6 May 2016 / 09:05

Italian extra virgin olive oils. Special Awards 2016

Whoever takes a raw material and turns it into an original creation can be called 'an artist'. These are the 14 olive oil producers awarded by our EVOO guide.

Italian extra virgin olive oils. Special Awards 2016

Whoever takes a raw material and turns it into an original creation can be called 'an artist'. These are the 14 olive oil producers awarded by our EVOO guide.

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Expectations vs results

It was supposed to be easy. This year, with its good weather and healthy plants, seemed like a walk in the park. But, even if the season helped growers forget the annus horribilis of the 2014-2015 harvest, there were problems. The year showed that the future can go in one direction only, towards maniacal attention to detail, both in the groves and in the handling of olives in the mill. It showed the urgency of following the olive trees with the same attention with which serious vignerons follow their vineyards and winemaking.

Tasting hundreds and hundreds of extra-virgin olive oils while preparing the Oli d’Italia guide, here at the Gambero we had expected better performances. We were hoping for more from Sicily but also from northern Lazio. Alberto Grimelli, director of the online magazine Teatro Naturale, dedicated to the olive oil world, had the same impression. “In the end, it was an average year, with very spotty results in places like Sicily, but also in Calabria and southern Puglia.

Technical aspects of olive oil production

The greatest problems were caused by generally very high temperatures and by the weather, but also by production flow that led to crowding in the olive mills and subsequent slowdowns. “The olives often came to the mill at temperatures of 24-25° C (75-77°F). When they are processed, they reach 28-29°C (82-84°F) and there’s no managing that. Hardly cold-pressed! The oil loses polyphenols, aromas, flavors. Then fermentation can cause defects, fusty or winey sensations,” explained Giulio Scatolini, the head of the Unaprol tasting panel and a collaborator with the Gambero Rosso Oli d’Italia guide. The great flow of olives into the mills is another issue. Some have suggested raising the temperature in the crusher in which the olive paste is readied for decanter or centrifugal extraction. That would shorten pressing time. “But that would end up ruining the oil,” said Giulio. Then, there are those who utilize many crushers that can handle a great deal of olive paste, but without having an immediate outlet in the decanter. This funnel effect also creates problems and oxidation. These are all technical aspects that, as you can read in the following pages in which we present the 14 producers that received Special Awards in Oli d’Italia 2016, require great investments in time, energy and money. Products that are qualitatively very superior deserve recognition and fair pricing, a truth that in Italy is not properly appreciated.

Experts' opinion

Certainly the first thing required is the product, extra-virgin olive oil. “This year, Italy will produce 400,000 tons of olive oil,” Grimelli explained. “That’s much better than the 200,000 of last year, but much less compared to 600,000 twenty years ago. That’s because olive groves in Italy have been abandoned. They don’t produce any more. In Tuscany alone, a region considered the queen of extra-virgin oil, 27% of the olive groves have been abandoned. Italy has to go back to producing. The country’s greatest advantage on the global market is the biodiversity of the Italian olive patrimony. There are almost 600 different cultivars, of which at least 300 are in full production. It’s an amazing heritage, especially today, when identity is everything.”

Sos temperature: keeping olives cold

Temperature during processing: that’s the real crash test on the difficult road towards absolute quality. Controlling the temperature of the olives is essential. If you start with a resource that is already hot, there are no technologies that can cool it during pressing. “They have to be cooled first,” Giulio Scatolini told us. “With Professor Maurizio Servili, we measured these steps and the effects of refrigeration.” Thirty quintals of olives of the same exact lot were divided into three parts. One part was milled immediately after harvesting. Another part spent a night in a refrigerating room at 8-10°C/46-50°F. The third spent two nights refrigerated. “The olives that were refrigerated were far better, in both chemical tests and in tastings,” said Scatolini. “Those pressed immediately came next, and the olives refrigerated for two nights came last.” The cold treatment is one already in use by two of the olive growers we awarded, Titone in Sicily and Decimi in Umbria.

Special Awards

Best Lightly Fruity

Monocultivar Grignano | Sisure| Veneto
Mezzane di Sotto (VR) | 4 hectares | 2,000 trees | 25 quintals oil | inert gas | pressing within 12 hours | olive mill | www.sisure.it| exports to Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden

Noemi Pizzighella, 21 years old, is the daughter of Stefano, Sisure’s founder. Stefano installed his own olive press in 1997. Noemi said, “We can control the entire production. Toscana Mori machinery allows us to work at our best. We have a hammer press. The olive paste is stored under nitrogen and held at a low temperature to conserve aromas. After two hours, pressing the paste twice, the oil is transferred to the decanter, once again protected by nitrogen”. Although the award is for a lightly fruity oil, Noemi considers it fairly strong. “Our German clients love it for its powerful personality, its peppery quality and aromas of cut grass. It perfectly expresses this territory between Lake Garda and the hills of Veneto”.

