Tasting The World’s Best Olive Oil, Talking Sustainability: La Maliosa’s Antonella Manuli #EarthMonth2020

Spring and easter is all about regeneration: green pops out everywhere, Jesus comes back from the dead, rabbits deliver eggs. Some say the word Easter comes from Ēostre, a Germanic goddess who had festivals held in her honor during the month Ēosturmōnaþ, the equivalent of April by pagan Anglo-Saxons which was followed by the Christian Paschal month which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus.

April is also Earth Month, and the perfect time to celebrate regenerative agriculture. But with the current corona virus crisis, all Earth Month gatherings are off.

And so are wine events. Fortunately,

/model Crisis Bunny MB Hanrahan. Photo: Dina Pielaet.

people have come up with many ingenious ways to get their wine on, including various online workshops like those conducted by Napa Valley Wine Academy as well as events like watching the movie UnCorked  together via Netflix and Zoom hosted by Julia Coney, and tastings.

While one of my previously scheduled twitter tastings was cancelled because the wine could not get out of the warehouse in NYC,  on Saturday April 11 I was able to participate in an online event with Fattoria La Maliosa’s Antonella Manuli thanks to a wine and olive oil delivery to my house by importer Verovino’s Sheila Donahue!

While I have written about Fattoria La Maliosa before, I learned a lot! Highlights of the 90 minute chat included a guided olive oil tasting of the best organic olive oil in the world, Fattoria La Maliosa’s Aurinia and learning about her regenerative agricultural practices that are based on biodynamic principles but do not use any animal products.

While both biodynamics and metodo corino pay attention to the health of the soil, biodynamics animal substances in the various preps that are applied to the vineyard, and she uses all plant products. Metodo corino also only uses historical varieties of the place:

“In Tuscany,” she says, “we use varieties with funny names like procanico” varieties that are not common and have not been cultivated a lot in the last few decades.

Why vegetable instead of animal? How?

Instead of using animal manure, she uses mulch, and plenty of it; they even produce their own hay for this use.

“Hay mulching has many functions,” she says. It provides shade, making it “favorable to life in the soil,” and it stops erosion completely. Maremma is “subject to long periods of drought so you can have a lot of damage done to the soil life,” she explains. Hay mulching “keeps the moisture for a long time when it rains and maybe we don’t have rain for 4-5 months we can keep moisture in the soil.” With the hay mulching, the soil is “very slow to absorb the moisture.” They don’t get  a lot of rain and they can’t afford to lose the moisture because “we don’t irrigate artificially. When you use vegetable (material) it’s very slow and goes on a long time and gets absorbed in the soil.”

There’s a difference between vegetable imputs and carbon inputs in terms of carbon also. “When you have grass and covering, you have absorption of carbon,” she explains. “What we are doing when we use the hay mulch we are trying to replicate what is happening on forest soil.” The soil that you have in the woods, in the forest is the best for wine grapes she thinks.

In sum, in terms of regenerative agriculture, her farm works like a complete ecosystem:

  • No irrigation
  • Keep soil covered
  • Work with very little mechanization
  • Use electric rechargeable equipment
  • Use vine varieties adapted to terroir
  • Maintain woods in the farm

So how do you taste olive oil?

“I am a trained olive oil taster,” says Antonella, “so I am going to guide you in  a simple professional tasting.”

First, you start by pouring some olive oil in a glass.

Because the color doesn’t have any link to the quality, she says, you can’t use color to judge olive oil so in judging glasses are blue!

Second, warm the glass in your hands.

Third, sneak your nose into the glass between fingers; it should smell like olives.

“You laugh,” she says, “but I challenge you to smell olive oil off the supermarket shelf.” It rarely smells much like the original olives and you need to be able to smell the olive.

Fourth, smell for secondary qualities like almonds, grass, fresh hay.

Fifth,  you take the oil in your mouth and “strip” so it tickles your throat and takes the air so that the droplets of olive oil go all around the mouth so that all of the areas in your mouth are covered. I’ll tell you, it’s much harder than it sounds! To me it tasted a little bit bitter and spicey. She grows four varieties of Tuscan olives, and while she doesn’t have her own press, there are several good ones nearby.

As the Aurinia retails for $40, you may not feel rich enough to cook with it all the time, although one woman on the call does. Sheila is offering a quarantine special on the half liter bottle for 10% off. When I made pesto the other night, I only used some of this special oil in it, and then finished it with some. I also used it for dipping so I could really taste its fresh aliveness. It can be used to finish off a bean soup or in pastries like cookies, and I could definitely see using it to finish humous.

Time for my Easter dinner! I’ll be pairing the Rosso with smoked ham, potatoes au gratin, and asparagus. It’s easy to appreciate and enjoy, very perfumed nose, and full of dusty cherry, herbs, a silty minerality, and a velvety texture on the palate. A fantastic pairing especially with those parts the ham that have been basted with sweet, spice, and mustard! SRP $33.



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