A Taste of Tuscany: First of the 2020 Extra Virgin Olive Oils


Normally the Conti Contini Bonacossi family get through about 70 litres of their own organic extra virgin olive oil a year, but this year is different. Beatrice Contini Bonacossi says it’ll be nearer 100 litres because they’ve all been lunching at home. Lucky them: the oil in question is Capezzana, an estate north-west of Florence that, in addition to producing beautiful Carmignano wine, has been making olive oil since Etruscan and Roman times. No wonder they know a thing or two about it.


If one of the good things to come out of 2020 has been some very promising wine harvests, it doesn’t stop at wine. Tuscany has had a memorable olive oil harvest – generous in both quantity and quality after a dream growing season – and, if that were not enough, the oils are expected to have greater longevity than usual, retaining freshness and flavour even for two to three years, according to Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi.


"In Tuscany one olive tree yields just one litre of extra virgin olive oil"


When it comes to quantity, generous is a relative term. Just as one vine, at a high-quality level, produces very roughly one bottle of wine a year, so one olive tree in Tuscany yields just one litre of oil. Or to put it another way, from 100 kilos of olives you get 10–15 litres of oil, depending where in the region you are. At Capezzana, even in a good year, they barely get 12 litres per 100k. No wonder Tuscan single-estate oils are expensive. And no wonder, but how sad, that many small farmers are abandoning their trees (their heritage and culture) because they can’t afford to produce extra virgin olive oil in the face of mass-market olive oils produced on an industrial scale from ten times the yield. As Giuseppe Mazzocolin of Fèlsina Berardenga pointed out, Tuscany has 15 million of Italy’s 150 million olive trees but produces only 2% of its olive oil, not 10%.


"Sometimes I am more excited by the first day of the olive oil harvest than the first day of the wine harvest"


If producing good wine can’t be hurried, the same isn’t true of olive oil. Speed together with gentle handling are of the essence in turning ripe (but not fully ripe) olives into top-quality oil. Newly bottled, estate-grown Tuscan oils, barely four weeks since the first olives were picked, are now arriving in the UK. Last week I tasted the extra virgin olive oils from five of the foremost Tuscan estates with their producers in a virtual masterclass hosted by the estates' importer Liberty Wines. In the order tasted: Poggiotondo with Alberto Antonini (royalty among wine consultants as well as owner of Poggiotondo); Beatrice Contini Bonacossi of Capezzana; Giuseppe Mazzocolin of Fèlsina; Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi; and Federico Giuntini of Selvapiana.


These estates may be more familiar as wine producers but they take their oil at least as seriously. As Giovanni Manetti put it, “We are in love with our olive oil. We cannot survive without it.” Or, as Alberto Antonini admitted, “Sometimes I am more excited by the first day of the olive harvest than the first day of the wine harvest.”


What is so striking about tasting the oils, apart from the superb quality, is how different the five are, even though they’re within an hour’s drive of each other. It’s partly a case of soil and microclimate, but variety is also key. Out of Italy’s 584 olive varieties (Italy doesn’t so things by halves), four main varieties are grown in Tuscany. The late-ripening, oval-shaped Frantoio (aka Corregiolo) produces a deep green colour, grassy, spicy black pepper flavours and good bitterness. The rounder Moraiolo ripens earlier and gives a softer, more golden oil. Leccino is intensely green in colour and very aromatic with fresh, green herb and leaf aromas, an almond flavour and a good balance of bitterness and pepperiness. Pendolino, another early ripener, yields a yellower, more delicately perfumed oil with almond and hazelnut notes.


"You're looking for pepperiness and bitterness – punch and bite"


When it comes to the practicalities of tasting these new-born olive oils, you can use wine glasses or small bowls – ideally containers you can cover with your hand and swirl to release the aromas. Unlike with wine, you shouldn’t, in theory, consider colour, but it’s hard not to when they’re so beautifully verdant. Then you taste, much as for wine, but you’re looking for pepperiness and bitterness – punch and bite – as well as density and flavours such as artichoke, grass, almond and rocket.


TASTING

Poggiotondo Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2020, Chianti

In warmer western Tuscany, between Florence and Pisa, Poggiotondo is close to the village of Vinci (of Leonardo fame) and has two distinctive soils, marine limestone and sandier schist of volcanic origin, and two varieties of olive, Frantoio, which gives fruitiness, and the intensely aromatic and flavoured Mignola, which is only grown in this area.

The Frantoio-dominant 2020 is deep green, full and smooth but appetisingly grassy and peppery too.

rrp £27.99 for 75cl


Capezzana Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Non-Filtered) 2020, Carmignano

The 650-ha Capezzana estate has 145ha of olive groves (26,000 trees) and is close to the northern limits of olive growing. This oil is 50% Moraiolo, 35% Frantoio, 10% Pendolino and 5% Leccino and is the unfiltered version, which is the first 15 days’ production. It’s more expressive at first but, because it becomes less so, should be used before the filtered oil, which lasts longer.

A notably elegant oil with fresh artichoke, green herb and almond flavours, a comparatively delicate peppery character and very low acidity – at 0.16%, even lower than Capezzana’s normal low level of around 0.2% (and way below the extra virgin maximum of 0.8%).

rrp £28.99 for 75cl (scroll down for stockists)


Fèlsina Berardenga Extra Virgin Olive Oil Classico Blend 2020, Tuscany

From the warmer south of Chianti Classico, north-east of Siena and near the Brunello di Montalcino zone, Fèlsina ’s 2020 is a monumental oil from a blend of all four main varieties, 60% Corregiolo (Frantoio), 25% Leccino, 10% Pendolino and 5% Moraiolo.

Dazzling dark green colour and tremendous weight and depth of flavour with a toast and nut-chocolate note following green apple, artichoke, leafy freshness and pepper.

rrp £28.99 for 50cl


Fontodi Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil Chianti Classico 2020, Chianti Classico

Together with 90ha of vineyard Fontodi has 10,000 olive trees on its estate in the heart of Chianti Classico (Chianti Classico gained its own DOP for olive oil 20 years ago this year). This oil is a blend of 70% Corregiolo (Frantoio), 20% Moraiolo and 10% pollinator varieties.

Who needs rocket if you’ve got this? An oil with a dramatic and long-lasting, bitter, peppery punch.

rrp £23.99 for 50cl


Selvapiana Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2020

Located in the smallest of Chianti’s zones, Rufina, Selvapiana’s 31ha of olive groves are very close to the Apennines. Here, at the limit for Tuscan olives, it’s even cooler than Capezzana.

Made entirely from Frantoio, this has enticing tomato leaf and artichoke aromas, good weight and lots of peppery energy.

rrp £24.99 for 50cl


RECIPES

Each estate provided a typical Tuscan recipe that either incorporates their olive oil or is served with it (or both). It's striking how simple, homely and robustly vegetable-based the recipes are. Cabbage looms large.



All oils imported by Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350


STOCKISTS

Capezzana

Moens & Sons

Eusebi (Glasgow)

Speck Delicatessen

Olivino

The Old Bridge at Huntingdon

Valvona & Crolla

Quality Chop House (Shop)

Selvapiana

The Old Bridge at Huntingdon

Valvona & Crolla

Fontodi

The Old Bridge at Huntingdon

Valvona & Crolla


Felsina and Poggiotondo will be available from end November/early December


Photographs by Joanna Simon; map courtesy of Liberty Wines


#oliveoil #Italy #Tuscany #food #harvest #recipe #tasting



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Website © 2019 Joanna Simon

Header photo © Waitrose & Partners Drinks / Cat Garcia