The oil: This Monocultivar Grignano is the best lightly fruity olive oil in Italy. It surprised us for its marriage of delicacy and complexity. On the nose, a light note of tomatoes, followed by vegetal sensations of valerian and sweetness that suggests pine nuts, all of it very delicate. Extreme elegance and coherence on the palate, with a return to aromas of pine nuts on the finish. Bitter and peppery sensations are mild and balanced.

Best Medium Fruity

L’Olio Monocultivar Intosso | Trappeto di Caprafico |Abruzzo |

Casoli (CH) | 18 hectares | 5,000 trees | 250 quintals oil | olive mill | inert gas | pressing within 3 hours | www.trappetodicaprafico.com | exports to EU, USA, Japan, Canada, Latin America

Intosso is an historic cultivar and the olive groves are centuries old. The youngest is 80 years old. The cultivar grows in a small area in the foothills of the Maiella. Casoli is its center, and the soil is poor and calcareous”, Tommaso Masciantonio told us. “Until the 1950s, it was only a table olive, but since the 1970s, thanks to improvements in transport, we make oil. The yield is quite low. Modern technology helps us maintain interesting aromas and flavors. We harvest in early October. Temperatures are never above 25°C. We use a hammer mill, and pressing, in hermetically sealed tanks, lasts under 30 minutes. No nitrogen – we would lose aromas. Then the oil is stored in cisterns under nitrogen”.

The oil: Intosso has a multi-faceted aromatic nose, vegetable scents with notes of cardoon and tomato, evolving into fresh almond. Elegant and deep in the mouth, it displays wild herb sensations such as valerian and oregano. Bitter and peppery notes are present and balanced. Great performance of a medium-fruity oil.

Monocultivar Olivastra Seggianese | Frantoio Franci | Tuscany Castel del Piano (GR) | 65 hectars – 15,000 trees | 1.500 quintals oil | pressing within 24 hours| inert gas | www.frantoiofranci.it| exports to 40 countries (EU, USA, Japan, Ireland, Australia)

The cultivar is typical of the mountainous Amiata zone, rustic, almost wild. It is the only one that grows at 800 meters. Many call the olive round and ugly”, Giorgio Franci admitted, “but it expresses great notes of artichoke with a particular hint of rose petal. It has great longevity, probably because it has many fatty acids, and stays healthy for a long time, although not rich in polyphenols. This is the one that represents us best: Seggianese is only found here. I call this oil a seducer. Both experts and beginners appreciate it. Recently we found an intriguing pairing, with French oysters. The oil brings out the aroma and flavor of the oyster, winning over even its French producer”.

The oil: Seggianese keeps on getting cleaner, more original and better. Franci is the king of this cultivar, attaining perfect quality levels. Aromatic, varied, full of details: tomato leaf, bay leaf, wild garlic, moss, cypress, lemon zest. Polite as it enters the mouth, is is soon full of personality. Earthy and mineral finish, another surprise.

Best Intensely Fruity

Monocultivar Cima di Mola | Intini| Puglia

Alberobello (BA) | 8 hectares | 2,000 trees | olive mill | inert gas | pressing within 6 hours | 60 quintals oil | oliointini.it | exports to USA Japan, Sweden, Belgium, Germany

The Cima cultivar risked extinction before I decided to restore it seven years ago. My grandfather’s stories touched my heart”, Pietro Intini told us. “We didn’t know that the oil could have such high harvesting costs. They were centuries-old trees that dominated in the 1930s and 1940s. Now Olivastra and Coratina prevail. Cima di Mola traditionally was harvested late, at the end of November, to get the highest yield. I realized we had to move it back at least two months, with a 7-8% yield of very small olives. Working carefully, I can get oil that has as much as 1,300 mg/kilo of polyphenols and an impressive sensorial bitter and peppery profile”.

The oil: Generous and articulated nose, clean and fresh sensations of green vegetable, cut grass, almonds and artichoke. In the mouth, exuberant balsamic notes, great personality, echoing the sensations enjoyed in the nose, completing them with elegant peppery notes that outweigh the bitter tone without altering overall balance. Exceptionally pleasant and coherent.

