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Meant to be savored, not saved as wine is, the choicest olive oil, “extra virgin,” is pleasantly mild and sweet without the tartness of most other types. Courtesy photo
ColumnsTaste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Olive oil is wine’s favorite companion

It’s remarkable how olive oil has walked in the same footprint as wine, recently capturing the public’s fancy. It’s favored with rustic breads, salads, over pizza and avocados and as a sophisticated garnish to pasta sauce.

No longer content to use plain-tasting backyard-made oils, aficionados look for brand, high quality and a story-line.  Olive oil tastings are complementing wine tastings in small boutiques and at wineries that have chosen to market olive oil as a cash crop, that is readily available to the public just after harvest.

Wineries have chosen to offer olive oil as a constant cash crop, filling in income gaps while they wait for their wines to age in barrels.

Michelle Christman, Portfolio Consultant, E.J. Gallo Elevage Collection, holding a bottle of 8 Years in the Desert with Seasalt and West End Bar & Bistro Proprietor Sal Ercolano. Photo by Rico Cassoni

The pressing of olives to make olive oil dates back to about 3000 BC. The olive tree originated in Greece, then spread throughout the Mediterranean.  While olive oil has not caught on in western wineries, Italy has dominated the market with its emphasis on extra virgin, the finest grade from the first pressing, a cold-press designed to maximize antioxidants. This is a healthy ingredient that will keep your weight down and help to increase your lifespan. Executive chefs use only extra virgin olive oil, showing up in the menu as the initials EVOO.

When I want to taste-test an extra virgin bottle of olive oil, like most wines, I like it best from a 750 ML standard wine sized bottle. I slightly toast a slice of rustic, oval-shaped, fresh-baked multi-grained bread, then rub in a bit of garlic with a drizzle of oil. Chopped tomato and basil will add to the flavor. They are saturated with the oil in a sunken plate for dipping the bread. This makes a delicious appetizer for the main entrée, preferably your favorite Mediterranean flavored recipe.

Olive oil lasts about 18 to 24 months stored in a cool, dark place. Look for a harvest date of 2019, now selling in spring of 2020. Unlike wine, olive oil is best less than a year from purchase. The best olive oil districts in Italy are Liguria near Lucca, Tuscany near Montalcino and Lazio near Rome. And, from Umbria, learn more from Conti Faina Rochio Alto:

Phinney-Inspired Wine Dinner, Part 2

Senior Editor Frank Mangio and I were reminiscing this week about some of our favorite wine dinner venues and of course Sal Ercolano’s Seasalt and West End Wine Dinner venues came to the top of our list.  As we have mentioned in previous articles, Ercolano’s Wine Dinners consistency have three qualities that we look for: (1) Great Food, (2) Great Wine, and (3) Great Deals on the wine being showcased.

The Orin Swift Wine Dinners held at West End Bar & Bistro Thursday, March 5, and Saturday, March 7, were no exception. This was part two and a follow-up to The Prisoner Wine Dinners in February. Michelle Christman, Portfolio Consultant for E.J. Gallo Wines Elevage Collection, narrated the event taking us through five Orin Swift Wines with Chef Noe-paired dishes.

Christman shared that Dave Phinney started his career as a lawyer.  Little did he know that his Florence experiences in Italy would pivot his life career to winemaking.  Phinney got his start in wine at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1997. In 1998, he created the Orin Swift brand named after his father’s middle name Orin and his mother’s maiden name of Swift. He was given two tons of fruit in the same year with 1998 being an off year. In 2000, he started The Prisoner where he boldly injected his 1998 Zinfandel, creating a killer blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Charbono.  In 2010, Phinney sold The Prisoner to the Huneeus Family for $300 million. One of the stipulations was that Phinney could not produce and sell Zinfandel as part of a non-compete clause for eight years. It just so happens that Dave released “8 Years in the Desert” in 2018 at the conclusion of the non-compete.

Phinney continued making wine under the Orin Swift label after the sale of The Prisoner, sourcing fruit from vineyards he owns in the U.S. and his European vineyards in France, Greece, Italy and Spain. In 2016, Phinney sold Orin Swift to E.J. Gallo, where he is now the head winemaker for the Orin Swift brand. Christman commented that Dave was a gypsy for years, sourcing fruit from his own vineyards and suppliers.  Now that he is at E.J. Gallo, he is able to source high quality fruit including 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 80% from Napa’s Stagecoach, that goes into Mercury Head, easily the most delicious wine of the evening and a contender for my input into the first half 2020 Top 10 wines. As good as the Orin Swift wines are, the bottle art on the labels is just as much of a talking point. For example, the label for Machete had 12,000 photo shoots. Of these, 12 labels were selected. Each bottle in a case uniquely has one of the 12 labels.

Dinner included a five-course spread kicking off with Chef Noe bites and Mannequin Chardonnay. Machete Red Blend paired with Branzino (Sea Bass) Provencal and Country Boar tenderloin wrapped with bacon over polenta served with Papillon Bordeaux blend were served for second and third courses. The fourth course was Chicken Valdostana (chicken filled with fontina cheese and parma ham) with wild rice and Mercury Head Cabernet Sauvignon. Dinner concluded with Chocolate Ganache and 8 Years in The Desert Zinfandel. Visit for more wine information.

See and for takeout and delivery options.

Rico’s Takeout Mentions:  This week I had two tasty takeouts: (1) A Luke Morganstern (Executive Chef) Orfila Oceanside Tasting Room grass-fed burger with bacon, blue cheese and garlic aioli on a brioche bun with fries and (2) Rosati’s in Encinitas Chicago-style deep dish pizza.  I drifted back to Chicago thinking I was at a Lou Malnati’s.

— Story by Tech Director/Writer Rico Cassoni