Last Friday I was invited to participate in an olive oil tasting group to decide on which olive oils were to enter the 2013/2013 Olive Oil Yearbook for the Valencian Community held by one of the most established wine and spirit cellars in Valencia, Navarro Bodeguero.
This wasn't my first time on a tasting panel but it was the first time that my decision and judgement could influence the results. So I felt quite a bit of responsibility. Would it be my scoring that kicked some local oil out of this years selection? Actually it was quite odd, a Brit participating in something so very Spanish and I was amazed that everyone welcomed me with open arms. There were no funny faces or comments like "who is this foreigner coming to judge our oil, from our land?" "British?" "They don't even grow olives there?".... not in the slightest, in fact it was a very gratifying experience to feel accepted by the prominent local experts and really feel that my opinon was greatly appreciated.
Around thirty oils had been pre-selected by the cellar and the The Valencian Designation of Origin. Our objective was to rate the oil, define it's flavor and aroma notes and effectively certify that it should appear in the yearbook.
We were taken back to a quiet room in the cellar to calmly taste our way through the oils in two sessions. When I saw all the oils that had to tasted I knew we had out work cut out for us, I had never tasted so many oils in one go. I eventually judges 16 oils in two sessions of 8. The panel was slit in two initially to see if any oils should be immediately discarded, unfortunately 6 oils were. & oils that were beautifully packaged and one would have thought that they would excellent oils by looking at them but in fact were fermented and dirty oils. It just goes to show that there are still producers out there that fill their bottles with defective oils. Just a few weeks ago in the New York International Olive Oil competition around 750 extra virgin olive oils were judged from the around the world and 56% of them were disqualified for not being of extra virgin quality. So what is happening? Are the producers just hoping they will get away with it? Or don't they have a clue what they are doing? Who knows? But it's a shame that this still goes on…they are confident the consumer can't tell the difference.. And the truth is, the average consumer can't, so they get away with it. But what makes them think they can walk away with a medal in an International competition? After all if you don't think you have a possibility of winning something why would you spend 250$ and present your oil for judging? It amazes me. I bet a few producers wished I hadn’t turned up. To be honest I am very strict when it comes to quality and a firm believer that what you put on the bottle must be inside it.
Anyway that’s enough complaining, on with the oils! To be honest I wasn’t really surprised my most of the oils, the majority had a pleasant aroma in nose but then that didn’t translate to the mouth, no flavour, or if it did it was a very non-eventful or unbalanced, being too peppery, as some of the samples from the Alicante-Alcoy area, which harvest the Blanqueta variety, were. This is a complicated variety to produce, as it is very peppery when fresh, to the extent that it becomes uncomfortable and if you aren’t knowledgeable to the fact it might even alarm you. After several hours of tasting, bags of bread sticks to clean the mouth and about three green apples to neutralise the taste buds, there were three clear winners and when I say clear winners, I mean they stood out by a mile over the rest. They were Cavada “La Maestria 12”, El Mil de Poiag and Tot Oli. The first one was a truly fantastic olive oil, perfectly balanced between bitterness and pepperiness as well having an explosive aroma of fruit which only got better when you tasted it. This is a blended oil which curiously blended 4 different varieties; Picual, Borriolenca, Serrana de Espadán and Arbequina. A very difficult blend to get right, as it is extremely easy for one variety to over power another, but it was just perfect. Not surprising they won a gold medal in New York a few weeks back. The second is made from the Farga variety and harvested in Castellon. The olives are taken from certified +1000 year old trees and I can assure you it is not easy to get quality oil from trees that are so old. Although not as fruity and complex as Cavada it is still remarkable oil given that fact that the olive trees are so old. Lastly but not least was Tot Oli and fantastic oil made from Arbequina and delicate oil when it comes to pungency but very fruity and well balanced, easily one of the best Arbequinas I have tried this year. Unfortunately these oils won’t be easy to find as they are mainly exported to gourmet stores around the world such as Harrods and Selfridges, so for once you will probably have a better chance of finding these oils in the UK than in Spain!
Other popular articles by Ian Mackay ©
Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - Introduction-Part 1
Go to article: The World of Olive Oil- Olive Oil Categories-Part 2
Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - How to recognise an authentic extra virgin olive oil - Part 3
Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - Olive Oil Tasting - Part 4
Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - True Virginity - Part 5
Go to article: Can I fry with Oilve Oil?
Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - The perfect Crime Scene - Part 6
Go to article: The World of Olive Oil - Harvesting Olives - Part 7
Go to article: The Red Tuna of Amadraba - A Millenial Tradition