You wouldn’t know it from all the olive oil being poured into tiny saucers at Italian restaurants across America, but the makers of fine extra-virgin olive oil are worried. At a time when demand for their product is booming around the world and modern techniques have made it possible to bottle some of the best oils ever, the author of a fascinating new book on the subject argues that cheap, fraudulent products are making it difficult, if not impossible, for the good stuff to be profitable.
That’s because, writes Tom Mueller in Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil (Norton, $26), most people don’t know what good-quality olive oil should be. Early in the book he quotes one expert, after tasting a poor-quality oil labeled extra-virgin, as saying, “This is what nearly everyone in the world thinks is extra-virgin olive oil! This stuff is putting honest oil makers out of business.”
Most wine drinkers know Oregon for its distinctive and often excellent Pinot Noirs. But what about its other wines, which represent nearly half of the state’s wine production?
I received an e-mail recently from a group of wineries banding together to promote Pinot Gris, the most widely planted white grape variety in Oregon, accounting for about 15 percent of the state’s total production. The proponents pointed out, correctly, that Pinot Gris is on the rise as a varietal from many regions around the world, that Oregon has some history with this varietal and that it’s a fruit-forward, food-friendly wine.
I opened a bottle of Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche Brunate 1993 for dinner on New Year’s Eve, the last of that vintage in my cellar. When the Ceretto brothers made that wine, few were talking about high alcohol, excessive ripeness or natural wines, the current contentiousness of the wine world. Then, the issue in Italy was traditional wines vs. modern wines.
Back then, I was traveling to Piedmont regularly for Wine Spectator to taste the next vintages of Barolo and Barbaresco. I remember this wine from barrel. Ceretto used modern methods in the vineyards and winery to achieve even ripeness and shorter fermentation times to emphasize fruit character, but avoided the use of small, new oak barrels. Unlike some modernists, Ceretto at that time seemed unconcerned with the biting, crisp tannins that the Nebbiolo grape could produce. As a result, the Ceretto style at the time always struck me as having a foot in both camps.