Pria Grossa Monocultivar Colombaia | Domenico Ruffino| Liguria
Finale Ligure (SV) | 3 hectares | 860 trees | 15 quintals oil |inert gas| olive mill | pressing within 1 hour | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | exports to EU, USA, Japan

Isn’t it unusual to win for intensity in a region famous for the sweetness of its olive oil? Domenico Ruffino explained. “Colombaia is an historic cultivar with a unique genotype and trees that are 700 to 900 years old. The cultivar was brought here by the Benedictine monks in 1125. They introduced olive trees, building kilometers and kilometers of dry walls and terraces. Colombaia, though, was largely replaced in Liguria during the 1500s by Taggiasca, which seemed to resist drought better and give more standard production. Colombaia was left only here, in Varigotti. I studied my trees with the help of the University of Milano, and now treat them like normal irrigated orchards. Harvesting early, I can produce a great, intense oil, rich in antioxidants. It’s an environmental heritage and biodiversity that’s worth saving”.

The oil: Aromatic profile with scents of conifers and Mediterranean scrub, myrtle leave and sage. Splendid balsamic and spicy notes on the palate, suggesting green peppercorns, pine needles and arugula. Persistent, peppery note. Extraordinary product that delights at each taste.

The Best Organic

Evo Bio | Titone | Sicilia

Trapani | 19 hectares | 6,000 trees | 100 quintals oil | pressing within 6 hours| olive mill | inert gas | www.titone.it| exports to EU, Switzerland, Ukraine, USA, Canada, Japan, Brazil

Our blend includes all the estate’s cultivars, olives harvested very early, at the beginning of October”, Antonella Titone explained. “As organic farmers, to combat fruit fly we use traps that our father perfected many years ago. They contain water and sardines. We put them out in March or April and monitor them to reduce the population early. To farm organically means to prevent, so efficient pruning and serious, important fertilization with pruning residues and our own compost is essential. We aim at internal biodiversity: bees, chickens, pheasants, geese and ducks. They poultry eat insects, produce fertilizer. We chill the olives between harvest and pressing to avoid stress in the 4-5 hours they are stored, so we obtain an aromatic oil with very low levels of peroxide. Every year we strive to improve”.

The oil: An elegant oil, intensely fruity, mostly Nocellara del Belìce olives with decreasing amounts of Cerasuola, Biancolilla and Coratina. Fresh and fragrant nose, with fine green notes of artichoke leaves, sage, nettles and white pepper. Elegant and lively on the palate, with bitter and peppery notes in harmony.

Best Olive Mill

Tre Colonne | Puglia

Giovinazzo (BA) | 25 hectares | 6,000 trees | 300 quintals oil | pressing within 12 hours | inert gas | www.letrecolonne.com| exports to USA, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Canada, Croatia, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria

I’m a newcomer. I’ve only had this olive mill for three years, even if I have produced olives for 27 years. This year we worked two identical lines, one for others, and one for our own farm, to avoid possible contamination with the olives of others”, Salvatore Stallone said. What are the critical elements in the mill? “Essentially, cleanliness and maniacal attention to detail, starting from washing the olives, which is rare here. Then, care in deciding how to handle each lot of olives. Pressing determines the aromas. We separate oil and paste in a vacuum. Filtering and storing are under nitrogen. Nothing is left to chance”. How do you mill? “We have four systems: disks, hammers, two types of knives and rollers, plus a de-pitter. Ogliarola doesn’t call for disks. Coratina milled with rollers gives a different bitterness than the more natural one attained by knives. With high polyphenols, you do a more energetic pressing. Everything matters”.

The oil: Intensely fruity, generous nose with notes of chicory, arugula and Mediterranean herbs. Exuberant, with sensations of artichoke, almond, green peppercorns. Amazing bitter note, strong and elegant, followed by balanced pepperiness that fills the mouth and lasts. Clean on the finish. Perfect, pleasant, coherent.

Best Estate

Fonte di Foiano | Toscana
Castagneto Carducci (LI) | 25 hectares | 6,500 trees | 2,000 quintals oil| inert gas | olive mill| pressing within 2 hours | www.fontedifoiano.it| exports to 20 countries (Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, USA, Canada China)

Paolo Di Gaetano and his brother Simone own the property. Paolo told us: “Our estate was founded in 1979. My father had a beauty salon in Milano, but decided to change his life. He bought an abandoned piece of land. The trees had been totally neglected. We restored everything and installed our first press 26 years ago. Today we have a Mori oil mill, with a separator and a vertical mixer. We focus on immediate filtration of the product to stabilize and conserve it. We are near the sea, so are subject to fruit fly. We monitor constantly, intervene if we must, and harvest early. This year we began on September 28. The harvest and pressing differ for each variety. Leccino and Pendolino are first. Each lot of olives has its own velocity for pressing and decanting. Every year is a new challenge. Sometimes the cultivars need softer processing, other times not”.

