|This article does not cite any sources. (October 2010)|
The basket is typically made of sala, a swamp weed, sun-dried and blanched with sulfur. The basket provides protection during transportation and handling, and also a flat base for the container. Thus the glass bottle can have a round bottom, which is much simpler to make by glass blowing.
Fiaschi can be efficiently packed for transport, with the necks of upturned bottles safely tucked into the spaces between the baskets of upright ones.
Boccaccio mentions the fiasco in the Decameron (around 1350), as a receptacle for red wine; and administrative documents of the time mention the profession of fiascaio ("fiasco-maker"). Common fiasco sizes of the time were the quarto ("quarter", 5.7 liters), mezzo quarto ("half quarter", 2.28 liters), and metadella ("small half", 1.4 liters).
It is not known, however, when the straw covering was introduced. A 14th century painting by Tomaso da Modena shows a small rounded flask, completely wrapped with cords of some kind. Other artistic depictions were provided by Botticelli (Banchetto per Nastagio degli Onesti) and Ghirlandaio (Buonomini di San Martino and The Birth of John the Baptist). The earliest fragments of sala-covered bottles date from the 15th century.
Throughout its history, the fiasco was found on the tables of peasants and Popes alike. A decree from 1574 fixed the capacity of the mezzo quarto bottle, and established a public office that would certify the capacity of fiascos by a lead seal applied to the straw covering. However, producers soon started re-using the baskets from discarded certified flasks to dress new sub-standard bottles. To avoid this common fraud, another decree from 1618 specified that the seal was to be applied to the glass bottle itself. In 1621, yet another decree mandated sealing the bottle's mouth with molten lead. For this reason, the straw cover had to be reduced, leaving the bottle bare from the "shoulder" up -- an arrangement that persists to this day.
By the early 20th century, the manufacture of fiascos employed about 1000 glass blowers and 30,000 basket weavers. A manufacturer's association (Comissionaria Industria Fiaschi) was established at Empoli in 1933. Starting in the 1950s the manufacture of bottles and baskets was increasingly automated.
At the same time, the Bordeaux-style bottle (bordolese) was becoming more popular among wine producers, displacing the fiasco. However, a 1965 law reserved the fiasco for wines of legally controlled denomination (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), restoring the prestige of that classical container.
The straw bands can be vertical or horizontal; the former was traditionally used for fiascos destined to local markets, while the latter, with a reinforced base and more careful weaving, was chiefly used for export. The latter often used a basket of whitened straw, decorated with two stripes tinted in the Italian flag colors (red and green).
The base is a doughnut made of scrap straw, tied with fine straw blades (salicchio). Centuries ago, the basket often included one or more handles of twisted straw; they are sometimes included in present-day fiascos, often for decorative purposes only.
Fiaschi of chianti