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Posted by David Gleave MW and Patrizia Baldini
The Italian peninsula is a monument to the olive tree. There are 1.2 million olive growers in Italy cultivating 584 varieties and close to 150 million trees. In fact, there is as much diversity among oils as there is among wines.
In Tuscany, 2017 was a year that tested the olive growers. The harvest, which started in the middle of October, was the earliest anyone can remember, thanks largely to the drought caused by ‘Lucifer’, the heatwave creating a state of emergency in 11 regions. The long, dry summer also resulted in small olives, as they contained little water. The positive aspect of this was that initial pessimism about quantities was somewhat alleviated by a higher than average yield of oil. As usual, the best producers have worked with the conditions to produce the best possible oils.
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Capezzana Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2017
Capezzana Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2017 (Unfiltered)
Olive oil has been made at Capezzana since Etruscan and Roman times. The estate has 140 hectares of olive groves with 26,000 trees and the oil is certified organic. Lying 24 kilometres north west of Florence, close to the northernmost boundary for olive cultivation, the trees in this area produce less than one tenth of the quantity produced by those in milder, more southerly climes.
Capezzana’s oil is made primarily from Moraiolo, an early ripening variety, so the olives tend to be blacker when picked, resulting in softer, fruitier oils. In Extra Virgin olive oil, the level of oleic acid must not exceed 0.8% and Capezzana’s rarely reaches 0.2%. This is achieved by picking early and processing the olives within 12 hours. Ultra modern, stainless steel continuous presses are used, which most experts agree results in fresher, cleaner oils that retain their colour and fruitiness for longer because oxidation is prevented. The oil is then settled in a mixture of terracotta `orci` (urns) and stainless steel vats before bottling.
The 2017 olive season started with an early flowering in April. Freezing temperatures followed in the second half of April, affecting the fertility of the flowers, especially for the Moraiolo variety. By May, the olives that survived the frost were bigger than average. Summer was extremely hot although the nights were cool. The high temperatures eliminated any risk of attack by the fly which devastated the crop in 2014, and the cool nights helped the olive trees to overcome the lack of rain from the end of May to the end of September. The rain finally arrived at the end of September, allowing the olive trees to rehydrate. The drought meant quantities were down by 20% on last year and 50% on average, but quality was high.
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Fontodi Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil DOP Chianti Classico 2017
Fontodi have 10,000 olive trees situated in a variety of different plots in Chianti Classico, predominantly on marl soils at between 400-500 metres above sea level. The olive groves are immaculately tended and the oil is certified organic.
2017 was an unusually good year for quantity at Fontodi. It rained in Panzano at the beginning of June, during flowering, so the flowers remained on the tree. In drier areas, the trees dropped flowers due to the drought to reduce the crop relative to the water available. The harvest of Moraiolo olives was smaller, as the variety suffered more from the heat.
The olives were picked by hand and carefully pressed on the same day in order to retain the maximum freshness and fragrance of the fruit. As at Capezzana, ultra modern, stainless steel continuous presses were used to protect from oxidation. The oil was stored briefly in stainless steel tanks before filtering through cotton and bottling early to maximise freshness.
The Fontodi oil is 80% Corregiolo and 20% Moraiolo this year. As in other areas, bitterness is a characteristic of the year due to the heat and less water in the olives.