The oil:

95 | Grand Cru | Frantoio, Moraiolo, Maurino, Picholine
94 | 1979 | Frantoio, Moraiolo

87 | Riflessi | Maurino, Pendolino

Best Buy

Gold Ernico Bio | Ernici | Lazio

Vico nel Lazio (FR) | 162 hectares | 10,000 trees| 16 quintals oil |inert gas | olive mill| pressing within 12 hours | www.olivicoladegliernici.it | exports to France, Germany, USA, Canada

We are in Alta Ciociaria, 700 meters above sea level. The groves are mostly terraced on rocky soil”. Aldo Mastracci is one of the partners in the estate. “The microclimate is breezy and dry, under the Ernici mountain chain. We were established in 2012, as a ‘cultural olive mill’. We pay attention to communication and instruction about the quality of olive oil, organize courses for amateurs and professionals, collaborate with universities. This is agriculture, but we have a cultural message. We restored 12,000 trees on about 200 hectares of abandoned land. Wild herbs grow under the olives and enrich the aromatic spectrum of the oil with almond, tomato, wild herb sensations. It is a unique product of the terroir. We work by hand and are organic. It is impossible to use big machinery here”. But how can you keep your prices low? “It helps that we’re a young company. We price just not to lose money, just to keep going”.

The oil: Moraiolo (70%) and Itrana: Gold is balanced, complex and full of character. Intense, elegant fruitiness on the nose with notes of freshly-cut grass, artichoke leaf and balsamic herbs. Artichoke sensations return in the mouth, along with green tomato, eucalyptus and cypress, and last into a long, full-bodied finish.

Best Monocultivar

Fra Bernardo Monocultivar Ascolana Tenera | Conventino di Monteciccardo | Marche

Monteciccardo (PU) | 18 hectars | 7,600 trees | 140 quintals oil | olive mill| pressing within 6 hours | inert gas | www.il-conventino.it| exports to Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Brazil, Japan

It takes precise and demanding work. Making oil with the Ascolana Tenera cultivar is not like producing table olives”, Mattia Marcantoni said. “Harvesting starts early, October 5 at the latest. The olives have to be green to preserve the typical tomato aroma, not too ripe. The color change to reddish-black must be below 10%, or the aromas are too mature, unpleasant. In 2007, we waited until October 15, and we had to do manual selection and discard olives that were too red, or else risk ruining the oil. In the mill, we first throw away branches and leaves, then wash the olives. Usually we work with a hammer mill, but this year we used a knife mill to attain a better balance between fruity and bitter elements. Mixing takes place in an inert atmosphere with a maximum of 4-5% oxygen to avoid oxidation and a loss of polyphenols. The temperature is never above 24°C. The decanter avoids the separator phase. The olive paste is never in contact with the discarded element, to attain cleaner, clearer aromas. Controlling all these critical points makes a difference”.

The oil: This monovarietal Ascolana Tenera is a true superstar. It releases intense aromas of artichoke, beefsteak tomatoes, aromatic herbs and other lively green notes. On the palate, surprising hints of radish, arugula and roots. Middle to high peppery and medium bitter sensations. Excellent oil, full of life and freshness.

Best Blend

Raro | Madonna dell'Olivo | Campania

Serre (SA) | 6.50 hectares | 2,050 trees | 40 quintals oil | olive mill | pressing within 3 hours | inert gas | www.madonnaolivo.it| exports to Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Sweden, USA, Japan

Ravece is a typical cultivar of Irpinia, and grows here, too, while Rotondella is typical of the Salerno hills. They have herbaceous notes in common: in Ravece, tomato stands out. Rotondella brings a green fruitiness with great vegetal sensations of freshly-cut grass, mint and aromatic herbs like basil besides artichoke”. Antonino Mennella goes on: “The oil was excellent this year, with .15 acidity and under 2 of peroxide, thanks to pressure washing that allowed for manual selection and fast drying that reduced bacteria”. Why this blend, we ask. “Two extraordinary varieties are even better together. We only work monocultivars, but the perfect understanding of the single cultivar also allowed us to blend well. I love Rotondella, but Ravece completes it. The great expert, Luigi Veronelli, believe only in monocultivars, but, armed with our knowledge, we went ahead with blends”.

