Despite experiencing one of the worst olive harvests in recent history, Italy maintained its position as the second-most-awarded country at the 2015 New York International Olive Oil Competition last week, just behind Spain.
Italian producers were stung by a series of challenges during the 2014/2015 harvest season, chief among them a bacterial blight that wiped out around 40 percent of production and led to a more than doubling of the price of Italian extra virgin. Many Italian producers were not able to produce any olive oil at all this season.
Nevertheless, some of those who were able to withstand the environmental onslaught managed to produce wonderful extra virgin olive oils.
The bad harvest caused a reduced Italian presence at NYIOCC with 100 entries compared to 141 in 2014, while the competition saw an overall record number of entries from 25 different countries. That didn’t mean poor results: This year Italy took home 43 awards, while Spain received 73 and the United States 39.
See more: The Best Italian Olive Oils for 2015
From Italy hailed 5 of the 18 Best in Class winners. Moreover, the international panel of expert tasters, led by Dr. Giuseppe Di Lecce (responsible for Food Chemistry Department at Eurofins, Italy), Ms. Eleftheria Germanaki (panel supervisor for the Laboratory of Organoleptic Assessment of Virof, and responsible for the Greek Quality Systems National System of Accreditation) and Dr. Brígida Jiménez Herrera (director of the Center IFAPA de Cabra in Spain) awarded Italian products with 30 Gold and 8 Silver Awards in the North Hemisphere category.
The 5 Best in Class Italian olive oils were: Agrestis Nettaribleo Pdo Bio by Agrestis Cooperative (Sicily), Electum by La Selvotta (Abruzzo), Fonte di Foiano 1979 by Oliveto Fonte di Foiano (Tuscany), Origini by OlioCru (Trentino), and Villa Zottopera by Azienda Agrobiologica Rosso (Sicily).
Agrestis Nettaribleo is an organic extra virgin belonging to the Monti Iblei Pdo in Sicily, made by the Agrestis company. The farm was established in 2003 by the two partners with their families, to exploit the incredible quality of olives growing near Buccheri, a small Sicilian village in the Iblean mountains.
The village gained the media’s attention this year for the number of awarded companies and products originating there. Today Agrestis counts 30 hectares with 12,000 olive trees; they produce five different extra virgin olive oils and a number of other products such as olive patés and table olives.
Awarded Best in Class in the medium fruity, monovarietal, organic category in New York, Nettaribleo was one of Italy’s most awarded extra virgin olive oils in 2015. According to the NYIOOC jury, “its intensive flavour rich in grassy scents and green tomatoes make it excellent in combination with various dishes like: salads, mixed greens, legumes, soup, roasted white and red meat dishes.”
Electum is one among eight extra virgin olive oils made by the Sputore family-run company La Selvotta near Vasto, in a beautiful area of Abruzzo not far from the Adriatic Sea beaches. The farm welcomes guests in a cozy country house. While the Sputore — who also produce wine, preserved vegetables and chocolate — usually focus on single variety oils, Electum is an harmonious blend made by the olives of Nebbio, Gentile di Chieti and Leccino varieties from the century-old trees growing on the company’s lands. It was awarded Best in Class in delicate fruity, blend, conventional category for its delicate aroma with pleasant notes of fresh grass and green almond which are confirmed by tasting the oil, with neat artichoke notes and a delicate green tomato and sweet almond taste.
Fonte di Foiano 1979 is a blend of hand picked olives (60 percent Frantoio and 40 percent Moraiolo) harvested in October from a selected cru of the Foiano olive-yards in Castagneto Carducci, in the lovely countryside near the famous “wine Mecca” of Bolgheri.
The farm was set up by the Milan-based owners in the Seventies as a country retreat recovering the century-old olive groves where Moraiolo, Frantoio, Gremignolo and Leccino trees grew. Their sons then improved it over the years, by planting new olive trees of different varieties (the local Pendolino, Maurino, Leccio del Corno, Santa Caterina and those typical of other areas such as Coratina, Ascolana and Picholine).
