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Pairing wines with an olive oil born of tragedy

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To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the recognizable green bottle of Laudemio Frescobaldi extra virgin olive oil is replaced for the vintage 2018 by one with a sleek gold finish. (Lyle Norton, Special to S.F. Examiner)

Were it not for a catastrophic winter frost more than three decades ago, one of the world’s finest olive oils may have never been produced.

Last week in San Francisco, a small group assembled for lunch at Perbacco Ristorante and Bar on California Street, between Front and Battery, to celebrate the 30th harvest of that olive oil, Laudemio Frescobaldi.

The Frescobaldi family began producing Tuscan olive oil and wines in the year 1300 and is now celebrating its 30th generation in the business that manages all facets of farming and production. The family owns vineyards and nearly 750 acres of olive groves spread among seven estates throughout the Tuscany region.

But the birth of Laudemio, which translates to “best of the harvest,” came only after frost destroyed 90 percent of olive trees in the region. Matteo Frescobaldi, Laudemio brand manager, described stories of his parents listening to the trees break in the middle of the night.

From that tragedy emerged a family decision, in 1986, to use the very best of the remaining trees and select only the finest extra virgin olive oil for Laudemio, a proprietary project with lofty expectations. One important factor in their success, Frescobaldi operates an olive mill at their Castello Nipozzano estate that allows for immediate milling within 24 hours of harvest.

Italian cuisine, fine wines from Frescobaldi’s Tuscan estates and olive oil were featured throughout the luncheon, including a dessert, of chocolate gelato with sea salt, served in olive oil. Each of the nearly 20 wines releases from the Frescobaldi Group identify with the terroir of a specific estate and include reds, whites and rose’. Three current releases and plenty of Laudemio were paired with an extraordinary Italian lunch prepared by Chef Staffan Terje.

The first course included Ribollita, an authentic Tuscan bread and vegetable soup and Pinzimonio, a local tradition of dipping raw vegetables into olive oil, paired with Pomino Benefizio Riserva 2017 ($50), a chardonnay-based white wine from the Castello di Pomino.

The wine, from sandy, rocky soils, expressed delicate, yet complex flavors with a minerality that fit with both the hearty soup and raw vegetables.

Both the second course, pappardelle pasta with beef ragu, and the main courses of milk braised pork shoulder with caramelized fennel, called Maile Al Latte and seared flatiron steak, served rare on a bed of arugula, were all paired with Laudemio and Nipozzano Vecchie Viti 2015 ($35), a Chianti Rufina Riserva DOCG from the Castello Nipozzano estate that blends sangiovese with local grapes, malvasia nera, colorino and canaiolo.

Aged 24 months in oak barrels and an additional three in the bottle, the Viti, with ratings in the mid- nineties, had deep fruit and spice aromas and soft, accessible flavors delivered with a rich mouthfeel.

Prior to dessert, our palates were refreshed by a rose’ from the Tenuta Ammiraglia estate in the southern coast of Tuscany. Syrah-dominant with a touch of vermentino, the crisp ALÌE Rose 2017 ($25) had a alluring light ruby color with hints of strawberries, citrus and a nice minerality along the finish.

Native to Italy and commonly grown in Sardinia, vermentino is a grape known to thrive when grown near the sea and is a perfect addition to a wine named after “a fabled sea nymph, a symbol of sensuality and beauty.”

What followed was the decadent chocolate gelato in a sea of fragrant Laudemio, paired with the rose’. It was a small piece of heaven that need not be repeated often. Pinzimonio, a variety of raw vegetables dipped in Laudemio, is a healthier choice.

The Frescobaldi family is hands-on in all aspects of Laudemio production from cultivation, milling, bottling and packaging, ensuring that it all meets their high standards. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the recognizable green bottle of Laudemio Frescobaldi is replaced for the vintage 2018 by one with a sleek gold finish.

Thirty generations speak to the sustainability of the Frescobaldi business model and its commitment to flavor and texture is revealed through the end result.

Frescobaldi estate wines are available in many local Bay Area wine shops and on-line while Laudemio Frescobaldi extra virgin olive oil can be found in many gourmet food stores and small markets.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com. He is a guest columnist.

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