Tuesday, September 18, 2018
il Casale, Olio Taibi & Olive Oil
--Columella, Roman agronomist
There have been olive trees on Sicily for over two thousand years, at least as far back as the ancient Greeks, and currently Sicily produces about 10% of Italy's olive oil production. Worldwide, there are about 700 different olive cultivars and some of the most common olives varieties on Sicily include Biancolilla, Castiglione, Carolea and Nocellara. Sicily also has 6 Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) olive oil regions, more than any other Italian region.
Like wine grapes, olive cultivars have different flavor profiles and may be presented in an olive oil as a single variety or a blend. Because of these different flavor profiles, pairing olive oil with various foods can be similar in some respects to pairing wine and food. However, how many consumers actually consider the flavor profile of their olive oil when using it in their recipes? Probably few people do so and they could benefit from some pairing suggestions. Last week, I attended a dinner, as a media guest, where such pairing suggestions were front and center.
il Casale, in Lexington, hosted a five course dinner, showcasing the two olive oils of Olio Taibi, owned by Giuseppe Taibi, who has lived in Lexington since 2009. As the olive oils are from the Taibi estate in Sicily, the wine pairings were also from Sicily. The demand for this dinner was so high that the restaurant shut down regular service for the evening, hosting only this special dinner. This was a repeat situation of the last wine dinner I attended at il Casale, though at the Belmont location. It is clear that il Casale has a very solid and loyal customer base. I've attended numerous wine dinners and they rarely take over the entire restaurants, and sometimes only occupy a table or two. il Casale seems to possess the formula for success for these special events.
Like the Belmont wine dinner, there were probably over 100 people at the Lexington olive oil dinner. As I mentioned previously, when you have so many people enjoying the same dishes, at the same time, there is always a worry that it will overwhelm the kitchen, and that your dishes will be less than hot when they reach your table. However, once again, that was not the case at all, as each dish we enjoyed in Lexington was at an optimal temperature. Their professional kitchen is obviously well experienced in dealing with such crowds and know exactly how to handle the situation. Overall, il Casale once again provided a superb dining experience, with excellent food, wines, and service. If you've never dined at il Casale before, I highly recommend you do so.
In 2006, Giuseppe's father felt that their olive oil business was no longer sustainable so he believed it needed to be sold. Giuseppe didn't want that to happen and began examining the business to see what could be done to save it. He quickly realized that the family business had been closer to a hobby, never generating significant income, though the olive oil was well loved. To save the business, Giuseppe knew it would require a significant restructuring, and he chose to undertake that great endeavor.
Giuseppe opted to institute organic and sustainable agriculture, and to harvest for quality over quantity. Part of this quest for quality included harvesting earlier than other farmers. All these changes weren't easy, and were costly, but Giuseppe was driven to transform the estate. The estate currently consists of about 30 acres of olive trees, primarily the Nocellera and Biancolilla cultivars, though they have a small amount of a third olive cultivar. Giuseppe also chose to treat his olives like wine varieties, and this paradigm shift is both logical and should make it more accessible to consumers.
The Biancolilla olive cultivar, one of the oldest olives in Western Sicily, is said by Giuseppe to produce an olive oil with "green fruitiness, delicate bitterness, medium pungency, & well balanced." It can be lightly spicy (especially pepper notes), slightly fruity, and may have notes of tomato, artichoke, almond and fresh grass. It is a more delicate and subtle olive oil. Giuseppe states that this an olive oil that pairs well with dishes and ingredients that are typically paired with white wines, such as seafood, vegetables, and fresh cheeses. That advice makes it much easier to pair this olive oil at home.
Stemmari Chardonnay, from Sicily, which possesses excellent acidity, some tropical fruit notes, a subtle floral aspect and mineral notes. Fresh, dry and delicious.
Planeta Rosé ($14), a blend of 50% Nero d'Avola & 50% Syrah. I've long been a fan of this winery and you can read a couple of my prior articles for more background on Planeta: Planeta Wines: Indigenous Treasures of Sicily and Planeta Wines: More Indigenous Treasures of Sicily. This Rosé was excellent, crisp, light and full of tasty red fruit flavors, from strawberry to raspberry, with subtle hints of peach. Easy to drink, very food friendly, and perfect year round. This would make for a great Thanksgiving wine and at an average cost of $12, this is also a great value wine.
Feudo Maccari Noto Nero d'Avola, which is aged only in stainless steel. Silky smooth, with bright cherry, raspberry and plum flavors, enhanced by some pepper and spice notes. Nice acidity, well-restrained tannins, and a family long finish. An easy drinking wine, it could be enjoyed on its own though it would pair well with plenty of dishes, from pasta to pizza, burgers to hotdogs. Simply delicious.
Cos Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico, a blend of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato, was aged for at least 18 months, with the Nero in oak botti and the Frappato in glazed cement tanks. With an intense, dark red color, this was a superb wine, with intense flavors of black cherry, plum, spice, chocolate, and a touch of earthiness. Moderate tannins, good acidity, and a lingering, pleasing finish. Perfect with the lamb, this wine showcases the quality of wines that can be found in Sicily.
Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria, which is produced from the Zibibbo grape, also known as Muscat of Alexandria. Intensely aromatic, this dessert wine was mildly sweet with balanced acidity, presenting flavors of apricot and dried fruits, with some herbal notes.
"The olive tree is surely the richest gift of heaven."