You rate olive oil according to coughs. At least, that’s how you rate olive oil if it’s really excellent olive oil and if you’re an olive oil aficionado. I learned this fact from Silvano, who served as my guide when I visited Fontodi, the venerable Chianti estate. If there’s a man who should know olive oil, it’s Silvano.
Olive oil is as ubiquitous, essential and telling as wine or bread in Italy. I imagine that the same holds true in other prized olive oil capitals of the world—Spain, for instance—but I speak from experience in Italy. Just about every winemaker also makes olive oil. It’s a painstaking process that requires a lot of manual labor and no small amount of finesse. Makers of olive oil take great pride in how long it takes for the olive to go from tree to press; the longer the time, the more bitter the oil. Il Palazzone prides itself on getting the olives from tree to pressed oil in a matter of hours. A look at the estate’s webpage on its olive oil gives you a fairly comprehensive idea of precisely how exacting the creation of olive oil is.
The best thing about olive oil is that it, like pickling, makes olives palatable. I once picked and ate an olive off a tree. Later, I told Laura Gray, the Estate Manager at Il Palazzone, that I had.
“Did you regret it?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Immediately and for about a half hour thereafter.”
In their raw, unpressed, unfermented state, olives are rich in oleuropein, a phenolic compound that makes eating a raw olive not unlike stuffing your mouth with antiperspirant. It is disgusting. So disgusting, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine that something as delicious as olive oil could come from something that inherently repellent. Jonathan Swift famously said, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” One could easily say the same about the first man who squished a bunch of olives in the hopes of making something palatable.
But what a luscious, pellucid, peppery, gorgeous thing a squished olive (or several thousand squished olives) can make. Like wine, olive oil is the product of both where its raw materials grow, and how its maker treats those raw materials. Unlike wine, olive oil is best very fresh. The fresher it is, the more aromatic. A fine olive oil glows an incandescent green. It seems like something that belongs at the bottom of the sea. It’s otherworldly and ethereal, as much as it’s earthy and visceral.
The visceral kick, or the cough, that accompanies olive oil comes from the TRPA1, a cluster of proteins at the back of your throat. NPR has an interesting piece on TRPA1, extra virgin olive oil (known, apparently, as EVOO, which looks to me like the name of a villainous organization from Get Smart or Austin Powers); scientists hypothesize that sitting at the back of your throat, TRPA1 is the last best place to alert you to breathing in noxious fumes. If you cough a lot, you’re going to get out of there. Last January, the New York Times ran a dubious piece on the spurious nature of Italian olive oil; they had to retract much of it. My rule is to buy Italian olive oil labeled “organic” or “bio”; this oil has undergone such stringent testing that it has to be what it says it is. Plus, you can’t argue with pesticide-free oil.
Interestingly, this irritation might also be the source of EVOO’s salubrious anti-inflammatory effects. In any case, it’s absolutely why Fontodi’s olive oil firmly sits in the three-cough camp. It’s a deeply peppery, profoundly bold, entirely full-throttle olive oil. It is not shy. It is not demure. It takes no prisoners. And you will love it.
Anytime I am with Sergio and we entertain IWM friends or clients, the first wine we open is always something that bubbles. Whether it’s Champagne, Prosecco or Spumante, nothing gets the party started like glorious sparkling wine. One of my favorites in IWM’s portfolio is the affordable and extremely versatile Brut Rosé of Fantinel, a wine that pairs with literally everything and absolutely does not break the bank. After the sparkling wine, Sergio and I inevitably move towards a red, and as a second favorite for today’s picks, I chose Montevertine’s Rosso. This lean and structured entry-level wine of is a powerhouse of fruit; this bottling is also sublime drinkable due to the warmth of 2011. Enjoy!
Fantinel Brut Rosé NV $19.80
Friuli – Pinot Nero, Chardonnay
A beautiful nose or dark berries is what will get you first; then comes the tickle of the bubbles on your nose as you bring the glass to your mouth. Minerality follows, and with it, great acidity and elegant structure. The restaurateur turned winemaking estate, Fantinel, hits the sparkling wine nail on the head with this Rosé. I would drink it at breakfast, lunch and dinner—it’s the perfect wine.
Montevertine Rosso 2011 $54.99
Toscana – Sangiovese, Colorino, Canaiolo
Montevertine’s dedication to traditional winemaking methods and unwavering loyalty to the Sangiovese grape has placed it in a high position in the Italian wine world—when we drink Montevertine, it’s that dedication that we seek and that quality of wine we are willing to pay for. If you’re a fan of Sangiovese and prefer the traditional method, this is the wine for you. Open this 2011, let it breathe for an hour, and enjoy it with Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico or a Straccetti con Rucola e Parmiggiano this summer, fall or winter.
