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A Tuscan Fiasco

Updated: Jan 24

The word fiasco in Italian is equivalent to a fiasco in English, unless we're referring to the fiasco Toscano, the "Tuscan Wine Flask" — a 700-year-long story.

This flask is not just a bottle; it's a genuine symbol of Tuscan farming culture and wine-making history. If you've ever stepped into an Italian restaurant, either in Italy or abroad, you might have noticed these charming rounded wicker basket bottles, often doubling as candle holders.

But do you know its history? Let’s uncork it!




THE HISTORY

The inception of the fiasco dates back to the 14th century in the region between Siena and Florence. In an area already renowned for glass and crystal production, people began crafting these distinctive containers by blowing the glass like a bubble. Initially uncovered, they eventually started shielding them with 'stiancia,' a marsh grass abundant in the area's marshes — easy to shape and exceptionally resilient. This covering ensured protection against shocks during transport and the sunlight.


THE SUCCESS

The success was immediate: the fiasco quickly spread across Central Italy, prompting the establishment of workshops specializing in 'stuffing' the flasks. This craft demanded exceptional manual skills, predominantly carried out by women, giving rise to a new profession called fiascaia - for a fascinating video of this check out the site of the Museo del Fiasco (that you could visit by appointment in Montelupo Fiorentino, half an hour outside Florence): https://www.museodelfiasco.it/en

The flask became so ubiquitous on tables that illustrious Tuscan writers and artists of the Middle Ages and Renaissance frequently depicted or wrote about it. Boccaccio, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Ghirlandaio, and Botticelli often portrayed it in their artworks.

Although the flask's shape varied widely, and its capacity was uncertain, it wasn't until 1574 that the Grand Duke of Tuscany enacted a law to combat wine fraud. The capacity was standardized at 2.280 liters, and the authenticity of Tuscan wine was certified by affixing the symbol of the Florentine lily directly onto the flask.



THE FIASCO TODAY

Over time, the flask underwent improvements, including increased glass thickness, enhanced resistance, and the introduction of hermetic stoppers. These modifications allowed Chianti wine to be shipped globally, elevating its popularity.

However, like any popular product, counterfeits emerged. In the 1930s, to preserve the flask's image, a law was implemented to prohibit the trade and export of empty flasks, as they were often sold without proper scrutiny and filled with inferior-quality wine.

This fame eventually led to its decline, as unscrupulous producers began marketing low-quality wine in flasks, assuming consumers would buy it for the 'cool' packaging.


In recent years, some Chianti wineries have embarked on a mission to revive the traditional fiasco, restoring its historical and symbolic value. The Consorzio del Fiasco Toscano was established to rehabilitate its iconic image and unique history.




Written by Ilaria Miele

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