Olive Oil Tasting in Napa

21 02 2011

When you think Napa, you probably think wine tasting and grape vines, right? I supposed that’s why most people visit the region, but it’s not why K and I trotted up to the tip top of the Bay last weekend. We went olive oil tasting.

Our pre-trip research found three spots where olive oil tasting is available near Napa. Figone’s in Kenwood, B.R. Cohn Winery & Olive Oil Company in Glen Ellen, and The Olive Press in Sonoma.

B.R. Cohn Winery & Olive Oil Company

B.R. Cohn is mainly a winery that dabbles in Olive Oil making. They source most of their olives from growers around the state and then actually hire out Figone’s facilities to process the oil. Their tasting area was modest, though their estate was beautiful. The wine tasting facility was booming and seems to be their main draw.

Olive Oil Tasting

The tasting area at B.R. Cohn's Estate.

The Olive Press

The Olive Press is located at the Jacuzzi Family Winery and is a bit more serious about their oil as they process all their olives themselves and create their own varieties of oil and balsamic vinegars (these two seem to go hand in hand — all three places had olive oil and balsamic vinegar). This place is also mainly a winery, with the main building (a beautiful stone-clad castle-like structure) split between the wine area and the olive oil area (the shops are not related and you can’t buy stuff from one shop in the other, though that seems strange).

The olive oil tasting is located in their gift shop and was extremely crowded when we were there. The oils come in many flavors and there were also a wide variety of olives from which the oils were made. One unique item this place had was smoked olive oil — it really tasted like barbecued oil. It was quite good.

The Olive Press Tasting Room

The Olive Press tasting room slash gift shop.

Figone’s

Ah, Figone’s. I’ve saved the best for last. If you want to go olive oil tasting and you don’t feel like bumbling about to different places, this is where you should go. Heck, if you’re just in the area for the wine or even just passing through, you should still go to Figone’s. This place is the real deal and I am so excited to find my new olive oil and balsamic vinegar source.

Figone's

Figone's Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar tasting area. And Frank in the background, hi Frank!

Figone’s is exclusively an olive oil and balsamic vinegar facility. Their tasting room is modest in size, but is dedicated solely to oil and vinegar (none of this pesky wine). It’s very boutique-ish and will be opening up a viewing area later this year where guests can see the oil being made right in the shop. Here are some of the reasons why Figone’s is the best:

  • Figone’s farms all its own olives on 260 acres throughout California.
  • Figone’s processes all its own olives in its facility just behind the tasting room in Kenwood.
  • Figone’s processing is all organic and is certified as such and the olives themselves are all grown organically (though they are not certified).
  • Figone’s has been around for 25 years perfecting their product and creating new and inventive infused oils.
  • Figone’s has over a dozen flavors of olive oil and about half as many balsamics to choose from.
  • Figone’s products are only sold at the tasting room in Kenwood or through mail order (or via the mail order club). No grocery stores, no farmer’s markets; they don’t even advertise. Their clientele can’t help but keep coming back for more.
  • If you visit the Figone’s tasting room, you may in fact be greeted by Frank Figone himself, as we were, who can tell you pretty much anything you’d like to know about every single one of his products. Awesome. Thanks Frank.

    Figone's Tasting Room

    Figone's Tasting Room -- don't judge a book by its cover, go there!

Of course, none of this would really make a darn bit of difference if their oil and vinegar didn’t knock my socks when I tried it. But holy moo, THAT is what olive oil and balsamic vinegar are supposed to taste like. To save hours of typing about each flavor, I will cut to my favorites:

Oil: Tuscan Herb is a mix of infused herbs in pure olive oil that tastes like a five-star restaurant in your mouth. This is not cooking oil (none of Figone’s oils are meant for high heat), but rather a garnish or flavor enhancer. Drizzled over some grilled fish or veggies, this oil would make any meal’s cook into an instant chef.

Vinegar: Plain old 20 year traditional balsamic was my favorite. It is sweet and viscous and I could literally drink it like water. It puts grocery store balsamic to shame. It’s $28 per bottle and I’m never going back to the other stuff.

This is not even to mention the strawberry vinegar, orange olive oil, cinnamon-pear balsamic or truffle infused oil (their most expensive item — $40 for 100mL — it was also SOOO good) and the dozen of other world class products that Frank makes. Seriously, there’s not much else I can say besides try it or buy it. Yeay for Figone’s!!

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