2019-03-01 / Wine Notes

Wine & Brine

By Robert D. Richards CSW

Sometimes they top a pizza. Sometimes they are speared on toothpicks. Sometimes they are mashed into a tapenade. And sometimes they’re the fulcrum of a martini glass. No matter the location or presentation, it’s still the small Mediterranean nugget of fruit called the olive.

Olives have been around even longer than wine, dating back 8,000 years or so. Coincidentally, they also grow in many of the world’s top wine regions, including California. Unlike grapes, olives grow on trees, and green and black olives come from the very same tree. The green olives are just not as ripe as the black ones.

But if you taste an olive, even a ripe, black one  picked right from the tree, you’re in for a big surprise — and not a pleasant one. The great taste we associate with olives comes from the curing process that takes place after harvest. Olives picked directly from a tree are harshly bitter.
Not only do olives often grow alongside vineyards, but also they are a nice complement to wine if you’re looking for a quick snack to accompany a glass. The curing process of olives does vary, but typically it produces a salty taste. That salt enables a larger array of possible pairings. Salt tempers the tannins in bold red wines, so an olive stuffed with a robust cheese, say Gorgonzola, can pair nicely with a Bordeaux-style red.

Light crisp whites like Sauvignon Blanc work well with green olives. Chardonnay — particularly the buttery style — is a great match for California black olives, which often showcase a creamy texture. The Kalamata olive so prevalent in Greek cuisine, especially when combined with feta cheese, pairs nicely with a light red like Pinot Noir. Add some spiced nuts to the mix, and now it’s a party. Here are some wines to pair with your olive feast. •SCM

King Estate Pinot Noir Oregon 2014
(#78754, $17.99)
This light-bodied Pinot shows notes of berry, cranberry
and vanilla.

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2016
(#37720, $12.99)
This New Zealand import
is citrusy, herbaceous
and has a crisp acidity.

Chateau Montelena Chardonnay Napa Valley 2013
(#49687, $24.99) 
Citrus and floral notes with a hint of minerality shine through this wine from a
legendary Napa producer.

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