New Season’s Olive Oil Showdown 2012

It’s end of year awards season at the moment with every newspaper, blog and magazine under the sun listing their best wines of the year for 2012. Although many producers may covet inclusion in several of these listings, for those wineries in Tuscany that also produce olive oil (pretty much all of them), it’s a time for looking forward with the release of the new season’s oil and with that comes the title they surely most desire – The Vine Inspiration’s preferred new season’s oil. No sniggering now, I live in a very small apartment and a litre of oil takes up a lot of space, so until Ikea invent some kind of magical oil storage device that also doubles as a shoe rack, light and picture frame, I can purchase only one bottle of new season’s oil.

And so, in what has now become an annual event (see here for last year’s event), top producers from Tuscany flock to Ireland to participate in this battle for my affections. Sure there was an event the next day held in Ballymaloe to officially launch the new season’s oils where press and trade bigwigs could taste this nectar but this is merely a sideshow to the main event…I swear! Indeed, such is the lustre of this title, and much like wines for Robert Parker, I expect that it is only a matter of time before producers begin to tailor their style of oil to suit my own personal preferences; A difficult task when you see below that my olive oil preferences are…well…eclectic.

The 2012 showdown was held in the Caesar’s Palace of Dublin wine shops, 64 Wine in Glasthule, Dun Laoghaire and once again, there were three contenders for the title – Capezzana, Fontodi and Selvapiana.

Beatrice Contini Bonacossi of Capezzana and Frederico Manetti of Fontodi rushed from the tarmac at Dublin airport to introduce their oils at this tasting. Although surely weary from visits to London and Edinburgh in the previous 24 hours, Beatrice and Frederico explained how olive oil is so intrinsic to the fabric of Tuscan life. An appreciation for olive oil starts at an early age in Tuscany as at Beatrice’s daughter’s school, the children eat olive oil and bread as their mid-morning snack at least three times a week. Very similar to Ireland I thought where our children also enjoy oil at breaktimes – as part of saturated fat rich crisps that is.

IMG_0636New season’s oil is also quite a valued commodity in the local community, something that has allowed Capezzana to develop a interesting farming model where they donate a section of olive trees to a worker (or his/her family) who in turn agree to complete all of the manual maintenance and cultivating of the olive trees throughout the year. Capezzana look after all the machine driven parts of the process and once the oil is bottled in the autumn, the final quantity from that particular parcel of olives is divided 50/50 between the worker and Capezzana. Although I’m sure the practicalities of this arrangement are more nuanced than I have explained here, and the quantities involved mean that Capezzana actually buys some of the oil back from the workers so that they can commercialise it, this seems like a most efficient way of ensuring that the highest quality oil is produced year in year out as the farm workers are fundamentally invested in the entire oil making process.

On to the tasting…

Capezzana – Unfiltered, this had strong artichoke and floral aromas but also had some grassy notes. Although it was the least spicy of the samples tasted, new season’s oil always has a kick to it and this was another very strong showing for last year’s victor.

Fontodi – A fiery oil; if someone had told me they snuck a few birds eye chilies into the bottle, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It won’t be for everyone and indeed many at the tasting found it to be overpowering but I like ‘em hot.

Selvapiana – Olive oil is like wine; the key is balance. Although this oil was even more peppery than the Fontodi, its grassy character meant that the spiciness came across as more of an enjoyable hard flick of the tonsils rather than a lawnmower rolling over your tongue – a worthy winner of the title for 2012.

These oils will start to appear on the shelves of your local deli / wineshop over the coming weeks so keep an eye out for them. Well done 64 Wine for hosting such an enjoyable tasting and kudos again to Liberty Wines for creating a buzz about the new season’s oil launch.

The Vine Inspiration New Season’s Olive Oil League Table

Capezzana – 1 (2011)

Selvapiana – 1 (2012)