Wine Gurus and Fiascos

By / Magazine / February 3rd, 2011 / 1

How did you become such an all-knowing wine guru?

Practice; lots and lots of practice. You think I’m kidding don’t you? The reality is that back in the day I didn’t know one end of a corkscrew from the other. Though my man-about-town image was still in its infancy, it didn’t take me long to figure out that those really cheap bottled in Canada wines with the European-sounding names weren’t scoring me any points with the chicks and if I wanted to upscale my liquid identity, I’d have to start pouring something a bit more interesting into their glasses.

This was the early 1980s. Back then, the Internet came on a few hundred paper pages with a front and back cover. (If I’m being a bit too esoteric for you, I’m talking about books). With few comprehendible reference sources available it was easier getting a doctorate in rocket science than it was learning a little bit about vino. But then along came Hugh Johnson. The Brit’s digestible pocket encyclopedia (that’s still published annually) was a revelation. Nowadays all you’ve got to do is Google whatever you don’t know and you’ll find a link to a dozen “experts” willing to offer their opinion, but last century you took your enlightenment where you could get it.

As I implied earlier, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to wine (and beer and spirits for that matter) all the knowledge you need is right the glass. And by that I mean the more you try, the more you learn. Okay, so an atlas might come in handy if you slept through geography class, but really, tasting, tasting and more tasting will get you on the path to guru status. And I don’t mean you need to become some grape guessing geek (boy I hate them). You just need to pay attention to everything you put in your mouth. That said; buying Tidings every issue doesn’t hurt either.

What’s a fiasco?

Where do I start? British Petroleum’s well-drilling dexterity? Lindsay Lohan’s career choices? Why they haven’t already started filming a sequel to Hot Tub Time Machine? But I digress; you’re talking about a wine fiasco. Right? Though they may not know it by its real name, anyone who spent time in the 1970s will probably have one sitting on a shelf at the cottage — most likely with a candle sticking out of it. What I’m talking about is the formerly cliché (now sort of trendy) bottle that Italy’s Chianti region made famous.

Dating back to sometime in the 14th century the fiasco (or flask) became an Italian icon thanks to the straw wrapping that covered the bottom portion of its unique tubby bottle. Apparently blowing bulbous butted bottles (say that three times fast) is easier than it is with the classic tubular styles French winemakers pioneered. Not only did the wrap keep the bottles upright, it acted as a buffer against any abuse the glass might face on the journey from the winery to wine lovers the world over.  

Though it’s making a comeback (especially in the hip wine shops of Italy’s more famous tourist traps) the fiasco’s pinnacle of popularity was about forty years ago. The problem was the packaging was almost always more exciting than the juice inside and when wine started to catch on in North America in the mid-’80s, Italian winemakers were quick to change out the bottle in favour of something more modern to match their upgraded liquid. Plus finding people desperate enough to pick that straw and weave those baskets couldn’t have been easy as the decades passed.

Still, though, the image of the fiasco is as Italian as a red-checkered tablecloth and pizza pie so it can’t be all bad.


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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