for their own free subscription at

30 Second Tasting Notes:
Another French value
Perrin Perrin Réserve 1998 Cotes du Rhone ($9.99)
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.


Wine Lovers' Voting Booth
Breaking wine glasses
If you serve much wine, you've surely broken a few glasses. We regard this as the price one must pay for wine enthusiasm, and figure that as long as nobody is badly cut or bruised, it's not a major tragedy. For this week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth topic, we use this measure to quantify the world of wine and those who enjoy it, as we ask: "How many wine glasses have you broken in the past year?" Please take a moment to click to and add your toll to the tally.

The Great Sommelier Challenge!
For those of you who don't receive our daily Wine Advisor Express, here's a quick summary of THE GREAT SOMMELIER CHALLENGE, which we announced in last Wednesday's edition.

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

Wine 'Toon Calendar 2002!
Remember, Aug. 31 is the last day you'll be able to PRE-ORDER the Wine Lovers' Page Wine Toon Calendar for a special price. This fun 12-month calendar for 2002 will feature an original wine cartoon by Chuck Stoudt for each month, plus a whole library of wine quotes to entertain you monthly, and as a bonus, a unique collection of more than 100 of our favorite wine Web links.

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 and order your Wine 'Toon Calendar 2002 today.

30 Second Administrivia
This free E-mail publication is distributed to subscribers every Monday, and our daily Wine Advisor Express is E-mailed Tuesday through Friday. Previous editions are archived at

You are on the subscription list because you registered during a visit to Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Page. To change your E-mail address, switch from the weekly (Mondays only) to daily distribution, or for any other administrative matters, E-mail And of course we welcome feedback, suggestions, and ideas for future columns. We do not use this list for any other purpose and will never give or sell your name or E-mail to anyone.

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.

More time for wine?
You don't need to wait for Mondays to read about wine! Drop in any time at the Wine Lovers' Page,, where we add new tasting notes several times each week and frequently expand our selection of wine-appreciation articles, tips and tutorials. If you'd like to talk about wine online with fellow wine enthusiasts around the world, click to our interactive, international Wine Lovers' Discussion Group forums,

Vol. 3, No. 31, Aug. 20, 2001

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