I thought I was a sophisticated foodie until I took an olive oil trip through Umbria many years ago. I quickly realized I was an idiot. Upon returning home, I scoured the house and threw out all the commercial brands such as Bertolli or Filippo Berio—along with vintage California oils I had been saving, in the mistaken belief they would improve with age.
In defense of my misjudgment, I consider acidity to be the most important component in wine. The acid structure of a wine is crucial in bringing the fruit alive and allowing the wine to pair with food. With olive oil, acidity is a flaw, and lower acidity usually equates to higher quality.
Even so, it’s not unusual to find estates that produce both olive oil and wine. The combination is common in California, and more so in Italy. The Frescobaldi family of Florence is a noted example. They began as cloth merchants in the 13th century, expanded into banking, and became patrons of the arts who also wielded considerable political influence. The Frescobaldis began making wine in 1308 and traded their products for paintings with Michelangelo. Today the company is still family owned (a rarity in the era of consolidation) and owns wine estates ranging from humble Chianti to gems such as Ornellaia and Luce.
Speaking of gems: the family owns over 700 acres of olive groves, and the finest extra virgin oil from those trees is selected to become Laudemio (in the Middle Ages, Laudemio was the name for the choicest part of the harvest, earmarked for the tables of nobility). The olives are picked early, pressed almost immediately in a proprietary mill, and bottled in a limited-edition gold flask.
The 30th harvest of Laudemio ($48 for a half-liter bottle) has a brilliant emerald-green color and a fragrant, floral nose. It is rich and fruity on entry, giving way to a spicy and peppery edge on the finish. This is a finishing oil, rather than something you should cook with, and can be used sparingly to add dimension and zest to many different dishes. Along with the Laudemio, Frescobaldi was kind enough to send a bottle of their 2017 Pomino Bianco ($22), a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc from their Castello di Pomino Estate in Tuscany. They suggested that drizzling some smoked salmon with Laudemio and pairing it with a glass of Pomino Bianco would be a spectacular combination. They were right.
Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. Friend of the Devil, his first novel, was released in 2016; his second novel, The American Crusade, a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq, is now available on Amazon.