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Each early November since 1995, we have spent the better part of a week in Tuscany, tasting through scores of olive oil pressings, in search of the quintessential Tuscan olio.
I’ve personally been there 19 out of 21 years—the impending birth of my daughter in 2000 kept me away one year—but there has always been at least one RWC’er on the ground who knew the oils and producers intimately.
In recent years, our work has been made more difficult by the warm, dry summers, which has robbed many oils of their characteristic color, perfume and punch. Yet, our diligence—and our ability to be very choosey, a privilege granted very few oil importers—has allowed us to come up with best oils each year.
But this year was different: it was a feast of riches. Almost everywhere we travelled, we found powerful and deeply colored oils. It is a year for all of us to buy aggressively. But, as always, it is a year to buy wisely.
There is no question that 2015 is the real deal. In fact, only one harvest in this millennium compares: 2008. And I’m not sure that even that excellent crop had quite the intensity and glorious color of the best 2015s. We might have to go back to some of my favorite harvests in the late 1990s to see this kind of quality.
It’s also a year with excellent structure. Long-time RWC oil buyers will recall how the oils of 15 to 20 years ago could keep for many years. I’m not sure we’re quite back to that kind of longevity, but I do think the 2015s will age with unusual grace.
Yet, quality is far from uniform. Selvapiana (see photo above at far left) produced some of the most exciting oil we’ve seen from anybody in years. Selvapiana’s Rufina neighbors, Grati and Colognole, also hit home runs.
But at some other estates, especially farther south in Tuscany, the oils were good but hardly of earth-shattering quality. And everywhere pressings varied in style and even quality, based on olive variety and harvest date.
Our visit with the brilliant Giogio Franci (pictured above second from left) was, as always, a highlight, as he guided us through a dizzying number of pressings. His tastings are always a lesson in how each harvest varies from day to day, site to site and variety to variety. (The photo to his right gives you an idea of how widely the colors varied this year among Giorgio's different tanks.)
Some amazing oils have been made in Tuscany in 2015. Yet, as always, caution is advised. After an economically disastrous 2014 harvest, you will hear countless claims that this or that oil is the quintessence, crafted by hand by a family grower, when in fact that will rarely be the case.
Unless you know the background, you should take such claims with a grain of salt. Very few oils that reach the US are in fact entirely estate-grown. Blending from multiple properties is common, as is the practice of buying outside oil to bolster stocks. But since 1995, The Rare Wine Co. has not only sold only 100% estate-grown oils, many of our oils are selections from specific olive groves.
In the photo above at far right, you’ll see our green tags on three small tanks at Melograno. These three tanks are pure, mono-varietal Frantoio, harvested on November 5th. While we could have phoned in our order and gotten a terrific oil, the marriage of these three tanks represents sheer greatness. And only RWC clients and their friends will get to experience its magic.
In fact, we learned long ago that there's no substitute for being there and choosing our own oils before the producers make up their blends. Not only do we get the best; we avoid the homogenizing effect of blending two months’ worth of pressings.
With good reason, wine and food writers have consistently praised RWC Tuscan oils as the best, and most fairly-priced, available. And it will never be more true than in the coming months.
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