The oil: An extraordinary performance for Raro. An equal blend of local Rotondella and Ravece cultivars, it has an elegant and complex aromatic weave of tomato leaf, arugula, nettles and herbaceous sensations. On the palate, aromas return, plus notes of green peppercorns and a peppery sensation similar to ginger.

Emozione | Decimi | Umbria

Bettona (PG) | 13 hectares | 3,300 trees | 70 quintals oil | olive mill | inert gas| pressing within 4 hours | www.decimi.it| exports to

Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Finland, USA, Japan, China

This year, with healthy, beautiful olives, I could finally make what I aspired to, olive juice. I also worked with the Mori company technicians to improve our machinery. I inserted an instrument between mill and the decanter. It’s called a tip, which, with vibration, prepares for the decanter work, reducing it from 30 to 10 or 15 minutes. This innovation leads to a future with decanters. The oil will be less oxidized and stressed. It will be more fragrant, which coincides with the extraction of beneficial substances. Extreme technology, backed by experimentation and hard work, allows us to make great extra-virgin oil. The challenge excites me, as does the aroma of oil and that marvelous peppery sensation that stays in the mouth for 3 minutes after tasting”.

The oil:Emozione - Moraiolo (45%), Frantoio (30), San Felice (20) and a little Leccino – is a blend that expresses strength and sweetness, the characteristics of its region. Powerful and elegant, it has aromas of conifers, lettuce, resin and lemon zest. The aromatic profile continues on a monumental palate with harmonious bitter and peppery tones of astonishing depth.

Best DOP

Don Pasquale Monocultivar Itrana Dop Colline Pontine | Cosmo Di Russo | Lazio

Gaeta (LT) | 12 hectares | 4,000 trees | 30 quintals oil |inert gas | pressing within 8 hours| www.olivadigaeta.it| exports to England, Germany

Our Caieta label comes from the early harvest. Our DOP comes from olives harvested from mid-October to November. We produce and work table olives also. The difficulty is synchronizing the two different processes. This year we divided the work into two lines, oil and table, to avoid delays and conflicts. We take pride in our Gaeta and Itrana table olives. We wanted our oil to be at the same level. Table olives are profitable, but olive oil is gratifying. The olives come from the hills of Itri, but the 900 trees we have in Gaeta go into the Caieta label. After deciding to harvest early, we began in early October in Gaeta, which, being on the sea, has higher temperatures. In Itri, we could wait until mid-October. We are trying to improve, and this award simulates us to continue”.

The oil: Splendidly elegant and harmonious interpretation of DOP Colline Pontine in Don Pasquale. Fresh, elegant balsamic note more present than in the farm’s other products. Pleasant vegetal notes of tomato and apple in the mouth.

Best Territorial Performance | Basilicata

Matera (MT) | 72 hectares | 2,700 trees | 30 quintals oil | olive mill | pressing within 6 hours | inert gas|This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | exports to Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, England, Japan, USA

My estate dates back to 1960 when my father invested my mother’s dowry. They made fun of him, said he had bought rocks. But it was an ideal habitat for olive trees”. Giovanni Marvulli told us a family story. “In 2006, I lost my father and realized that expenses were more than earnings. I tried to do better and in 2009, I began bottling. I won an award in Verona, but understood we needed to improve. Before having my own Mori Tuscan-made mill, I went back and forth to San Mauro Forte (300 km a day) to press the olives after the harvest. A great deal has changed in the field, too – earlier harvest, storing, rapidity of pressing. The pioneer in quality is Angelo Valluzzi with his Majatica. Although he has traditional production, he is a quality fanatic. I feel in sync with him. It would be easier if I were in Tuscany. Products from the south don’t have the same reputation. That’s why your award to Basilicata pleases me. Evidently something is improving here. But to survive, we have to export to northern Italy and abroad, where the conception of quality and the willingness to pay for it is different than here in Matera”.

The Tre Foglie (Three Leaves) award winners in the region

Cenzino Monocultivar Coratina Bio | Marvulli | Matera

Monocultivar Majatica Bio | La Majatica | San Mauro Forte (MT) | www.lamajatica.it

Torre Cantore Monocultivar Faresana | Oleificio Trisaia | Rotondella (MT) | www.oliotrisaia.com

Monocultivar Coratina Bio | Cantine del Notaio | Ripacandida (PZ) | www.cantinedelnotaio.com

Olio Extravergine di Oliva | Frantoio Oleario Biscione | Cancellara (PZ) | www.frantoiobiscione.it

by Stefano Polacchi




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