This week was all about the people who grow the fruits and vegetables we put on our tables and in our glasses. We began with an exploration of Montepuliciano, the winemaking region in Toscana (not the grape), with a focus on the unsung Vino di Nobile Montepulciano. This week ended with a lovely, easy recipe for Fava Bean and Prosciutto Salad, a dish brought to David Bertot’s courtesy of the produce at the Union Square Green Market. In between, we read about Monastero Suore Cistercensi Coenobium 2012, a thrilling skin-contact white that’s made by nuns and guided by Giampiero Bea, one of the leaders of the Italian natural wine movement. And perhaps most important, Jessica Catelli wrote about a Kickstarter project for affordable agricultural drone technology to help farmers farm more efficiently (thirteen days to go but only $8,165 raised, fingers remain crossed).
Will set the tone with his Monday’s Expert selection of a pair of Barone Pizzini Franciacorta wines–this producer was first in this Italian sparkling wine designation to go organic. Garrett Kowalsky explored the wonders of Piemontese wines with a delightful pair–a prime Dolcetto and a serious Barolo. David Gwo hunted for wine-buying deals in Rioja, and found two beautiful wines from La Rioja Alta that any enthusiast would enjoy. And Robin Kelley O’Connor selected a Prosecco and a Brunello from one of our favorite organic producers, Cupano.
Give a toast to those who tend the fields; their work keeps us happy, healthy and whole.
Posted on | July 24, 2014 | Written by David Bertot | No Comments
Having an office in the Union Square area of Manhattan most certainly has its perks. Among these perks are a myriad of shopping, bars, restaurants, and activities, but by far my favorite feature is the Union Square Green Market. It is incredibly inspiring to find crates overflowing with beautiful, seasonal produce and coolers full of incredibly flavorful meats from over 200 local farmers. It is a privilege to know the farmer who grew/raised the food that you eat, and this market is ever deserving of cult status with foodies. This recipe is inspired by the Green Market and this season’s fava beans, a staple on Italian tables.
The dish below is perfectly paired with Sandro Fay Sassella 2007. The bright, clean wine is comparable (and better in my opinion) to an entry-level, high-quality Bourgogne, but with more structure and a bit more acid that perfectly cuts through this simple, delicious dish. At just under $30 a bottle for Nebbiolo from Lombardia, it is an excellent value. The wine is ideal with the dish’s fresh fava bean flavor, the depth of the herbs, the nuttiness of the walnuts, and mouth feel of the oil, and the saltiness of the San Daniele Prosciutto. Even in the middle of the summer, this wine served in the mid to low 60 degree range is very refreshing with its light, elegant body.
1 pound fava beans
1/4 pound San Daniele Prosciutto
5 tablespoons walnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh sage (or whatever fresh herbs you have on hand)
2 tablespoons best quality extra-virgin olive oil
24 month aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, shaved
Shell, blanch, and take off the waxy exterior of the fava beans. Fava bean shells are big, dense, fibrous and yielding of few beans, so find a friend and have a good talk—and maybe a glass of wine—as you do this.
Combine the walnuts and oil in a food processor.
Thinly slice the radishes using a very sharp knife.
Chop sage (or any favorite herbs on hand), and combine with the fava beans, walnut and oil mixture, and the radishes. Put the slices of prosciutto on a serving dish, top with the fava bean mixture, and drizzle with a squeeze of lemon juice, some high quality extra-virgin olive oil, and a few shaved pieces of Parmigiano Reggiano.
The wines of Tuscany offer immediate enjoyment on nearly every occasion. They are often forward wines whose consistent approachability has attracted wine lovers the world over. Piemonte, on the other hand, makes wines that are a bit more complex and difficult to grasp. Piemonte wines often need time to age before their true beauty shows, and average wine lovers might not be willing to give these wines the time they need if they have never had Piemonte wines at their peak. But some wines are very worth waiting for, and a little bit of patience will go a very long way. Today, I bring you two stunning selections from Piemonte that might not be ready right now, but with time they will blow your mind.
When most people think of Dolcetto, they think of bright, fruity and simple wines. In many cases that is true, and it is also delicious. However, the wines of Chionetti are quite different. If you were to tour the region of Piemonte and ask everyone what their favorite Barolo is, people would all have varying answers. If you were to ask what their favorite Dolcetto is there would only be one, and Quinto Chionetti makes it. Chock full of black cherry and earth, this wine exhibits plump fruit balanced with chewy tannins. It just might be the only Dolcetto you buy that has no expiration date. Drink now and for the next decade. Yes, the next decade.
If you were to consider Piemonte as a game of blackjack, you might follow my train of thought. Dolcetto would be the wily and useful deuce, Barbera would be the flexible Ace (either an eleven or a one, as you needed), Barbaresco the Queen, and, of course, Barolo would be the King. Therefore, I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of the most iconic wines from the region in this offer. Granbussia has time and time again showed that it is a cut above the rest and in a monumental vintage like ’06 we see it shine brightly. Drink 2018 to 2043.
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