30 Second Wine Advisor: A Chianti fiasco

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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. 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 wove the baskets rose to the point that it cost more to make the bottle than the wine that goes inside.

Perhaps even more significantly, as Italy's modern wines have gained wider respect on the world market, Chianti's producers upgraded their image, fearing that the old fiasco bottles implied rustic country wine. Many of them switched to a standard square-shoulder wine bottle.

So why was the old bottle called a "fiasco"? Simple: It stems from the same ancestor word as the English "flask." But in Italian slang, "fare fiasco" - "make a bottle" - means, well, really screwing up, and the English word "fiasco" comes from that.

Want a vinous nostalgia trip? Find a family Italian eatery. Not your fancy "Northern" Italian spot with white tablecloths and waiters in waistcoats, but one of the cheery type with red-checked tablecloths and plastic grapevines on the ceiling. Chances are good that they'll be able to fix you up with a fiasco.

We gave it a try at a new local spot (DiFabio's Casapela, if you happen to be in or around Louisville). This amiable eatery carries only one Chianti, the Melini 2007 "Straw Bottle" Chianti, properly wrapped in wicker.

According to the importer's Website, this 305-year-old Tuscan winery "established itself as an 'international' winery in 1860 when Laborel Melini collaborated in developing the straw-covered flask (fiasco). This made it possible for the wine to travel and launched Melini in international markets.")

Today's Tasting Report

Melini 2007 Chianti ($26 restaurant price)


The wine inside this wicker-clad fiasco is a very traditional Chianti blend of 80% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo Nero with a splash of white grapes, 5% Trebbiano and 5% Malvasia. It's dry and tart, with pleasant, subtle black cherry and spice aromas. U.S. importer: Frederick Wildman & Sons Ltd., NYC. (May 11, 2010)

FOOD MATCH: Fun at a family-Italian eatery, stereotypically appropriate with spaghetti and meatballs and a hearty manicotti topped with a blanket of molten mozzarella.

VALUE: We paid a standard restaurant markup for this wine. Expect to pay about half that price when buying retail. Is it worth it, once, for the nostalgia hit? Sure!

WEB LINK: Click this link for the importer's fact sheet on the Straw Flask Chianti.

Find vendors and compare prices for Melini Straw Flask Chianti on Wine-Searcher.com. For a broader selection of Melini Chianti, try this link on Wine-Searcher.com.

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