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Ask Dr. Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.




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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Do you know what these are called? They’re Italian 1950ish, we think.

—Jak, via Twitter

Dear Jak,

Thanks for sending me a photo of what looks like a covered purple laundry basket with a ginormous wine bottle inside. That’s what’s known as a “demijohn,” or damigiana in Italian. Home fermenters might also know it as a “carboy”—it’s a big, water-cooler-shaped bottle that can hold anywhere from 5 to 15 gallons.

These large bottles with narrow, usually short necks are traditionally used either as fermentation containers or as a way to transport liquid. It’s not unusual to see them enclosed in wicker, which both offers the bottle some protection and gives it some useful handles.

Which reminds me—did you know that traditionally sized wine bottles, usually Italian, partly covered with straw baskets are called fiascos? Isn’t that a great name? The straw was used to protect the glass bottles and also give them a way to stand upright, back when wine bottles were hand-blown, with round bottoms. Nowadays, fiascos are mostly just decorative.

—Dr. Vinny

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