In 1990 the first inner mill was built, in order to obtain the best extra virgin olive oil. The Fonte di Foiano 1979 was awarded Best in Class in Robust, Blend, Conventional category for its charming notes of artichokes, green grass and tomato leaf, and for the well-balanced bitterness and pungency with a long-lasting flavor.
Origini is produced by OlioCRU, a small “consortium” born by the union between the historic Toniolli mill and the young Ca’ Blanca farm recently established by Mario Morandini in Trentino, in the picturesque regional shores of the Garda Lake. The olives of Casaliva, Frantoio and Leccino varieties are grown on the morainal hills near the Arco Castle and on the Mount Brione slopes in the Riva del Garda territory.
In recent years, interesting experiments have been made blending the local varieties with Southern ones such as Carolea and Coratina. Thanks to the “Mediterranean-like” climate of this peculiar area in Northern Italy, and to the utmost attention which the olive trees are lavished upon following the organic agriculture’s rules, the OlioCRU’s products are widely appreciated.
Origini — awarded Best in Class in Robust, Monovarietal, Organic category — is obtained with depitted Casaliva olives harvested when the olives are green to enhance the aroma of freshly cut grass, green almond and artichoke leaf.
Villa Zottopera, awarded Best in Class in the delicate, monovarietal, organic category, comes again from Iblean Mountains area in Sicily, not far from Buccheri, and it is obtained by Tonda Iblea olives. The farm and the mill are hosted in the beautiful estate belonging to the Rosso Cosenza family since the eighteenth century, when oil, wine and wheat were produced here.
A charming country house as well as a farm, the estate is famous for its wonderful olive oils. Villa Zottopera, belonging to the Monti Iblei PDO and coming also in the traditional version alongside the Rosso “Grand Cru,” has been described by the NYIOCC jury as follows: “Aromas of green fruit, green grass, butter and notes of pastry, pine seed. Taste exhibits abundant fruitiness, green grass, sweetness, some bitterness, light pungency and notes of ripe fruit, banana, with exceptional harmony, a high complexity and a high persistence.”
Among the other Italian producers who won Gold and Silver Awards, some were able to get two, or even three awards.
Lucini Italia won two Gold Awards (one for the robust blend Lucini Italia Founders Reserve which also gained the Gold last year, and one for the medium blend Lucini Italia Founders Reserve Delicato) plus the Silver Award for the delicate blend Lucini Italia Premium Select. California Olive Ranch, the US company that recently acquired the Tuscany-based Italian farm run by the Lucini import company, also won for its Miller’s Choice.
The Tuscan company Franci, run by Giorgio Franci and his family, won Gold Awards for the robust organic blend Franci Bio and for the elegant, robust blend Villa Magra which also got a Gold in 2014.
Frantorio Romano, set in Campania region, won two Gold Awards: one for the delicate organic blend Gold Bio showing “exceptional harmony, a high complexity and a high persistence”, and one for the charming Ortice Medium Single Variety (also awarded last year). bestoliveoils.com/producer/frantoio-romano/
Azienda Agricola Leone Sabino — based on a family farmland of 150 hectares of olive groves in the Lecce area — won a double Gold for the two robust Coratina extra virgins: the fierce Don Gioacchino from olive groves with plants over 200 years old (which also won the Gold Award last year) and the Sabino Leone Coratina PDO.
All the Italian awarded extra virgin olive oils can bee seen on the brand new website, bestoliveoils.com which represents the official results of the NYIOOC.
Antonio Lauro, the Italian olive oil consultant and taster who was on the jury and served as a panel leader last year, was quite satisfied, both with the Italian results and with the competition proceedings. “This year once again has been a wonderful experience to be part of the panel; the tasters were highly skilled and the organization was perfect,” he said.
“We received many defected oils, almost 49 percent, Lauro added. “But, on the other hand, many samples were so good, earning even more than 90 points, that we had to proceed to the final playoff. Only 43 percent of the Italian samples was awarded, but considering the terrible year we had, I’m quite satisfied with the final result.”